The 22nd Annual Great Chefs of Los Angeles event took place at CBS Studio Center in Studio City on November 9. I was incredibly fortunate to receive a surprise last-minute invite. After two hours of wandering a three-block stretch of booths, I was in a food-induced haze. Was it worth the pain? Of course. Here’s a booth-by-booth rundown of my backlot tastes and discoveries.
The afternoon delivered food and wine from some of SoCal’s most revered chefs and vintners, plus auctions and live music from DJ Mike Palmieri. The purpose: to benefit the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California.
The theme of this year’s event was “Go Green, Go Organic,” promoting eco-friendly and recyclable products, eco-conscious living, sustainability and organic food.
Border Grill & Ciudad Catering: Raymond Alvarez made small bites of Cochinita Pibil, the Yucatan pork specialty that Yuca’s Hut burned into the city’s collective consciousness.
Andrew’s Cheese Shop: Andrew Steiner contributed six different cheeses – Timanoix, Monte Enebro, Brie de Meaux, Grafton Four Star, Gouda, Fontina D’Aosta – plus cubes of quince paste and slices of baguette. The Timanoix was especially impressive. It’s a soft cow’s milk cheese that French monks wash in walnut liqueur, imparting a distinctly nutty flavor.
Josie: Josie Le Balch provided slices of wild mushroom and Gruyere quiche, a signature dish that she serves diners upon arriving at her Santa Monica restaurant.
A dineLA interview from earlier this year hinted that Josie might be interested in opening a casual restaurant. She told me that may happen eventually, but she’s in no rush. Since she already has one restaurant, she can pick her spot. Josie considered Culver City, but the market might already be overexposed.
La Terza: Chef of Honor Gino Angelini made a strong showing, delivering seven different tastes to the crowd, many presented dramatically. Angelini and his crew carved Parmigiano with what looked like an ice pick from a gigantic wheel of Grana Padano.
Angelini also brought La Terza’s deluxe meat slicer, which he procured in Italy, to shave feathery prosciutto. He also sliced chewy discs of salami.
At the next table, Angelini’s crew dispensed tender marinated baby artichokes, meatballs in tomato sauce, slabs of albacore treated with olive oil, capers, onions, pine nuts and golden raisins; and fregola (a fresh pasta similar to spaetzle) with cherry tomatoes and peas.
Animal: Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo pan-fried bites of crispy pork belly using a hot plate. The vinegar from the homemade kimchi cut the richness of the hog fat. Shook said that he and Dotolo always deliver a dish at these types of events that people can then go find at Animal. At another recent chef event, they served their signature pork ribs.
8 oz. & Table 8: Go Green, Go Organic Host Chef Govind Armstrong and culinary lieutenant Jacob Wildman offered stellar short rib grilled cheese sandwiches.
La Loggia and Next Door Tapas: Frank Leon prepared several tastes, highlighted by sweet langoustines wrapped in kataifi nests that were partially submerged in poached lettuce sauce. He also made Moroccan lamb and chicken skewers and zucchini packets (vegetarian and meat filled).
Leon is currently working to open Bokado in the former Studio City home of Tommy Ray’s. He described Bokado as a “Spanish brasserie” and predicted a January or February opening.
8 oz.: Ryan Wingo, previously with SBE, is part of L.A.’s new wave of mixology, crafting cocktails from market-driven ingredients. He made Orange Ginger Red Cocktails and Pomegranate Sidecars. Strangely, neither is available at 8 oz. Wingo had some interesting ideas about mixology. He said that when he was working for SBE, he couldn’t really take the time to make fresh cocktails because people were usually three-deep at the bar. At 8 oz., he can take his time.
Drago Restaurant, Enoteca Drago, Il Pastaio & Drago Centro (Coming November 2008): Celestino Drago is the elder statesman in his family’s Italian restaurant empire. The Dragos offered several dishes, but I limited consumption to the wild boar tenderloin with soft polenta with red wine & spiced fig sauce.
GRACE: Neal Fraser served a signature dish that currently appears on his restaurant’s five-year anniversary menu: Dungeness crab salad with shiso and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. It was clear why the refreshing dish has become an enduring classic.
A few months back, Eater LA reported that Fraser might partner with Cedd Moses of 213 Ventures (Seven Grand, The Doheny, Broadway Bar, Golden Gopher, Cole’s) on a new restaurant in the former downtown home of Clifton’s Silver Spoon Cafeteria. Fraser said Moses is currently locking down the 25,000 to 30,000-square-foot space, and he’s not sure whether he’ll be involved or not. In the meantime, Fraser addressed his approach with Cole’s. He said he won’t change the French dip; he’s just working to ensure consistency, and consistently high-quality ingredients.
Fraiche: Jason Travi (not present) contributed two dishes, including a variation on wife Miho Travi’s Paris-Brest. This version was a Chocolate Paris-Brest with pumpkin cream, chocolate sauce, spun sugar and praline.
The BLVD at the Beverly Wilshire: Brian Moyers prepared two innovative dishes, including duck confit cannelloni with a potato wrapper and diced Bosc pear, served with an apple cappuccino.
The Lazy Baker: Gina Leo, from Carlsbad, has spent the past three years building her business. It’s paid off. Her cookies are now available online and at supermarket chains like Bristol Farms and Whole Foods. Just slide them in the oven to experience cookies like Oatmeal Cherry Raisin Spice, Holiday Gingerbread, Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread, Chocolate Chip and Double Chocolate Chip.
The preferred drink of was wine, but two tables featured beer, the better of the two tables hosting bottles of Stella Artois, Leffe and Hoegaarden.
Mistral: Henri Abergel & Manuel Cabrera served slabs of Salmon Creek Farm Braised Pork Shoulder with cabbage.
Saltistry: Joni Fay Hill & Denise Declan started their fascinating specialty salt company in Santa Monica three years ago. Before that, Hill was a chef for 15 years, working at well-regarded local restaurants like Le Dome and BalBOA on the Sunset Strip, where she was executive chef. At those restaurants, she created flavored salts to use on the dishes. Saltistry’s line of salts includes 6 Pepper and lime flake, plus exotica like coconut black salt and fennel pollen salt. The salts come in ingenious compartmentalized cases that would make perfect stocking stuffers. Joni also makes sea salt caramels and sea salt capers. At the booth, Hill suggested a few inventive salt pairings: clementines dipped in apricot salt, cherry tomatoes dipped in 6 Pepper salt and Pee Wee Potatoes dipped in truffle salt.
SHU – Sushi House Unico: Chef Yoji Tajima, who was the opening chef at Katsu-Ya, dispensed slices of yellowtail, ahi and salmon sashimi from his little sushi pagoda.
By the time I left at 2:30, I’d already gorged for over two straight hours. Great Chefs of LA was a fun event that benefited a worthy cause, and I’d definitely recommend it for people next year.