James Beard L.A. Chef Invitational at The Foundry

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James Beard

It isn’t very often that you’ll find 10 talented chefs and bartenders working side-by-side for a common cause. The Foundry on Melrose chef-owner Eric Greenspan knew just the name to drop to make that happen: James Beard. Chef Greeny assembled some of the nation’s top chefs and bartenders to participate in the inaugural L.A. Chef Invitational. The chefs duly honored the famous gastronome’s memory, as every stage of the five-course dinner was good to great.

Bartenders Los Angeles
The evening began with passed hors d’oeuvres and a star-studded bar staffed with five noted bartenders: Jeff Hollinger (Absinthe Brasserie, SF), Eric Alperin (The Varnish), Michael Madrusan (Milk & Honey, NYC), Richard Boccato (Dutch Kills, NYC) and Dan Bayha (The Foundry on Melrose, unpictured).

Cocktail Los Angeles
Each bartender made two cocktails, one to pair with dinner and the other to ignite the night. Jeff Hollinger started with “Smoke and Mirrors,” a smoky golden-hued cocktail combining mezcal, brandy and lemon peel.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Michael Madrusan contributed the Bobby Burns: Sweet vermouth and Benedictine on the rocks. This was the only cocktail on the rocks, and if bartenders are slinging rocks these days, there’s a good chance it will involve Névé Luxury Ice.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Eric Alperin crafted the “Holland Razor Blade” – Bols Genever, lemon, a little simple syrup and a dusting of cayenne. This drink had good acidity and nice heat at the finish.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Another excellent cocktail from round one was courtesy of Richard Boccato, the “Tijuana Rocket.” This tangy pink drink involved grenadine, lime, tequila and yellow chartreuse. Unpictured: Dan Bayha’s Madagascar, made with African Starr rum, tamarind and lime.

After the bartenders got us buzzed, Greenspan directed us into the covered-for-winter dining room, where he explained the motivation for the event: “not only showcase some of the great young chefs but also highlight some of the new cocktail culture.”

James Beard Foundation staffer Mitchell Davis provided some background about the organization, saying, “Before there was Julia Child, there was James Beard…the father of American cuisine.” In 1986, the organization raised money and bought the late James Beard’s house in Greenwich Village. The first chef they hosted was Wolfgang Puck, which drew 12 people. Now they host 250 events per year, and they routinely sell out. In 1990, the James Beard Foundation started their awards. The foundation now has 66 awards per year, and since 2001, they’ve raised $2.7 million in scholarships.

After the speeches, it was back to the kitchen for Greenspan, who worked in tandem with Jason Neroni (Blanca, Solana Beach), Doug Psaltsis (NYC), Walter Manzke (Church & State) and Zoe Nathan (Rustic Canyon & Huckleberry) to craft a spectacular five-course dinner.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Dan Bayha kept the cocktail train rolling with a cloudy drink made using un-filtered sake, calvados, green apple juice, celery juice, ginger and horseradish. The drink was heavy on the celery, kind of like an alcoholic Cel Rey, minus the carbonation.

Special Dinner Los Angeles
Greenspan started light with silky Yellowtail Sashimi, a drizzle of creamy sea urchin vinaigrette and an apple celery salad that mirrored the predominant flavors of his mixologist’s cocktail, including celery leaves, supple apple spears and an apple sauce base.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Richard Boccato’s Infante featured house-made orgeat (almond syrup), fresh lime juice, Tequila Plata and grated nutmeg, served in a tumbler with a gargantuan Névé cube. The cocktail featured an incredible aroma from the nutmeg and great acidity. Overheard: “I think this is the best cocktail I’ve ever had.” It was certainly a contender.

Special Dinner Los Angeles
Jason Neroni’s Dose of Vitamin P was outstanding. The chef at Solana Beach’s Blanca restaurant labeled his dish “pressed pork pave,” but that’s a technical French expression. What we received was a juicy square of suckling pig shoulder, and as we all know, baby animals are more delicious. The plate also held a creamy avocado panna cotta and a tart dollop of hibiscus sorbet, which cut through the hog’s richness.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Michael Madrusan’s “Young American” utilized sweet vermouth, Campari, seltzer and an Absinthe rinse and was served in a leaning tower of Pisa glass. The drink had sweet body from the vermouth, a subtle licorice flavor from the absinthe rinse and a bitter finish from the Campari. At first sip, I didn’t know what to make of the ruby red drink, but ended up enjoying the complex array of flavors.

Special Dinner Los Angeles
Doug Psaltsis impressed with his Kataifi Crusted Loup de Mer, a juicy fillet of crisp-crusted Mediterranean bass paired with cucumber, spiced yogurt and dill pollen. Kataifi is shredded phyllo.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Jeff Hollinger prepared Sideways in Reverse, a candy cap mushroom infused Rittenhouse 100 Rye cocktail with peppered Coteaux de Languedoc gastrique, Blandy’s Rainwater Madeira & orange bitters. This cocktail delivered a flavor explosion, with deep purple color from the Madeira, with a peppery body and sweet maple finish from the candy cap mushrooms.

Special Dinner Los Angeles
Walter Manzke delivered a juicy brick of braised beef short rib topped with over-the-top but much appreciated slab of seared foie gras and a black pepper sauce drizzled over rich sweet potato puree. This dish was an absolutely decadent victory.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Eric Alperin’s final cocktail – “The Nuts & Bolts” – paired well with dessert and involved almond infused Cognac, Navan vanilla liqueur, chocolate bitters and a spray of Absinthe. The light brown drink smelled of almonds and sported a sweet but not overwhelming body.

Dessert Los Angeles
Zoe Nathan has earned a reputation as one of L.A.’s best pastry chefs for good reason. Her apple tart had a supple pastry crust that was caramelized at the edges, an addictive streusel top, warm caramelized apples and tangy creme fraiche ice cream.

Dessert Los Angeles
As an added bonus, Zoe Nathan delivered miniature but still decadent chocolate cupcakes.

Special Dinner Los Angeles
After dinner, the chefs and bartenders made a well deserved curtain call. CLICK FOR A CLOSE-UP. The meal left a last impression and if Eric Greenspan (or anybody else) decides to host a second L.A. Chef Invitational, count me in.

Note: Chef Greenspan invited me to attend the L.A. Chef Invitational, but the event still would have been well worth the $125 price tag.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

[…] in WeHo and then I was just downright sick. The time I was sick was tragic because he was hosting a James Beard Foundation dinner and I was very bummed out that I missed […]

I’ve been to Huckleberry and Rustic Canyon and won’t go back. That takes away from the meal. Dessert would’ve been rather lousy. Fine if you grow up eating Twinkies but I didn’t.

I think the photography of the creations presented really sucks! The photographer doesn’t know one bit about lighting, white balance, composition. This does not do any good to the presentations.


The lighting was very low in The Foundry dining room. I’m also not a professional photographer, and never claimed to be. If it bothers you so much, don’t visit Food GPS.

wow you drank a lot of cocktails. lucky

I was definitely lucky that night.

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