Friday, September 2, 2016

The Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival 2016 - Up Close and Personal with Chefs, Winemakers and Mixologists at the Lexus Grand Tasting

You may have heard of the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival but you might not have attended. The Festival celebrated food and wine in venues in and around Los Angeles for four days, August 25-28.

In its sixth year, the Festival expanded to the West Side with events at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica and the Barker Hanger at the Santa Monica Airport.

If you have attended Barney’s twice-annual sale at the Barker, you know the cavernous space. A football field sized interior without character was transformed for the Festival. Off-white fabric was draped along the walls, giving the warehouse the feeling of a very large, very elegant tent.

Because the venue was sponsored by Lexus, there were half a dozen beautifully polished cars outside and inside the hanger.

People were dressed like people always dress in LA. Casual, very casual and red carpet premiere chic.

Local chefs from the Los Angeles area were joined by chefs from as far away as Miami to celebrate the Festival.  Walking from table to table, you could experience a variety of regional cuisines, American., Vietnamese, Peruvian, Italian, Thai, Mexican, to name a few. You could enjoy appetizers, entrées and desserts. And you could sample spirits, beers and a great many wines.

Wines were poured from California, Spain and France. 

How to Festival
After showing your ticket, you entered Barker. A friendly server approached you with a glass of wine. What an excellent way to begin!

If this was your first festival, hopefully someone told you to pace yourself. Eat every small plate you are offered and you wouldn’t make it half way around the Barker. 

The best way to experience a food festival is walk around before you eat anything. 

At each table, a menu placard indicates the name of the chef, the restaurant, the dish being served and the ingredients. Write down which ones look good to you. When you have finished your survey of all the vendors, go back to the ones that looked good.

If you are like me, there were a lot of dishes you wanted to try. The next choice is, eat all of the small plate or take just a bite and move on until you have sampled all of the dishes that looked good to you.

At that point, you can return to those chefs whose dishes you really LOVED and eat an entire plate of their food.

Even though the plates are small, eat half a dozen and you will become very full.

You will discover that not all chefs are created equal. Some dishes are wonderful. Some not so much. 

The best chefs understand that the festival is like a cocktail or wine party. Everyone eats standing up, holding a plate in one hand and a fork in the other. 

One chef served a duck sausage bahn mi, an open faced version of the popular Vietnamese sandwich. The portion was generous but the design was not. The sausage was cut in half length-wise but the casing was left on. Eating the sausage without a knife and fork was difficult because your teeth could not cut through the casing. 

The chefs

Homegating Slider Zone sponsored by the NFL Shop. After declaring your favorite NFL team (Go Patriots!),  you constructed a beef slider.  I customized mine with Cole slaw, sautéed onions, butter pickles with sriracha aioli.

To the right of Homegating was Eagle Rock Brewery Public House Restaurant which served a shrimp fry bread with pickled corn and okra small bite round. Great crunch and heat. A nice way to begin the festival.

Not just Los Angeles chefs made appearances. Chef Billy Ngo from Sacramento’s Kru served a crispy ball of white snow crab shushi-kani miso avocado mousse nori & arané (crumbled toasted rice crackers). Very tasty.

Robert Irvine from the Food Network cheerfully posed with fans who wanted to preserve the moment. It is a rare opportunity when the dining public can meet chefs who rarely stray from their kitchens. Even rarer when a chef performs their craft on television, so this is an exceptionally special moment for fans to meet a chef they love on TV.

For those who wanted to taste Irvine’s cooking, he served up a small plate of half a deviled egg and southern fried chicken seasoned with buttermilk and sriracha. The chicken was crisp and nicely seasoned with a good amount of heat.
Established restaurants used the Festival to feature their culinary point of view. Some chefs used the Festival like a soft opening. Chef Bruce Kalman and Marie Petulla the partners behind Union in Pasadena and Bread downtown, plated an excellent octopus and garbanzo bean salad seasoned with a preserved lemon yogurt dressing a crunchy Egyptian dukkah (Sesame seeds, Coriander, pistachio and cumin). 
The dish was exceptionally good. The tasting was not only to illustrate the quality of the menu at Union and Bread, but also to announce their new restaurant in Culver City, slated to open in mid-2017.

