David Clayton learned to navigate the confines of a kitchen as a youngster. It was strictly a matter of family survival strategy.

"For as long as I can remember, my mom was on a diet," Clayton explained. "I decided if I wanted anything to eat besides lettuce it was my job."Discontented with Napa Valley lettuce, Clayton packed his apron and journeyed through international cuisines.

A stint in the Air Force left the adventure-seeker with a rice cooker and a Japanese address.

"The rice cooker is a tidy way to avoid a mess; I used it, a toaster oven, an electric skillet and a single gas burner. That was the extent of my Japanese kitchen equipment. I learned to live on rice in Japan, rice and vegetables. American food was expensive and the quality was less than I was accustomed to, so I became a vegetarian while stationed there," Clayton added.

Vegetarianism took a new twist when Clayton landed a Turkish military assignment.

"We were transferred to Turkey about the same time as an embargo was imposed on the country. The PX looked liked Mother Hubbard's cupboard, so we tried to find food off base. I remember trying to explain to a waiter what I wanted, but I couldn't speak the language. I pointed to something that turned out to be stuffed eggplant. I hate eggplant, but when the Turkish cook came out of the kitchen waving a knife and raving about something, I stuffed that eggplant right down!"

After Turkey, Clayton transferred to Miami and an assignment with Cuban refugees.

"That was the bean phase of my cooking," Clayton recalled. "Well, rice and beans."

Clayton's cuisine continues to be influenced by his geographic surroundings.

"I've picked up some ideas from the airlines, then I modify the presentation or the ingredients a bit," the flight attendant continued. "People tend to complain about airline food, but I never get tired of it. After 13-hour days, everything tastes good."

Quick and easy dishes, attractively presented, are the cook's trademark.

Clayton soars through an itinerary of kitchen creations, but pleasing everyone is another story.

"You ask about the seasoning and one person tells you it's too spicy; the next one disagrees," Clayton lamented.

Judges for the Utah Beef Cookoff, however, agreed that Clayton's Beef and Barley soup was a definite prize winner.

Whether a hearty bowl of soup, a stunning appetizer or a perfect plate of pasta, David Clayton propels an amazing kitchen flight plan.

*****

Recipes listed:

Beef and Barley Soup

2 1/2 pounds chuck roast

1 cup pearl barley

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

2 packages dry Au Jus mix

1 large can beef broth

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cans (4 oz.) sliced mushrooms

Combine roast, potatoes, Au Jus mix, beef broth, onion, mustard and spices in a large roasting pan. Cook in oven for 1 1/2 hours. Cook barley 1 hour and drain; rinse and cool. Remove beef from pan after cooked; set aside to cool. Transfer other ingredients to large pot to simmer; add approximately 1 cup of water to thin. After roast has cooled 1/2 hours, dice, remove fat and gristle and add to pot. Add barley and simmer until ready to eat. Makes 6-8 servings.

Hammers

1 pound sliced, cooked ham

1 can (15 oz.) asparagus spears

1 can (4 oz.) chopped black olives

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened

Spread cream cheese over ham; spread 1 teaspoon olives and place 1 asparagus spear in middle; roll up. Chill and slice into serving-size pieces and secure with toothpick. Makes about 24 appetizers.

Pasta Prima-Davi

1/2 cup bay shrimp

1 cup broccoli flowerets

1/2 cup sliced carrots

1/4 cup vinaigrette

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup butter, melted

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Dash basil, oregano, lemon pepper

1 package (12 oz.) fettucine

Cook fettucine according to package directions; rinse and set aside.

Meanwhile, saute garlic in butter and olive oil. Combine remaining ingredients and heat through. Makes 4 servings.

Instant Shrimp Cocktail

2 cups bay shrimp, cooked and peeled

1 bottle shrimp cocktail sauce

2 avocados Halve avocados and remove seed. Fill each with 1/2 cup shrimp and cocktail sauce.

Makes 4 servings.