The Hosting House: A TV Host and a Food Entrepreneur Team Up to Design the Perfect Home for Hospitality
At Hacienda de la Paz, a Rolling Hills couple puts past experience to good use and conceives a home destined for elaborate entertaining.
Written by Darren Elms | Styled by Kara Mickelson | Photographed by Lauren Pressey
Once acquainted with the backgrounds of John Z. Blazevich and fiancée Alex McLeod, it’s easy to understand the passion and care that went into the construction of Hacienda de la Paz—the estate they share in Rolling Hills. A business leader with three decades of experience in the food industry, John founded Contessa Premium Foods in 1984 and turned a small importer of seafood and Asian vegetables into one of the top frozen food companies in the world.
Alex is well-known for her hosting stints on home design reality show Trading Spaces and pop culture phenomenon Joe Millionaire I. In addition to lending her talent on camera, she is a professionally trained chef and food lover, having graduated from both The University of Texas and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
Together John and Alex create an ideal recipe for throwing epic dinner parties and events. Distinguished guests have included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the president of Bosnia and many top ambassadors.
Hacienda de la Paz was created for entertaining. Their 19th-century, Spanish-style home showcases a “millennium of architecture under one roof,” featuring a subterranean, 10,000-square-foot, 10th-century hamam spa and an indoor tennis court built to U.S. Open specifications. The 17-year construction process supervised by John included a collaboration with award-winning architect and Spanish laureate Rafael Manzano Martos, curator to Spain’s royal family.
For more than a decade, John and Alex accompanied their Spanish interior design and architectural team on various buying trips around the globe—including Turkey, Spain, Morocco and Italy—to acquire building materials and decorative accessories and art. Keeping with the estate’s character, their entertaining instincts also lean toward Spanish and Mediterranean.
“We love Moroccan spice,” shares Alex. “We had the good fortune of shopping for spices in the bazaars and medinas of Morocco and Turkey, such as saffron and ras el hanout.”
John was born in Sarajevo and immigrated to Southern California in 1958, so it’s not surprising to find some Adriatic influences as well. “Lamb is a staple for Croatians,” notes Alex. “I eat less meat than John, but I am a bit of a Texas chili nerd. When I entertain, I am more concerned with pleasing our guests—not myself.”
Seafood paella has a special significance to the couple, as it was the very first frozen meal from John’s company that Alex ever tried. “Everyone likes taco trucks (so do we), but once in a while we hire a guy who arrives with a colossal paella pan and it’s sheer entertainment as he prepares for the hungry crowd. I enjoy the impact multiculturalism has had on American cuisine in recent years, and we like to be reminded of our travels … so we mix it up.”
Also in the Spanish tradition, tapas make a regular appearance at Hacienda de la Paz. “When our Spanish designers were here for months and years on end, we had Spanish olives, manchego, Marcona almonds, quince and baguettes on hand—and we still do to this day. Having the Spanish team as regular house guests influenced our menus for sure.”
The property is covered with natural bounty, boasting vegetable gardens, herbs, citrus trees (oranges, lemons, limes), nut trees, olive trees, fig trees, peach trees, plums, avocados and more. “We try to live off the land as much as possible,” explains Alex. “We incorporate what we have in the gardens into our foods and centerpieces for table décor.”
For food preparation, John and Alex have multiple kitchens and catering facilities to choose from, but they use the outside grill and the La Cornue range in the main kitchen every day. Their favorite way to entertain is a casual barbecue outside with friends and family, where they typically serve a combo of grilled seafood, meat and vegetables with sides.
“The indoor kitchen also has a fireplace that is very European,” says Alex. “The blue and white tiles throughout the kitchen are Portuguese.” There’s even a pizza oven on property available for the perfect fire-cooked pie.
There are tables on both sides of the property for the barbeques and dining alfresco. “Some days we enjoy the views and tranquility of the gardens and the fountains on the courtyard side of the property under a trellis covered with grape leaves,” Alex says. “On clear days we entertain on the loggia overlooking the stunning ocean, mountain and city vistas. We are fortunate to have many options here and beauty at every turn.”
Jimmy Trani and Dustin Trani of J. Trani’s in San Pedro have catered many of John and Alex’s events. Alex graciously offers her take on their recipe for a grape reduction sauce—a classic the couple enjoys serving at their bigger parties, paired here with lamb.
Special thanks to Artistic Habitat for the food surfaces, BBJ Linen for the table runner and Rolling Hills Flower Market for the centerpiece.
Custom Design & Construction celebrates the grand opening of their new El Segundo showroom with guests who enjoyed wine by Napa Valley wine maker, Robert Craig. Mariel Hemingway, an advocate of the evening’s sponsor, Cambria, was available for pictures with guests. Photography by Alex Smith.