The 23rd Annual Great Chefs of L.A. took place on November 8 at the CBS Studio Center in Studio City. The fundraiser benefited the National Kidney Foundation, a major voluntary health organization dedicated to the prevention of kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation.
Honorary chairs George Lopez and wife Ann hosted the event, along with Candice Kumai of Lifetime’s “Cook Yourself Thin.”
While the calendar indicated Fall, it was another perfect, summery day in L.A. An enthusiastic crowd darted from booth to booth sampling the works of our own Great Chefs, fine wines, beer, desserts, tequila, and other interesting foods and beverages.
It’s clear that chefs have become something akin to Rock Stars caused by the recent explosion of food media. Chefs posed with food fans in the poignant studio backlot setting and basked in the spotlight of the high profile occasion.
Neal Fraser (Grace and BLD), Mary Sue Milliken, and Susan Feniger (Border Grill and Ciudad) were the event’s chefs of honor.
It was a Los Angeles diner’s fantasy chefs team with Benjamin Ford (Ford’s Filling Station), the Drago brothers (Drago, Il Pastaio, Enoteca Drago, Drago Centro), Josie Le Balch (Josie), Adam Horton (Saddle Peak Lodge), Akasha Richmond (Akasha), Jimmy Shaw (Loteria Grill), the aforementioned chefs of honor and more.
These events are opportune situations to try new restaurants and see whether or not you should make a future reservation. Overall, the food was very good, but there were some booths that ruled the day.
One ingredient that seems to dominate these events is the short rib. While I’ve had some great short rib dishes at other restaurants and events, to me it has become a bore even when it’s good. So much so, that there were dishes I liked at Great Chefs of L.A. because they weren’t short ribs. I would implore all chefs to show us what you can do without a short rib. On that note, let’s get to the excellent short rib, and non-short rib dishes of the event.
Keven Alan Lee, of East Restaurant and Lounge, had the crowd favorite, a scallop on the half-shell with lemongrass sambal, wasabi crème fraiche, shiso dust, and micro cilantro. It was the best scallop dish I’ve had in town, and a cool shot of deliciousness much needed in the mildly oppressive heat. Not far behind was his Hawaiian Walu (Hawaiian fish) with miso mustard cream, micro wasabi, chive essence, and smoked chardonnay sea salt.
When I first arrived, Andrea Cavaliere of Cecconi’s shaved black truffles on to a wild mushroom risotto.
The risotto had dark mushroom flavors which played a friendly tug of war with the black truffle. The result was a fine risotto, comforting and ambrosial.
Celestino Drago’s duck sandwich with a chaser of butternut squash soup was a nice surprise. This is something I wouldn’t mind packing in my lunch box. The rich duck and cheese on toasted bread was a winning combination, only enhanced by the slurp of hearty butternut soup. Celestine and his lovely wife seemed to be having a great time, I guess when you make something so deliciously simple, you can enjoy the party.
There were too many meat dishes on this sweltering afternoon, and that’s why Benjamin Ford’s persimmon salad, with goat cheese, candied pecans, and sherry vinaigrette made so much sense. It was air conditioning in the form of a market-fresh salad. Serving the only salad of the day – apart from La Grande Orange’s deviled egg with greens and Brussels sprout salad – made Ford’s Filling Station a memorable stop.
Il Pastaio’s wild mushroom exhibit was eye-catching, and the zuppa di funghi (mushroom soup) from Giacomo Drago’s Beverly Hills restaurant, was nicely balanced, a much welcomed contrast to the gauntlet of meat dishes.
Other good tastes were Border Grill’s avocado taco with a salsa of amaranth and sesame seeds, and Josie’s gruyere-intense mushroom and gruyere quiche.
Duckhorn Vineyards shared their splendid merlot and Trefethen’s charming pourers coaxed attendees to try their nice cabernet sauvignon, entertaining the palate in between stops. The family-owned Napa Valley vineyard Grgich Hills presented their excellent wines. Beer was a popular item among the sun-soaked attendees and there were several booths to choose from. I gave Fireman’s Brew Blonde – a pilsner style lager – a try. It was crisp and light, the perfect beer given the weather and intense eating that day.
I didn’t expect tequila to be on the menu today, but Tequila Ocho had their full line of single-estate tequilas from Arandas, Jalisco available for tasting. These are complex tequilas that have really grown on me after several tastings.
Perhaps the best beverage of the day was The Bazaar’s liquid nitrogen caipirinha made with Leblon cachaca, if you can call it a beverage. The thrill of watching it being made attracted many nearby foodies with cameras at the ready. I’m not a fan of Leblon, but this was a well-made drink, or sorbet, with medium cachaca notes and the complementary tartness of fresh lime.
The short ribs…Neal Fraser did a veal short rib on polenta that was delicious, but too chewy. Short ribs just don’t hold up very well in this kind of event, and it had dried out sitting on the table. I have enjoyed my dinners at Grace and respect Neal Fraser’s talent, but maybe this wasn’t the way to go.
All the happy eaters in the crowd meant one thing, that the event was a success, raised money for a worthy cause, and celebrated many of L.A.’s best chefs. The event created the feeling of hanging out at your neighborhood block party with all your favorite chefs manning the grill. I look forward to next year’s Great Chefs of L.A. with starved anticipation.