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Chef Family Recipes: Warren Schwartz's Mom On The Westside Tavern Chef + Her Coconut Cake Recipe

Your mom's spaghetti recipe is the best, right? Well, maybe second to your own pasta alla bolognese. But what about chefs? Do they really dig their mom's meatloaf and apple pie? We thought we would ask around to find out. Enter a new series, Chef Family Recipes. Honest answers required.

Up first, Westside Tavern chef Warren Schwartz's mom recalls the challenges of cooking for a pint-sized chef-in-training and shares her coconut cake recipe. It's his favorite cake, of course. But we tasted it, and gotta tell you, Mrs. Schwartz's version is one darn good coconut cake. Folding whipped egg whites separately into the batter makes the cake lighter than most, but there's still plenty of butter (and cream cheese in the frosting) for moisture, plus that hint of citrus from the orange juice. It's no surprise why her son preferred cooking to Little League practice.

Vivian Schwartz's Coconut Cream Cake
Vivian Schwartz's Coconut Cream Cake
Jenn Garbee

Mrs. Schwartz, a San Clemente insurance attorney, always knew her little boy wasn't going to grow up to be a lawyer or doctor. "He's definitely our artsy son," she says.

Schwartz can also be -- how shall we say it politely? -- a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to cooking. "When he was little, Warren did not like the way I cooked his eggs, so he started doing it on his own," she says. "He's very particular, always thinking 'I can do it better.'"

Schwartz credits his 87-year-old grandmother, who has been making pomegranate jam from backyard fruit for decades, for passing down her penchant for perfection. "For the longest time, she would not let anyone put her jam on a peanut butter sandwich - anything else was fine, but peanut butter sandwiches absolutely did not deserve to have her jam on them," Schwartz says.

These days, Schwartz does most of the cooking. "When the whole family gets together, we like to cook up nostalgic dishes, but usually it's more me cooking, doing what I do," he says. A recent menu included roasted dry-aged prime beef, grilled radicchio, rosemary potatoes with homemade horseradish cream, and a tomato and burrata cheese salad. "Larry and I are happy to get out of his way and let him cook," Mrs. Schwartz says of herself and Warren's father, a retired sheriff.

One thing has not changed at the family dinner table. Mom is unequivocally in charge of dessert.

Vivian Schwartz's Coconut Cream Cake

½ cup shortening

½ cup (1 stick) butter

2 cups sugar

5 eggs, separated

2 cups sifted flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup orange juice

7 oz flaked coconut (1 2/3 cup for cake plus 1 cup for filling)

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, blend shortening and butter. Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

2. Sift flour, salt and soda together and add alternately with orange juice, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add 1 2/3 cups coconut and mix to combine.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into batter with a rubber spatula until just combined. Pour mixture into 3 greased and floured 9 inch cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.

Cream Filling

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened

1 16 ounce box confectioner's sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup pecans, chopped

1. In a stand mixer, mix butter and cream cheese until creamy. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar and continue beating until the icing is smooth and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and mix well.

2. Combine the remaining 1 cup of coconut and the nuts in a small bowl. Place one cake round on a plate. Spread 1/4 of the icing on the top of the cake and sprinkle with the coconut-pecan mixture. Top with a second cake layer and repeat. Place the third cake round on top and use the remaining icing to generously ice the top of the cake (do not ice the sides). Press the remaining coconut-pecan mixture onto the top of the cake.

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