For such an unusually cool Southern California summer, things sure heated up on Sunday, September 5, 2010, when the Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine popped-up on the Paramount Studios backlot in Hollywood. With temperatures approaching the 90’s and celebrity chefs Suzanne Goin, Mark Peel, Michael Voltaggio and Aarti Sequeira on the bill, this ticket was mucho caliente! Average Betty was there to interview some of these red-hot food personalities — be sure to watch Times to Celebrate to get our exclusive story!
Surprisingly, this is the first of hopefully many celebrations of food and wine from the Los Angeles Times, the largest metropolitan newspaper in the country with daily readerships between two and three million and 19th Century roots. However, not surprising for an inaugural event, there were a number of legitimate complaints, e.g., not enough food, water and shaded eating areas in general admission. But there were many victories, including a spectacular backdrop for a food & wine festival; top-notch culinary talent; an impressively stocked VIP space; and an evening concert by She & Him to cap off the festivities.
A portion of the proceeds from the event went to Share Our Strength and the Los Angeles Times Family Fund… so if you have any complaints about what you got in return for general admission, remember — you’re helping feed hungry children. And if you still have complaints, Los Angeles Times wants to know.
So what was my experience? Well, media credentials and a full schedule of interviews certainly skewed my experience. I was in the press center preparing for interviews a good part of the day, which was air conditioned and stocked with water. Though I stayed cool and properly hydrated, I missed several cooking demos and panel discussions that I would have liked to see. I also missed the long, hot lines at food trucks, and reported drunken mayhem that eight drink tickets per person might cause.
At the end of the day I wasn’t able to have the food truck noshing (Don Chow Tacos above) or VIP food and wine sampling treatment, but meeting and talking with Suzanne Goin, Russ Parsons, Aarti Sequeira, Noelle Carter and The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond were truly unique and memorable experiences. Check out all of the interviews in Times to Celebrate. Here’s a taste…
Russ Parsons, Food Editor of the Los Angeles Times, has been a writer for over 30 years. He’s reported on everything from rodeos to raspberry sauce. He was recently inducted into the James Beard Hall of Fame, an honor not usually bestowed on food editors, Parsons explains. When I ask what food he makes at home but never orders in a restaurant, he replies, “Risotto… because once you master risotto, when you cook it at home, it’s going to be much better than what you can get at a restaurant. Restaurants have to pre-cook [the risotto], cool it and then finish it at the last minute. When you’re cooking it at home the texture and flavor is so much better.” What a fantastic answer! I could listen to Russ Parsons all day…
Suzanne Goin, self-proclaimed “most out-of-touch person in the world,” has three kids and three restaurants vital in the pulse of Southern Californian cuisine, AOC, Tavern and Lucques. Lucques, Goin’s latest venture, also inspired her new cookbook, Sunday Suppers. When I ask what is “the best food scene in a movie ever,” after much consideration she curiously replies, “Nine and a Half Weeks?” After a good chuckle, I agree, “Yeah, that’s probably the hottest food scene in a movie ev-ar.” Goin explains, “Well, that’s how my brain works.”
Aarti Sequeira, The Next Food Network Star brings the party! Her smile, laugh and genuine love of her fans is undeniable. Sequeira is encouraged by the response of her viewers, and giddy they’re not afraid to try garam masala. When I ask about her wildly popular Sloppy Bombay Joe recipe, she provides the insight, “The sloppy joe came about because I had come up with this Chicken Tikka Masala recipe, which is your classic Indian recipe but I needed to find a way to make it a little bit different. And actually, my husband, Brendan, takes a lot of credit for this one because he said, why don’t you make it into a sloppy joe? And I kissed him full on the mouth because it was such a good idea.” A sloppy wet kiss for a sloppy great idea? That’s how Aarti parties! Watch her show Aarti Party on Food Network and subscribe to her channel on YouTube!
Meeting Ree Drummond was a very surreal experience. I have read so much about her life and family on her blog, I feel like I know her. Her smile is infectious and her achievements are an inspiration to bloggers like me. Her tolerance for my silly questions is also admirable. In a fleeting moment of seriousness, I ask Ree where she finds inspiration for recipes, in cookbooks or online? While she does have one very special cookbook (watch the video!) she gives props to her food blogger friends Simply Recipes, Bakerella, Smitten Kitchen and Savory Sweet Life. In the immortal words of Ree, “Food Bloggers, unite!”
Noelle Carter, Manager of Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen is young and full of energy. She has a great sense of humor and loves her job. She says she’s “constantly surprised by ingredients [they] get in the test kitchen, ingredients I’ve never used or cooking techniques that are totally new… it really is a dream job because I’m constantly doing something new.” They say the key to a happy life is to love what you do, and Noelle sure appears to embody that sentiment.