Chef Tomas Mendez’s Peruvian restaurant Picca was represented by his ceviche criollo with seabass, rocoto, leche de tigre, choclo, canchas and a small cube of sweet potato. 
Illustrating the culinary influence on Peru from Spain, Japan, Italy and China, the dish was complex but thoroughly integrated. A lovely combination of sweet heat and fresh seafood. A key ingredient is Peruvan corn. Purchased dried, it is deep fried very quickly in hot oil. As Mendez joked, Peruvian pop corn. 

One of the most fun parts of the Festival is the accessibility of chefs. When I took a bite of Mendez’s ceviche, I was filled with questions. Happily, chef Mendez was standing at the front of the booth, readily available to talk. What fun!

For me, Mendez’s ceviche was the best dish in the Festival.

After walking around the hanger, one thing became very clear. Ceviche was popular.

One of the best, besides Picca’s, was from chef Brian Huskey of Orange County’s Tackle Box. His shrimp ceiche with jicama and cucumber was fresh tasting with good heat. He nicely sauced the ceviche so after the shrimp and vegetables were enjoyed, the Michelada flavored juice was the last part to be consumed along with the topping of crunchy tortilla chip strips with cilantro sprouts, cherry tomatoes, red onions.

Another very good ceviche was served at the Stella Artois booth. Chef Marcel Vigneron from Wolf served two ceviches. One he called “Laughing Bird Ceviche” with melon, tomato, puffed quinoa and leche de tigre. The other he made with Hamachi, seasoned with Vietnamese nuos cham, watermelon radish and puffed rice.

Not just wine
I confess I was not able to taste the wines that were being served. If I had sampled the ones that looked interesting, I would have gotten too inebriated to have completed my circuit around the Barker. 

I limited myself to a sample at the Hendrick’s gin, Owl Brew and Soyelent booths.

Hendrick’s went all out with two mixologists pouring two different cockatils in a bar set up backed by a vintage car decorated in wildly fun graphics. The two cocktails were good. 
One was a riff on a familiar cocktail called the Unusual Negroni (1 part Hendrick’s Gin, 1 part Lillet Blanch, 1 part Aperol). The other was an entertaining refreshment called the Tropic of Capricorn (1 part Hendrick’s Gin, 1 part Kiwi Green Tea, ½ part fresh lemon juice, 12 part simple syrup, ¼ part pear juice, Peychaud’s Bitters to taste, 1 part soda water).


So if you missed this year’s festival, you really must put into your calendar that you will attend the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival in 2017.

The Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival 2016 - Up Close and Personal with Chefs, Winemakers and Mixologists at the Lexus Grand Tasting

You may have heard of the Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival but you might not have attended. The Festival celebrated food and wine in venues in and around Los Angeles for four days, August 25-28.

In its sixth year, the Festival expanded to the West Side with events at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica and the Barker Hanger at the Santa Monica Airport.

If you have attended Barney’s twice-annual sale at the Barker, you know the cavernous space. A football field sized interior without character was transformed for the Festival. Off-white fabric was draped along the walls, giving the warehouse the feeling of a very large, very elegant tent.

Because the venue was sponsored by Lexus, there were half a dozen beautifully polished cars outside and inside the hanger.

People were dressed like people always dress in LA. Casual, very casual and red carpet premiere chic.

Local chefs from the Los Angeles area were joined by chefs from as far away as Miami to celebrate the Festival.  Walking from table to table, you could experience a variety of regional cuisines, the U.S., Vietnam, Peru, Italy, Thai, Mexican, to name a few. You could enjoy appetizers, entrée samples and desserts. And you could sample spirits, beers and a great many wines.

