When getting to a party involves boarding a Universal Studios Tour shuttle, you know you’re in for something special. And special only begins to describe the time I had at the 28th American Wine & Food Festival on the backlot of Universal Studios, Los Angeles, Saturday, September 25, 2010. From the first step onto the red carpet, to the last delectable taste of food and wine, the night was filled with unique and memorable experiences.
One of those experiences was the Sweet Corn Griddle Cake with Crab Ravigote from Restaurant Iris. It was perfect. Really, when the sous chef finished making it she handed it to me and said, “Here’s the money shot.” Indeed. And it tasted even better than it looks.
A truly unique and memorable experience was meeting and interviewing Chef Thomas Keller. Keller greeted guests in front of his impressive shellfish ice bar while signing and launching mini Bouchon beach balls into the air. COMING SOON: Exclusive interview with Chef Keller and video coverage of American Wine & Food Festival!
Real wine glasses were provided to nearly three thousand attendees. Shockingly, I didn’t see a single broken glass the entire night — a testament to the people this festival attracts. An annual event since 1982, American Wine & Food has helped the Puck-Lazaroff Charitable Foundation raise more than $15 million for the Meals On Wheels Programs of Los Angeles.
As if zipping by Lyon Estates on the shuttle didn’t already have me starry eyed, the twilight blue sky, romantically lit building facades, intoxicating aromas and bustling, busy chefs pull me in like the opening sequence of a blockbuster film. With a tad more than an hour of daylight to work with, we scramble to get footage and absorb as much of the atmosphere, and natural light, as possible. There is so much food and wine at American Wine & Food, it may be impossible to take in the entire festival. Well, unless you’re Adam Richman.
Sam Choy’s pork “egg roll” was my first savory bite of the night! Light and flaky on the outside; filling and flavorful on the inside.
Mark Peel and Campanile brought the iconic American family BBQ sampler of Baby Back Ribs, Sweet Corn Succotash and End of Summer Stone Fruit Cobbler.
There’s decadence around every corner… like mountains of chocolates from Bread Basket.
Grilled Lamb on a Bed of Arugula with Balsamic Vinaigrette from Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria. This is the best lamb I’ve ever tasted.
At this point I realize I should be wearing wedge heels (one word: cobblestone). But no time for that. Look! It’s Jose Andres! If I appear scared in this photo, well maybe I am. Have you seen what Chef Jose can do with a jamonera?
Assortment of Mini Tacos from Richard Reddington of REDD. Crunchy, light shells and tasty carnitas.
Down another cobblestone street I find an inviting water fountain, but not as inviting as Nancy Silverton frying up corn dogs and dipping bananas into chocolate. Nothing says America like food on a stick!
Brilliant! Champagne strategically located next to the band, also adorned in sepia light. Quite possibly the least American offering of the night, but ironically one of the most popular. Wine Origins poured tastings of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouet. Even the main attraction himself, Wolfgang Puck, couldn’t resist the tiny bubbles; he was spotted later tasting a special bottle. It’s good to be king.
Bouchon ice bar presented oysters, clams, muscles, shrimp and crab legs like fine jewelry. I must confess, the melting ice bar dripping onto my toes on a warm evening felt really, really good! Chef Keller interview plus more video coverage coming soon!
And more delicious food! This bite of Smoked Short Rib, Carrot Puree, Baby Celery, Parsnips and Balsamic Demi from Larry Greenwood’s STK was one of my faves of the night!
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas brought the party to the Court of Miracles with an impressive showcase of nine new restaurants and red hot chefs like Jose Andres and Scott Conant (above). And in true Las Vegas over-the-top style, The Cosmopolitan erected a two-story bungalow model of their swanky new rooms, complete with roof top party deck! Special bonus: All the hand sanitizing wet naps you could possibly need at a food festival!
You can expect gorgeous cuisine from Chef Scott Conant and Scarpetta at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Shown above, Yellowtail with Pickled Onions, Flaked Sea Salt, Olio di Zenzero. Subtle flavors and delicate textures literally melt in your mouth.
Jose’s Tacos from Jaleo. Jamon Iberico and Caviar. The Jamon Iberico was carved right at the booth. Remember the jamonera I mentioned earlier? Not surprisingly, the visual (not shown here) is a little challenging for this American.
A very American Bacon Burger and chips from Anthony Meidenbauer of Holstein’s. Flavorful meat, soft bun, crisp chips.
The photo of Steamed Sea Bass from Nobu above doesn’t do the plate justice — it was tasty and beautiful. But it’s an important photo because it’s the only one of the Knork! Each attendee received a Knork as a party favor (unfortunately they wouldn’t give me service for twelve) and were provided throughout the festival. It’s a nice utensil, especially in places where using both a knife and a fork is not always an option.
LAND OF THE FREE RANGE AND HOME OF THE BRAISED
If you love exclusive parties in unique settings with more world class cuisine than most countries, then the American Wine & Food Festival is for you. And if that’s not enough, pile on the chance to see, meet and talk with some of the world’s greatest chefs while sampling fine wine, champagne and spirits. The price isn’t cheap at $300 per person (more for VIP), but neither are the people that choose to attend to help support a charitable cause. When you consider what you get in return (see photos above), if you’ve got the bucks it’s a no brainer. If you’re thinking about attending next year, buy tickets early. It will sell out.