“Food is not just about how it tastes,” says Laurence Hauben, a chef and former columnist for this newspaper who now leads one-day culinary adventures called Market Forays. “It’s about our relationship to people and to nature.”
Part cooking class and part walking tour, Laurence’s forays are one of the most unique cultural experiences in Santa Barbara. The idea came very organically to the French-born entrepreneur, who was previously the head of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association.
“After I left that job, I reflected on what I enjoyed, and the most important thing for me was sharing food with people,” she explains. “Every Monday morning, the Montecito Union parents make healthy snacks for their kids, and events organizer Merryl Brown asked me to be a guest chef. Before I bought the ingredients, I invited her to go the harbor with me where I introduced her to the fisherman, then we went to the farmers market. She bragged to her friends about her experience and about how much I’d opened her eyes about food. There was so much interest that the idea for Market Forays was born. “
Soon after building her website and joining Visit Santa Barbara, word quickly got out, and she was written up by the L.A. Times and Sunset Magazine.
Like that inaugural tour, the typical foray starts around 8 a.m. with shopping sprees at the harbor and farmers market. There’s never more than eight people, who are often complete strangers, but always end up friends by the end of the day. Laurence brings some freshly baked madeleines or scones to nibble on while they look for abalone, crabs, or halibut at the harbor. By 8:30 a.m., they’re collecting what’s needed on their lists from the market, where Laurence shows how to select the most tender lettuce or perfect strawberry. About 90 minutes later, they’re off to C’est Cheese to taste and buy cheeses for the evening.
The final stop is Laurence’s own kitchen .“My background is home cooking — I come from the Julia Child tradition,” she explains. “At first, I was a bit hesitant to bring people to my humble kitchen, but my boyfriend told me that that was the point: You don’t need a showcase kitchen.”
By 10:30 a.m., the forayers are busy washing, peeling, and chopping the ingredients in the kitchen. “I give assignments,” explains Laurence. “I assess the personalities. I know who wants to be competitive or just relax or is very detail-oriented.” The lunch comes together magically, and everyone enjoys the multiple courses, each paired with wine, including cheese and dessert, until about 3:30 p.m.
Aside from the great experience, Market Forays is about demystifying cooking. “In this country, people have a ‘learned helplessness’ about food,” she reflects. “People have an anxiety about food and cooking. I undo that. I reconnect them to cooking. It’s good therapy. I teach them professional skills for a home kitchen. Can you plan and execute a multi-course meal without stressing out? I teach them how to organize. I teach them planning. Also the creativity of going to the market and finding an ingredient they weren’t planning to use, but that’s asking to be taken home. “
Laurence is one of the most charming people I know, and not solely because her delicious French accent is vibrant and warm. She’s also the executive chef for Roblar Winery and assists in the operations of Penryn Orchard Specialties.
Laurence takes time away from her kitchen to answer the Proust Questionnaire.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Eve. I always give in to temptation.
What do you like most about your job?
That it keeps changing, with each season, each new ingredient to play with, each client I meet. There is always something new to learn.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I am a pretty happy person by nature. Basically, unless someone/something is actively bothering me, I am happy. I build opportunities for happiness into each day. I am happy for a lot of small things: the froth on my morning cappuccino, a walk in the hills with my dog, a job well done, dinner with friends, the freshly pressed sheets on my bed, and a good book at the end of the day. I think that’s the French in me. We don’t worry much about Heaven. We like life here and now.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is to forget to show up for an important commitment to clients, like forget that I am supposed to cook dinner for someone’s wedding. That would be awful.
Who do you most admire?
My mom and Leonardo Da Vinci. My mom because, even though she had MS and a very difficult life, she never lost her sweetness and her capacity for laughter. Leonardo because of his amazingly creative mind, totally unbound by convention.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Flying business class. It is expensive, but I just can’t take the cattle car anymore on long flights, it is too painful. Also, freshly pressed Frette sheets on my bed. I found an automatic ironer from the 1940s and my boyfriend fixed it up for me so I can iron my sheets. Smooth sheets are a big deal to me.
What is your current state of mind?
It’s a combination of confidence in my personal life, because things are really good at that level, and deep concern about the violence we as a species are doing to each other and to the earth.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Kindness, optimism, can-do attitude.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Closed mind and dishonesty.
What do you most value in friends?
Good counsel and that they be there for me in hard times. I love how my friends show me a different way to look at issues.
What is your most marked characteristic?
A strong need for independence.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I honestly have no idea about that.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play music. I also wish I could balance my checkbook.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would be incredibly efficient, like Phileas Fogg.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Where would you most like to live?
I feel most at home in a garden. I have to live in a place where food grows and there are sweet-smelling plants, and where I can hear birds sing in the morning and walk my dog off-leash. Beyond those requirements and the right to speak freely, I am flexible.
What is your most treasured possession?
The big sycamore tree in my garden. It is incredibly beautiful.
What makes you laugh the most?
The movie Dinner de Cons, the character Lena Lamont in Singing in the Rain, Faulty Towers, farts, PG Wodehouse, Mark Twain, French comic books.
What is your motto?
Play your objective.
On what occasion do you lie?
Sometimes I plead prior commitments if I don’t want to do something.