All About Food: Serving up homemade baked goods

October 26, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Deborah Vanley
Deborah Vanley

We have always enjoyed our interviews with home cooks because they seem to love talking about food as much as we do.

The gracious Deborah Vanley is famous in Laguna Beach for her baked goods. Making breads and desserts is her passion.

"That's the main reason I get invited to people's houses," she says with a smile.

She is a home cook but has a lot of professional training under her belt. One might say that she has a black belt in pastry.

While her children were still at home, she served a different fresh baked dessert every evening, much to the delight of her neighbors who were the recipients of the leftovers.

Deborah's family is from South Dakota and even though they moved to Southern California when she was a child, she was raised on hearty farm food prepared by her mom, who was a good cook.

After graduate school, she became a pharmacist and her husband, Christopher, a physician. The couple worked for six months and saved all their money for a six-month trip, eating their way around the world.


It was a culinary revelation.

In Tahiti, they loved the French pepper steak and the baguettes. They spent a month in New Zealand, where they had fresh milk with a layer of cream on top delivered every morning. They also bought a leg of lamb there for $2. In Australia, they were taken with the barbecues. They were dazzled by the beauty of the food in Japan — a feast for the eyes. They stopped in Singapore, Bali, the Philippines, India, Hong Kong, Turkey, Scandinavia and Ireland.

Everywhere Deborah went, it was bread that piqued her interest, from orange and anise-flecked Limpa in Sweden, soda bread in Ireland, rustic three-penny loaf in Turkey, to chapatis in India.

She and Christopher became confirmed foodies when they moved to San Francisco for his residency. Deborah enrolled in the California Culinary Academy and worked as a pharmacist on weekends.

After the first quarter, she became pregnant but from the first day she couldn't stomach the sight or smell of food and she had to leave the program. After having two kids, she began taking classes again, including a one-week pastry class. At the end of it, each one of the eight students invited five guests for a huge buffet featuring Sacher tortes, mirroire cake, layered meringues and tarts.

The Vanleys moved to Laguna in 1983, and Deborah took classes wherever they were offered, including the Royal Thai, El Torito Grill and Sur La Table.

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