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At the first-annual Los Angeles Times and Food & Wine The Taste, celebrity chefs joined L.A.’s best restaurants, watering holes, destinations and entertainment at nine unique events that highlighted Los Angeles’ rich culinary scene. All of the events at the four-day festival shared what, for many, was the main attraction — a chance to sample L.A.’s best food, wine and spirits in unlimited quantities and meet and chat with the city’s top chefs, mixologists and food personalities. But, what made the festival truly great was the possibility for personalization — all nine events offered enough differentiation in terms of mood, destination and entertainment so festival-goers could select what kind of food experience they wanted. The event appealed on many levels, proving to be a worthwhile way for Angelinos as well as visitors to pass the Labor Day weekend.
Out of the nine events, I was happy to attend the Street Eats event at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, Calif. Television junkies on the lookout for their favorite cooking show personalities, cooks seeking to learn how to recreate their favorite restaurant dishes and visitors looking for a Hollywood experience enjoyed the surroundings — a New York set, resembling a city street, with storefronts and stoops, filled to the brim with delicious food and beverage as well as stimulating conversation. Food highlights included The Foundry on Melrose’s grilled cheese sandwich, a past winner of the annual L.A. Grilled Cheese Invitational, as well as potato gnocchi with heirloom tomatoes, crafted by Fabio Viviani’s Firenze Osteria. While savoring a popular dish from Susan Feniger’s Street, kaya toast, I learned how to make the Malaysian street food at one of the event’s cooking demonstrations, run by Kajsa Alger, executive chef of Street.
I managed to take a break from eating at discussion panels featuring culinary experts and top chefs who are fearlessly evolving L.A.’s food scene. At the “Food City: The New Language of L.A” discussion panel, chefs Jet Tila, Sang Yoon, Roy Choi and Mario Alberto discussed what makes L.A. a great destination to discover new tastes.
“Los Angeles can evolve and change without worrying about who we’re going to upset,” said Roy Choi, chef/founder of the Kogi truck, A-Frame and Chego. “We don’t have much history that confines us. We’re not glorifying the past. We’re going through a metamorphosis of eating.”
Jet Tila, a chef who is continuously praised for his French cooking education, said that all it takes is a drive through the city to experience where the sophistication in L.A. food really lies — in its diverse offerings.
“We are light years ahead of other cities in the food of people of color,” said Tila.
The Street Eats event was enough to fill me up for the day, but Sunday night’s event — Food Noir, located on a closed-off section of Broadway between 8th and 9th streets in downtown Los Angeles — proved far too seductive to skip. Indeed, the mood suited an evening spent downtown, with the long line of sharply dressed ticket-holders vying to get into the event recalling the lines at downtown’s popular cocktail bars and clubs. The city’s top spots to get drinks, such as The Varnish and Seven Grand, mixed up artisan cocktails alongside my favorite new eateries, including Mohawk Bend and others that I have always wanted to try, such as The Misfit and Chaya.
Between bites, festival-goers popped into the historic and lavishly appointed Orpheum Theatre, which was open exclusively for the event and showed film noir newsreels and classic cartoon shorts. The night’s live entertainment, however, was the most suiting complement to the dishes thought up by L.A.’s adventurous restaurants. Dengue Fever, a Los Angeles-based group that describes itself as “Cambodian indie rock,” fit right in with L.A.’s fearless and talented chefs. Lead singer Chhom Nimol sang in Cambodian but I — equipped with a ginger cocktail kept cool by a freshly-chopped block of slow-melting ice — had no trouble understanding what made the evening, and the event, such a pleasure.
“You don’t have to speak to connect through food,” said Sang Yoon, restaurateur/chef of Father’s Office and Lukshon. “That’s how I travel today — through food.”
At The Taste in L.A., chefs Jet Tila (left), Sang Yoon and Roy Choi explain why Los Angeles is an exciting destination for both chefs and foodies. // © 2011 Blessing Yen
Festival-goers sampled L.A.’s best culinary treats, like award-winning grilled cheese by the Foundry on Melrose. // © 2011 Mindy Poder