As for my humble observations of the day… the gates of Paramount Studios opened at noon and the Celebration of Food & Wine popped. The summer sun and crisp blue sky welcomed guests as they navigated the historic backlot and followed their noses to Food Network’s California Lounge and an array of aromatic food trucks, including Socal’s own Nom Nom Truck and Crepes Bonaparte. The Hollywood Stage, adjacent to the California Lounge, hosted cooking demos by Darrell “DAS” Smith, Roger Mooking, Aida Mollenkamp, and evening concerts by Angela McCluskey and She & Him. Exploring a little further into the backlot revealed stages and vendors lining the Brooklyn facade. Cooking demonstrations by Suzanne Goin, Mark Peel and Noelle Carter; and discussion panels featuring Russ Parsons, Ree Drummond, Aarti Sequeira, Betty Hallock, Rene Lynch and Michael Voltaggio attracted thousands of Angelenos.
Let’s talk about general admission. $55 in advance; $65 at the door. Here’s what you got: Access to the Paramount Studios backlot, twenty of the top food trucks in one location, celebrity chef cooking demos and discussion panels, eight drink tickets, one collectible stemless plastic wine glass, and two great concerts by Angela McCluskey and She & Him. There truly wasn’t much food included with the price of general admission, but there were reports of free grilled cheese and fried chicken samples. If you had cash, a generous amount of sunscreen applied and a little patience, there were many options including favorites like KyoChon Chicken, Buttermilk Truck, and Nana Queens Puddin n’ Wings. Once you had food, next up was finding a shady place to eat. Many sat and ate on the curbs and staircases of the New York City street set (shown above) which were shaded by the surrounding building facades. Many more chose to eat while standing in line for their next food truck delicacy.
Let’s talk about VIP Admission. $125 in advance, $135 at the door. Food samples from some of LA’s finest restaurants; wine, spirits and beer samples; and VIP fund raising competitions with Chef Michael Voltaggio, including lemon juicing, wine bottle bowling and mole tasting. There was a $20 entry fee per event per person for the chance to kick some Top Chef butt, and all proceeds went to Share Our Strength. All sympathy went to the competition MC when Voltaggio proposed an impromptu lemon juice chugging contest. Oh my! Watch Times to Celebrate to see who wins…
Now, I don’t throw parties of this scale, so maybe a VIP section is a necessary component for such an event. But the VIP area seemed secluded, and ultimately it broke up the party. A flimsy white picket fence and small yet expanding trash heap stood between premiere food and general admission patrons. Don’t get me wrong, there was a definite food and wine party going on in VIP and the mood was jovial. However, events like this should provide an opportunity for “average people” to sample fine food from a variety of restaurants for the cost of dining at just one. Sure, food trucks are hot, but long lines for fully-priced street fare is not necessarily memorable or festive. Or palate expanding. I don’t have all the answers, but it seems a “one price fits all” Grand Tasting would help the celebration feel like one big party rather than one for the “haves” and one for the “have nots.” Great Los Angeles restaurants alongside a fleet of food trucks, all providing “free” samples, could create a cohesive and uniquely Southern Californian food festival experience.
So, aside from a couple hiccups in the scheduling of Michael Voltaggio (I was supposed to get an interview but had to settle for this photo) the event appeared to run smoothly and on time. The Los Angeles Times staff and the people and organizations around them are professional and genuine; I’m confident the organizers and stakeholders of this much needed Los Angeles celebration will listen to the feedback and make this one of the preeminent food and wine events in the country. And one you definitely won’t want to miss next year!
Want more food photos from the event? Check out Snapshots: Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine
Special thanks for the planning and assistance from Jessica Erskine and Joe Schneider from Rogers & Cowan.
Participating VIP Restaurants:
Anisette Brasserie, BLD/Grace, Border Grill/Ciudad, Ivan Kane’s Cafe Was, La Casita Mexicana, Eva, First & Hope, Grgich Hills Estate, K-ZO, Lago, Lamill Coffee, Loteria Grill, Madame Chocolat, mar’sel, Palate Food + Wine, The Peninsula Beverly Hills, Public Kitchen & Bar, Rock Sake, RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen, Le Saint Amour, Sam’s by the Beach, Sanguis, Susan Feniger’s STREET, The Tar Pit, Water Grill, Waterloo & City, Westside Tavern, XINO
Participating Food Trucks:
Ahn-Joo, Bool Korean BBQ, Border Grill Truck, Cooking Channels’ Ice Cream Truck, Coolhaus, Crepes Bonaparte, Deluxe Dumplings, DOSA Truck, The Fox Pizza Bus, Munchie Machine, Nom Nom Truck, Don Chow Tacos, Nana Queens Puddin’ n’ Wings, Ragin’ Cajun, Sweets, Tropical Shave Ice and Wahoo’s Worldfare Bustaurant.