Ted Allen (Chopped, Queer Eye) is chatting up Nancy Silverton (Mozza, La Brea Bread). Sang Yoon is dishing out his famous Father’s Office hamburgers faster than his workers are pulling beers. KCRW Good Food host Evan Kleiman plates seemingly hundreds of her light-as-air ricotta-beet gnocchi while station-mate DJ Jason Bentley prepares to spin tunes live. Top Chef season-six winner Michael Voltaggio conspicuously shares a 25-year-old bottle of Laphroaig with Umami Burger honcho Adam Fleischman. Mark Peel offers his signature to fans, but only after finding the greasiest plate to pen from the Campanile grilled cheese he’s serving.
This is just one night, one event. But it’s emblematic of the Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles, where two food festivals collided, foodies had numerous opportunities to OD, and the country seemed far, far away from the economic crisis we’ve been in for years. Plus, there’s a lesson, too: that Beverly Hills and Hollywood are much farther apart than a three-mile drive down Melrose.
The Taste of Beverly Hills ran September 2-5 (of course, it kicked off on 9-02-10 day) in the abandoned Robinsons-May parking lot across from the Beverly Hilton. The Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food and Wine (hereafter hailed as LATCOFAW) happened September 5 in the Paramount backlot. Tickets for the Beverly Hills events—they featured different themed evenings and days like The Art of Mixing and Date Night—cost more, but everything once you were inside was included, right down to the free iPhone app. LATCOFAW cost much less, but you got much less, too. Mostly, you had to buy your food, which cost you not only cash but also time, as purchases meant the delay of the exchange at numerous, very tasty, food trucks and booths. Perhaps it should have been called a Celebration of Food and Lines.
That’s not to say the very sunny Sunday was a total disaster. While entrance supposedly got you just eight wine tasting tickets, most wineries didn’t bother to collect your ticket, so it was much easier to drink than eat—at least until most of the wine ran out about four hours into the seven-hour event. Here’s a suggestion, LATCOFAW planners: Next year, double up wineries in booths, a half a fest for each. The panels and demos were fun, too, particularly a farmer-to-table session with McGrath and Weiser Farms and Peel (who was everywhere all weekend) and Lucques/AOC’s Suzanne Goin. But even that had its problems, trying to jam so much good info from four interesting people into one hour. Times food editor Russ Parsons ended up a bit hyperactive host, standing upstage from the chefs as he asked them questions, not letting people finish their answers. The session was the equivalent of a plate with too many ingredients.
The demos at the Taste of Beverly Hills were quite different, as chefs sank, swam, or were simply too much themselves, sans emcees. Top Chef chef Voltaggio showed off like a tattooed, frat boy Ferran Adrià, turning a Caprese salad into a molecular monstrosity. At one point, he froze squid with liquid nitrogen so he could pulverize it into snow in his Vitamix, so he could dehydrate that on a sheet, so he could fry it into a fake slice of cheese. The ever-hunky Ludo Lefebvre of Ludo Bites, on the other hand, fended off women hecklers asking him to manhandle his carrot, all while prepping a raw dish for date night.
Ultimately, though, both events were about the food and drink, and both tended to enforce perceptions one might already have. For instance, although Friday’s Taste of Beverly Hills provided the chance to nosh on the Father’s Office burger, a Kobe slider from Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, and a port-and-stilton burger from latest fad Umami, it was the Father’s Office slab o’ beef that won out, still the juiciest, still paired perfectly with the arugula and cheese. And perhaps no single bite of the weekend matched Church & State’s pork croquette—a perfect lump of piggy, shredded goodness, fried with perhaps a panko crust and then set off with a briny red cabbage sauerkraut and a piquant dash of stone mustard.
But if that France-via-Alsace dish doesn’t seem L.A. 2010 enough, there was the delightful bibimbap bowl from the Bool truck at LATCOFAW. The day was long; the sun, hot; the wait, interminable; but the flavors were intense for a measly $7. So much to enjoy, from the well-wok’d beef to the crisply fresh carrots and spinach to the precisely cooked rice, rich in gochujang, the traditional Korean red pepper paste that is subtly, let-your-mouth-feel-the-heat-build hot. Food so good it can make you not want to whine about the rest of your sunburned day? Now that’s a dish. Maybe Hollywood has it over Beverly Hills after all.