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Inside L.A. Food & Wine: Top-Notch Chefs and Stellar Bites

Tanaya Ghosh |
October 17, 2011 | 11:15 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Chefs from Graham Elliot serve pumpkin bisque with pickled cranberries and cinnamon marshmallows at the First Annual L.A. Food & Wine Grand Tasting. (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Chefs from Graham Elliot serve pumpkin bisque with pickled cranberries and cinnamon marshmallows at the First Annual L.A. Food & Wine Grand Tasting. (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
The landmark L.A. Food & Wine event turned the dreams of many food enthusiasts into a reality, granting them access to conversations with celebrity chefs and tastings of their elevated cuisine. Guests sipped and sampled their way through the highly-anticipated four-day affair.

Top chefs from across the country converged in Los Angeles for an unprecedented series of 50 delectable events. One marquee event was the Lexus Grand Tasting, which provided guests with endless bites and libations this past Saturday at the L.A. Live Event Deck.

Although admission was not cheap, the event benefitting Meals on Wheels was sold out, and for good reason. Attendees were on a mission to taste as many culinary creations as possible in three delicious hours, no matter how stuffed they were--not to mention drinking the countless glasses of wine that the 200 wineries in attendance were pouring.

Blue Smoke's "Peanut Butter and Belly" - Pork Belly with Peanut Sauce and Jalapeno Jelly (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Blue Smoke's "Peanut Butter and Belly" - Pork Belly with Peanut Sauce and Jalapeno Jelly (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Elaborate dishes included crumbles, pickles, and foams, while proteins such as squab, short rib, and alpaca were smoked, braised, and consomméd.

The most cleverly named dish was Blue Smoke's “Peanut Butter and Belly,” a succulent and petite bite of braised pork belly drizzled with a subtly sweet peanut sauce and a touch of jalapeño jelly.

Madame Chocolat herself, Hasty Torres, satisfied the crowd's sweet tooth. The USC alumna showcased chocolate in many forms: bon bons, cookies, and chocolate-covered Cheerios and marshmallows.

Foie Gras Lollipops with Banana Cotton Candy, Cocoa Nibs & Almonds (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Foie Gras Lollipops with Banana Cotton Candy, Cocoa Nibs & Almonds (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
The most complex dish was Michael Mina’s smoked squab shabu shabu in a squab consommé shooter. To taste many layers of flavor working together, the advice was to take a sip first, then to down the rest all at once. A few seconds later, notes of citrus and ginger developed in the mouth. A layer of foie gras on top added another level of richness to the umami-laden dish.

The chefs got creative with foie gras, and the most unique taste of the day was the foie gras lollipop wrapped in banana cotton candy. The foie gras rolled in Pop Rocks was a close second. Both dishes were conceived by Graham Elliot, in addition to his creamy pumpkin bisque which embodied fall flavors. Tart pickled cranberries balanced the sweetness of the cinnamon marshmallow floating on top, and the bisque was garnished with fromage blanc and a nutty sage crumble. The flavors worked in harmony to present Thanksgiving in a cup.

Chef Todd English leading a cooking demonstration (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Chef Todd English leading a cooking demonstration (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
The event had its share of sweet surprises, with "Top Chef Just Desserts" head judge Johnny Iuzzini dropping in for a book signing. The pastry chef of the Michelin-rated Jean Georges in New York tweeted, “Back in LA! Excited to be a part of LA food and wine Fest! Let the shenanigans commence!” Bravo’s former Top Chef contestant Casey Thompson and "Just Desserts" contestant Amanda Rockman were also in attendance.

In an adjoining tent, four-time James Beard award winner and celebrity Chef Todd English demonstrated how to prepare the perfect skirt steak and beet risotto, which was also served along with a cool corn raita.

Other outstanding bites included a Four Seasons Maui salmon tartare served in a curry cone, and David LeFevre of M.B. Posts’s juicy meatballs with a touch of fennel seed. The squash puree and grilled shisito pepper were perfect accompaniments to balance out LeFevre's dish.

Salmon Tartare served in a Curry Cone with Crispy Salmon Skin by Four Seasons Maui (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Salmon Tartare served in a Curry Cone with Crispy Salmon Skin by Four Seasons Maui (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Another local, Bill Starbuck of Lucky Strike Lanes provided a tender braised short rib served with garlicky greens and a uniquely creamy, indulgent parmesan bread pudding. Other LA chefs with exceptional dishes included Mark Peel of Campanile’s mussels and sausage, Jason Harley of Pici Enoteca’s lobster ravioli, and Ricardo Zarate of Mo-Chica’s alpaca and chorizo crostini. The accomplished chefs were very friendly and a joy to speak with, and were happy to pose for pictures and sign autographs for their foodie fans.

David LeFevre's Veal and Pork Meatball with Squash Puree and Smoky Shisito Pepper (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
David LeFevre's Veal and Pork Meatball with Squash Puree and Smoky Shisito Pepper (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Unfortunately, not all dishes wowed at Saturday’s Grand Tasting. A surprisingly underwhelming bite was Tyler Florence’s cauliflower panna cotta with Hamachi tartare. The general consensus seemed to be that the gelatinous dish was lackluster. It did not live up to high expectations, which were apparent from the long lines forming at the Food Network star’s table. However, the white wine pairing, a Tyler Florence Sauvignon Blanc, had pleasant citrus notes.

 

Jello Shot Gummy Squares (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Jello Shot Gummy Squares (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Although some may have heard of molecular gastronomy, the Lexus Tasting Lab was all about molecular mixology. The rotating bar showcased drinkable science experiments, with hickory-smoked Manhattans as well as Kir Royales with spherified Chambord. Guests could also eat their liquor, thanks to a colorful twist on Jello shots. The opaque, chewy cubes were set with agar and boasted flavors such as strawberry daiquiri and fuzzy navel.

 

Kir Royale with Spherified Chambord (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Kir Royale with Spherified Chambord (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
In addition to over 300 wines, the tented event included a beer station with Stella Artois, Leffe, and Hoegaarden on tap. A Master Beer Sommelier and Belgian Beer Ambassador were also on hand to give lessons in beer, cheese, and chocolate pairings.

The spectacular Grand Tasting was a smooth blend of talent and celebrity, and was served chilled with SoCal flair. Although guests left well-satiated, a collective craving for news of the next L.A. Food & Wine event has developed. There is no doubt that Los Angeles has made its mark on the foodie map with a bold statement.

 

For a short video on the L.A. Food & Wine event, go here.

 

 

You can reach reporter Tanaya Ghosh here or follow her on Twitter.

 

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