Wines were poured from California, Spain and France. 

How to Festival
After showing your ticket, you entered Barker. A friendly server approached you with a glass of wine. What an excellent way to begin!

If this was your first festival, hopefully someone told you to pace yourself. Eat every small plate you are offered and you wouldn’t make it half way around the Barker. 

The best way to experience a food festival is walk around before you eat anything. 

At each table, a menu placard indicates the name of the chef, the restaurant, the dish being served and the ingredients. Write down which ones look good to you. When you have finished your survey of all the vendors, go back to the ones that looked good.

If you are like me, there were a lot of dishes you wanted to try. The next choice is, eat all of the small plate or take just a bite and move on until you have sampled all of the dishes that looked good to you.

At that point, you can return to those chefs whose dishes you really LOVED and eat an entire plate of their food.

Even though the plates are small, eat half a dozen and you will become very full.

You will discover that not all chefs are created equal. Some dishes are wonderful. Some not so much. 

The best chefs understand that the festival is like a cocktail or wine party. Everyone eats standing up, holding a plate in one hand and a fork in the other. 

One chef served a duck sausage bahn mi, an open faced version of the popular Vietnamese sandwich. The portion was generous but the design was not. The sausage was cut in half length-wise but the casing was left on. Eating the sausage without a knife and fork was difficult because your teeth could not cut through the casing. 

The chefs

Homegating Slider Zone sponsored by the NFL Shop. After declaring your favorite NFL team (Go Patriots!),  you constructed a beef slider.  I customized mine with Cole slaw, sautéed onions, butter pickles with sriracha aioli.

To the right of Homegating was Eagle Rock Brewery Public House Restaurant which served a shrimp fry bread with pickled corn and okra small bite round. Great crunch and heat. A nice way to begin the festival.

Not just Los Angeles chefs made appearances. Chef Billy Ngo from Sacramento’s Kru served a crispy ball of white snow crab shushi-kani miso avocado mousse nori & arané (crumbled toasted rice crackers). Very tasty.

Robert Irvine from the Food Network cheerfully posed with fans who wanted to preserve the moment. It is a rare moment when the dining public can meet chefs who rarely stray from their kitchens. Even rarer when a chef performs their craft on television, so this is an exceptionally special moment for fans to meet a chef they love on TV.

For those who wanted to taste Irvine’s cooking (after years of criticizing those who wish they could cook but struggle to run a restaurant), he served up a small plate of half a deviled egg and southern fried chicken seasoned with buttermilk and sriracha. The chicken was crisp and nicely seasoned with a good amount of heat.

Established restaurants used the Festival to feature their culinary point of view. Some chefs used the Festival like a soft opening. Chef Bruce Kalman and Marie Petulla the partners behind Union in Pasadena and Bread downtown, plated an excellent octopus and garbanzo bean seasoned with a preserved lemon yogurt dressing a crunchy Egyptian dukkah (Sesame seeds, Coriander, pistachio and cumin). 
The dish was exceptionally good. The tasting was not only to illustrate the quality of the menu at Union and Bread, but also to announce their new restaurant in Culver City, slated for mid-2017.

Chef Tomas Mendez’s Peruvian restaurant Picca was represented with his ceviche criollo with seabass, rocoto, leche de tigre, choclo, canchas and a small cube of sweet potato. 
Illustrating the culinary influence on Peru from Spain, Japan, Italy and China, the dish is complex but thoroughly integrated. A lovely combination of sweet heat and fresh seafood. A key ingredient is Peruvan corn. Purchased dried, it is deep fried very quickly in hot oil. As Mendez joked, Peruvian pop corn. For me, Mendez’s ceviche was the best dish in the Festival. 

One of the most fun parts of the Festival is the accessibility of chefs. When I took a bite of Mendez’s ceviche, I was filled with questions. Happily, chef Mendez was standing at the front of the booth, readily available to talk. What fun!

After walking around the hanger, one thing became very clear. Ceviche was very popular.

One of the best, besides Picca’s, was from chef Brian Huskey of Orange County’s Tackle Box. His shrimp ceiche with jicama and cucumber was fresh tasting with good heat. He nicely sauced the ceviche so after the shrimp and vegetables were enjoyed, the Michelada flavored juice was the last part to be consumed and enjoyed along with the topping of crunchy tortilla chip strips with cilantro sprouts, cherry tomatoes, red onions.

Another very good ceviche was served at the Stella Artois booth. Chef Marcel Vigneron from Wolf served two ceviches. One he called “Laughing Bird Ceviche” with melon, tomato, puffed quinoa and leche de tigre. The other he made with Hamachi, seasoned with Vietnamese nuos cham, watermelon radish and puffed rice.

Not just wine
I confess I was not able to taste the wines that were being served. If I had sampled the ones that looked interesting, I would have gotten too inebriated to have completed my circuit around the Barker. 

I limited myself to a sample at the Hendrick’s gin, Owl Brew and Soyelent booths.

Hendrick’s went all out with two mixologists pouring two different cockatils in a bar set up backed by a vintage car decorated in wildly fun graphics. The two cocktails were good. 
One was a riff on a familiar cocktail called the Unusual Negroni (1 part Hendrick’s Gin, 1 part Lillet Blanch, 1 part Aperol). The other was an entertaining refreshment called the Tropic of Capricorn (1 part Hendrick’s Gin, 1 part Kiwi Green Tea, ½ part fresh lemon juice, 12 part simple syrup, ¼ part pear juice, Peychaud’s Bitters to taste, 1 part soda water).


So if you missed this year’s festival, you really must put into your calendar that you will attend the Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival in 2017.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Best Egg Salad You Will Ever Make

My mother and grandmother disagreed about many things as mothers and daughters do. They especially disagreed about the proper way to make egg salad.

Real egg salad, my grandmother said, was made with hardboiled eggs and mayonnaise with a little salt and pepper. My mother used those ingredients as a starting point. To her egg salad she added finely chopped celery and, sometimes, scallions. My grandmother thoroughly disapproved.
As a kid, I often found myself caught between the two of them. Siding one time with my mother, another time with my grandmother.

About egg salad, I definitely agreed with my mother. Chopped hardboiled eggs and mayonnaise cried out for more flavor and texture. The celery and scallions were a good start but, ultimately, I decided there were so many more ingredients that would improve egg salad why not add whatever you wanted, as long as the ingredients did not over power the eggs.

So, I tried lots of ingredients. I tried mango chutney (not good), raisins (not good), pitted green olives (very good) and pepperocini (very good).
Right now I'm happy with adding charred carrots, onions and corn kernels tossed with fresh Italian parsley. The crunch of carrots and corn contrasts with the soft, creamy eggs and mayo. Italian parsley adds a good fresh element. A dusting of cayenne or Korean pepper flakes adds a pleasing heat.

For special occasions, I also like to mix in chopped up charred shrimp, crab or lobster. Using a carbon steel or cast iron pan makes charring the vegetables very easy.

I'm pretty certain my mom would approve. I am as certain, my grandmother would not.

The Best Egg Salad

Yield: 4

Time to prepare: 20 minutes

Ingredients

4 eggs, farm fresh, large or extra large
1/2 cup corn kernels, about 1 ear of corn
1 medium carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, small diced
1 small yellow onion, washed, peeled, ends removed, small diced
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems removed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Best Foods
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon blended oil (70% canola oil, 30% olive oil)
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Pinch cayenne (optional)

Directions

Put kosher salt into quart sized pot filled with water.
Place eggs into water. Put flame onto medium-high.

After water boils, leave eggs in uncovered pot 5 minutes, then turn off heat and cover for 10 minutes.

