Joachim Splichal’s home is decorated with sleek furniture and modern art by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Pasadena local Steve Roden, but walk through the kitchen, out the back door and past the azure blue pool, and suddenly you’re transported to a farmhouse in the south of France. On a recent warm fall afternoon, the sliding glass doors were open wide to the breeze that traveled through the airy space where Splichal, head of the Patina empire that now includes 60 restaurants and catering contracts with everyone from the Hollywood Bowl to the Emmys Governors Ball, entertains his family and friends as often as his busy schedule allows.
“I wanted everything to reflect a little bit of Provence so when you retire from your main house you feel like you’re on vacation – without airfare,” said Splichal with a chuckle. He sourced every piece in the room – from the brasserie chairs to the heavy butcher block table with a dip in the middle from years of use, to the converted baker’s rack holding copper pots and glasses – from French flea markets and antiques dealers during shopping excursions for his various eateries.
As his staff set the table with Blanc D’Ivoire plates from Paris, bone-handled flatware, Riedel wine glasses and the same orange polka dot water glasses that were inspired by Patina’s orange wine racks (and which are for sale through the Patina website), Splichal began chopping the brilliantly hued array of seasonal produce laid out on the butcher block. This evening’s meal would be a fall harvest dinner, and pomegranates sat beside persimmons, Gala apples, bunches of kale, baby cabbage, candy-striped beets, salsify, turnips and other root vegetables – giving the impression of an effortless still-life.
“First of all, I look at color,” Splichal said, when asked how he begins planning a menu. “In my opinion, the most important thing for a dinner party is the freshness of the food.” He buys most of the ingredients for meals at home at the farmers markets in Alhambra, Pasadena and Sierra Madre. “There’s not one place on earth where you can get the variety of produce and the freshness here – especially in the winter.”
As his sous chef placed whole pumpkins in the oven for the salad and seared veal shanks on the stove, the evening’s first guest, Pasadena painter Ray Turner, ambled in. Splichal immediately poured him a glass of sparkling Cuvee Patina, saying, “I have 12,000 bottles in my cellar – we may as well drink it!”
Turner settled into a small leather chair by the hearth, and promptly proclaimed the space “my favorite part of the house, right here.”
A gorgeous array of mushrooms that would be used in a pasta dish came from foragers throughout the state, and Spichal sliced through them calmy as his neighbors Richard and Lilia Schaefer entered with their three boys. “You’re gonna get food,” he called out. “Otherwise we’re gonna call Pie ‘n Burger down the street.” (He was joking, obviously, but he does happen to be a fan of their hamburger.)
The Schaefer boys are school friends of Splichal’s twins, Nicola and Stephen (yes, they are that Nick and Stef, of the downtown steakhouse), who are “15 and terrible,” he said with an affectionate grin.
A massive dining table in the center of the room was found in Avignon and expanded with a piece of limestone in the middle so that it can seat up to 14 – and that always includes the kids. “Even when the boys were young they sat with the adults. I hate when children have to sit at a different table or eat different food,” said the German-born chef, who came to Los Angeles in 1981 for a job at the Regency, a private club in Westwood that no longer exists. As a result, he’s now got two multi-lingual 15-year-old foodies on his hands – albeit ones who have to finish their homework before they sit down to eat.
As the boys caught up over high school football and a game of foosball, Lilia and Richard Schaefer, the CEO of Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy, remembered the first time they invited Splichal, whom they call “Joe,” over for dinner.
“First we were intimidated to invite him,” recalled Lilia. “I said, what can I make?!”
“I’ll barbeque,” Richard offered, and thus began a Friday night tradition.
Of course, little can compare to the simply conceived, perfectly executed dishes Splichal began serving to his guests as a fire blazed. The fall salad was a medley of beautiful colors and flavors, with purple lettuce, warm roasted pumpkin, crisp apples and pecans accented by sharp, creamy Saint Agur blue cheese. The pasta was hearty and savory, and the veal, surrounded by bright, firm vegetables, was, as Richard noted, “falling off the bone.”
The conversation ranged from sports to an art project Stephen was working on at school, but everyone got quiet when a tray of vivid macarons from Patina was passed, and multi-layered tumblers of Coffee Decadence – a dessert currently on the menu at Patina’s latest award-winning restaurant, Ray’s, at LACMA – were set at each place.
Their good fortune isn’t lost on Splichal’s sons. “My friends go, ‘Wow, you’re such a lucky guy,’” said Stephen, laughing as he dug into a second helping of coffee parfait. “And I say, ‘I’m a big boy!’”
Throughout it all, Spichal made sure his guests had enough of everything – enough meat, enough wine, enough butter for their bread. Though he did glance sideways at his son: “You’re having a second dessert?”
“He’s just a genuinely generous guy,” observed Turner, who has been privileged to attend many dinners through the years. “I almost think you can’t do what he’s done without having a great big intellect and heart and lust for life.”
“The problem is, nobody wants to leave,” Splichal said as Turner and Schaefer slipped out to smoke cigars by the pool. “A couple glasses of wine, the fireplace – nobody wants to go home.”
And from the smile on his face, he didn’t seem to mind one bit.