Len Thompson is a traveling man.

The chef took a giant step when he left the hills of Arkansas to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in New York.Armed with the right chef's training and a contagious spirit of adventure, Thompson set out for gourmet glitz in Los Angeles. After a couple of hotel experiences, Thompson landed in Malibu at an appropriately named beachside restaurant, Splash.

Chefing at the cozy coastal retreat opened another door for Thompson.

Robert Redford happened to be a regular customer at the restaurant.

"I was eating there one night when I noticed the food was exceptionally good. I thought I was lucky and had ordered the right thing," Redford recalled.

"The next time I came to dinner, the same thing happened, and I asked the manager what was going on. I'd always enjoyed the food, but the new direction was impressive. That's when I met this Thompson kid from the hills of Arkansas."

Over the past three years, the pair has struck up a friendship over food.

"Len makes dressings like I'd never tasted before," Redford said, "and wait 'til you taste his chocolate macadamia nut pie! I'd never liked halibut; I thought it tasted like an old shoe until Len prepared it."

Redford's enthusiasm was obvious. When the chef informed his actor associate that he would be leaving Splash for a new position, the Sundance owner "pounced like a panther on the opportunity."

Thompson's philosophy mirrors that of his famous employer. Both state the significance of relying on traditional American cuisines coupled with imaginative accents.

"To me, the culinary world struggles to find a fashion for itself. They jump from one regional cuisine to another, like this Southwest trend. Then they try to describe their foods with too many adjectives. American food is simple and traditional, born out of our own experience," Redford added.

Thompson unpacked at Sundance. The new chef bubbles with enthusiasm to explore another territory - one identified by his boss as "everyday international exposure with the film institute clientle, but anchored by the local gentry."

Thompson unveils his culinary background with a Thanksgiving buffet. For further information, call Sundance, 1-225-4107.


Recipes listed:

Southern Cornbread Stuffing

Fresh Cranberry Relish

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie