Cook’s Tour: Food and homes for thought

This home on Sea Vista Drive, one of four on view during the Cook's Tour, across the entrance to Malibu Cove Colony, is architecturally New Mexican but Oriental throughout. It has an ocean view from the open-timber covered terrace. Photos by William McGarry

The annual tour raises money for the Malibu Methodist Nursery School.

By Jody Stump/Special to The Malibu Times

Another generation of children is enjoying the gifts bestowed on Malibu’s Methodist Nursery School by the troops of curious Cook’s tourists who pay for the privilege of ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the lifestyles of their most fortunate neighbors. This was the 18th year of the annual sell-out event where four generous homeowners open their doors to the public in order for children who might otherwise miss a preschool education to have one of the best.

The tour started in the west end with a home that can only be described as “luxe.” Owned by Suzan and Michael Starler, this contemporary Mediterranean is a personal testament to a life filled with travels that span the globe and careers that spill into the home. Michael’s study is a glamorous sanctuary, its walls splashed faux marble in a deep, rich marine blue. The painter, Gary Lloyd, is famed for his ceilings in Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel. He continued art of fool-the-eye for the Starler residence with trompe l’oeil limestone columns in the living room and breathtaking sunset skies overhead. Suzan is a chiropractor who works out of the house two days a week. Her three-room office suite is a restful space patients might never want to leave. It includes a columned, outdoor room filled with deep-cushioned club chairs clustered around a cozy fireplace. Just the place to realign the mind after Suzan has adjusted the body. Beyond its basic beauty, the Starler house is notable for the presence of unsettled spirits from centuries gone by. To counteract the energies that threatened to disrupt their lives, the couple had a slate star set in the entryway – an anodyne for troubled poltergeists.

The annual Cook’s Tour includes cooks’ offerings at every stop. John Bard of the Steve Bruer Conference Center provided a light dish of roasted ratatouille along with a simple recipe: Toss cubed eggplant, squash, onions and carrots in olive oil and bake at 400 degrees until edges brown. Add cherry tomatoes and a splash of fennel seeds and cook 5 minutes more. Deglaze with balsamic vinegar. Delicious!

Our second stop was Remy O’Neil’s romantic and very personal homage to the earth’s renewal. The wonders of O’Neil’s world begins with the grace of her fanciful iron gate crafted by Brian Kennedy – birds and fuchsias wrought from twisted metal and brilliant scraps of enamel – and it leads into a rolling xeriscape of sea grape, native flowers and fruit trees. Inside, colors are warm buff or pink with grey-blue trim, and all the rooms seem open, yet cozy. A highlight of the house is the massive slate fireplace designed by the owner, which mirror the curves of soft couches she wrapped in exotic throws collected on her worldwide travels.

Walk outside and meet O’Neil herself and the amazing virtues of her home become even more apparent. She’s hanging out in the garden introducing her worm farm and the parrots and rabbits whose cage-droppings feed the ecosystem she created to protect her world. Working with environmental experts from Malibu’s eco-correct landscapers, Cornucopia, she engineered a home where all irrigation is black-water, all scraps are recycled, all waste is reclaimed and no herbicides or chemical fertilizers are ever used. Her vegetables are blemish-free and huge. If you’re thinking of landscaping, this is a demonstration garden to inspire any resident of our environmentally fragile city.

As though the O’Neil home were not treat enough, the cooks at her home included the tour’s originator, Marcia Moore, who dreamed up the idea while her own kids were nursery age. Herb-spiced. grilled organic vegetables and polenta bars with creamy cheese were the fare followed by rhubarb crumble and homegrown coffee, hand-carried from Hawaii. Available on the Web from Kim Johnson at, the beans are pesticide-free and the brew is rich and very smooth.

Now, pleasantly full of vegetables, we crossed to Point Dume and the glamorous home of Jennifer and Robert Annis with their son, Tristan. Mom and Dad used to live nearby at Zuma Bay Villas and walk the beach, gazing up at the big houses on the hill and wishing, but never imagining, that one day they would live there. But, with Tristan toddling just a few years ago, their condo seemed to shrink and the three of them moved into this 1991 Mediterranean. It’s a house whose 30-foot ceilings could make it seem huge, but Jennifer’s remodel brought in soft dove colors that create visual intimacy, and the use of pillow-cut limestone and deep plush carpets make this a home for comfortable cuddling and watching spectacular sunsets from the bluff. As for Tristan, he has ample space now that he’s at an age to romp, and his bedroom is a young cowboy’s dream, replete with painted pony. Truly a home of joy.

Here, we got an opportunity to sample the fare from a new chef to Malibu – Jason Segal from the Hideaway CafĂ©. If you haven’t been there lately, stop by because his food is really good. In fact, Ed and Laura Gillespie from Kanan Road deemed the crab cakes “excellent,” and I’d have to agree – plump and moist with a feather-light crunch and just enough spice in the aioli to wake up the taste buds. The cakes are on Hideaway’s regular menu along with the delicate sweet-sour spinach salad in vanilla vinaigrette.

Last stop was a house familiar to almost everyone who cruises the coast and wonders just what is under the open timbers attached to that white southwestern home perched across from the entrance to Malibu Cove Colony. It’s a terrace that provides the perfect filtered light for growing orchids and it’s attached to the Sea Vista Home, a house architecturally New Mexican but Oriental throughout. The owners evidently spent considerable time in southern and western Asia collecting magnificent antiques, from a plump-ly benevolent Buddha carved from unpolished jade to a delicate ancient window frame from Japan. Masses of orchids from Zuma Canyon Orchids crown half-walls and impressive chunks of semiprecious crystals catch the light in this serene home overlooking the sea.

In keeping with the southwest theme, our culinary host was Casa Escobar, which provided crunchy taquitos and smooth, tasty enchiladas along with Spanish rice.

Every year, organizer Kay Gabbard assembles a small army of volunteers who act as guides and guards to make sure no one misses seeing a treasure and none is ever missing at the end of the day. They are as dedicated and good-natured a group as any homeowner could wish and they are central to making the event heartfelt and compelling. In the kindest way, they also manage crowd control so no room is ever too full to view and no home goes unseen.