SUPPER: Paonessa was beloved for many things, including her supper club.

A longtime resident of Santa Monica known for her longtime supper club died last month at age 73 following a two-year bout with ovarian cancer.

Leslie Paonessa grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where she attended Birmingham High School and California State University, Northridge. She moved to Santa Monica in 1985 and worked as a script consultant and later a private chef. Paonessa evaluated hundreds of scripts over the course of her career, most notably Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham.

In the last seven years of her life, she hosted “Le Secret Supper,” which she founded with close friend Esquire Jauchem. She invited about 20 people to Jauchem’s historic Venice home once a month and cooked them a six-course meal.

Paonessa created a unique menu for each dinner of “creative comfort cuisine with global influences,” as she told the Daily Press in 2014. She went to the Santa Monica Farmers Market every Wednesday and knew each vendor by name, Jauchem said.

Jauchem said she got the inspiration for “Le Secret Supper” from supper clubs in San Francisco and he believes she organized the only such club on the Westside. While the club started with their friends and then friends of friends, the circle widened over the years, he said.

“It was a very eclectic group,” he said. “There were always new faces and even visitors from out of the country. People would meet and become friends.”

Jauchem said the supper club gave Paonessa a sense of satisfaction that she couldn’t get as a private chef.

“She cooked food for people and never saw them eat it,” he said. “While she might hear from them the next day that they really liked the meal, she never saw them enjoy the food. It was a special treat for her to watch people react to her cooking.”

Paonessa’s niece Sharon Heller attended Paonessa’s last dinner party with her closest friends, including her ex-husband 19. Heller said her aunt planned the dinner as carefully as she always did.

“It was so important to her that we did it just right,” Heller said. “We went to five different stores for ingredients. Every detail was so important to her.”

Her passion for food was an extension of her love of art and culture, Heller said. Paonessa gave her niece the first two records she ever owned: one by the B-52s and another by Blondie.

“Leslie was always the hip, cool aunt,” Heller said.

Paonessa was most enthusiastic about film, however. She went to the movies at least once a week, Heller said, and avidly kept up with the latest developments in filmmaking.

“We would have these fun conversations, where she would say “have you seen this movie that came out last month?” and my answer was always no,” Heller said. “To her, it was like I was almost from another planet because I didn’t live and breathe movies like she did.”

Paonessa also headed the Main Street Merchants Association in its early years, where she was instrumental in getting the street decorated for the holidays, Jauchem said. Her efforts ultimately resulted in the permanent lighting strands that now illuminate Main Street.

Jauchem said Paonessa loved Santa Monica, especially its restaurant scene. She told him she felt a real sense of community in the city for the first time in her life.

“When I look at those lights on Main Street, I remember her,” he said.

Along with her friends in Santa Monica, Paonessa is survived by her sister Susan Bloch, her nieces Kate and Sharon and her nephew Mitchell.

Friends who wish to be informed about plans for a memorial may email or

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