Remove cover, pour out hot salted water and fill pot with cold water. Allow eggs to cool.

Peel eggs and reserve.
Place carbon steel or cast iron pan on a high heat. When metal smokes, add blended oil and vegetables. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook until vegetables are charred. Remove from stove and cool.

Finely chop hardboiled eggs and place into large bowl.

Add cooled charred vegetables and mix well.
Season with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne (optional). Taste and adjust seasoning.
Add Italian parsley. Mix well.
Add mayonnaise. Mix well. Refrigerate.

Serve with crackers, bread or romaine leaves.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer's Best Dishes - Gazpacho and Pork Ribs

Now that summer is in full swing, it's time to enjoy favorite dishes, perfect for a lunch or dinner on the patio. For me, that's pork ribs and any number of dishes made with ripe, delicious tomatoes.

For Zester Daily I wrote a recipe for easy-to-make dry rub pork ribs. Here's how easy: 1) clean the ribs, 2) layer on dry rub, 3) put into a 250 F oven when you go to bed and 4) wake up, remove the ribs and enjoy!
For tomatoes, we go to our favorite farmers market. Ever since it opened, the Pacific Palisades farmers market has been as much a part of our Sundays as the New York Times. This past Sunday the market relocated to a parking lot at the high school because the street used by the market is undergoing a two year long redevelopment. In the new location, the market feels less cozy, but no matter. We love that the market is still part of our Sunday routine.
Last Sunday, we had our pick of ripe, dark red beef steak tomatoes, oblong Roma tomatoes, red and orange cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes in a multitude of shapes and colors.

Our older son's birthday is coming up. For Franklin's birthday lunch, we'll have the ribs, fire up the BBQ to grill vegetables and enjoy a meal on the patio. Shaded by two giant Koelieuterias trees in back, the patio will be the perfect place to have a meal and hang out.

Gazpacho Takes on a Sweet Partner

For lunch we'll enjoy a new version of an old favorite. Growing up in Southern California, I always loved Mexican food, especially gazpacho, the cold tomato-vegetable soup served year round but especially delicious to have during the hot summer months.

On a trip to Switzerland recently, in Zurich I had a tasting at Rive Gauche, the casual dining cafe at the historic and beautiful Baur au Lac Hotel close to Lake Zurich.

I stayed at the hotel to write a profile for Luxury Travel Magazine. I was eating at Rive Gauche because I was going to do a video cooking demonstration with the chef, Olivier Rais, a delightful, talented chef who is passionate about cooking.
One of the dishes he wanted me to enjoy was his version of gazpacho, one that added watermelon juice to soften the acidity of the ripe uncooked tomato juice that is the basis of traditional gazpacho. I have certainly seen this hybrid dish before.
But I was particularly taken with chef Rais' version, a clarified liquid served in a glass. All the vegetable bits had been strained out with the result that the gazpacho became an exceptionally refreshing, summer beverage.

When I interviewed chef Rais, he had recently returned from Los Angeles where he spent time at Crossroads Kitchen, a well-regarded vegan restaurant, owned by Tal Ronnen.
Invited to a tasting dinner this week at Crossroads Kitchen, I had an opportunity to enjoy chef Ronnen's version of the watermelon gazpacho. Similar in flavors but different, chef Ronnen did not filter out the vegetable bits, giving his gazpacho a deliciously rustic taste.
For my version, I split the difference between the two chefs. I strained the tomato pulp but retained some of the texture.

I hope you have the opportunity to visit Rive Gauche in Zurich and Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles to taste and compare their gazpachos. In the meantime, please try this very easy-to-make recipe.

Watermelon Gazpacho
Ripe tomatoes and a ripe watermelon are essential. Both should be sweet and full of juice.

If any watermelon juice is left over, make watermelon ice by gently heating the juice and reducing the liquid by a quarter. Cool, then pour into ice cube trays or a freezer-proof container. Freeze and use to sweeten vodka cocktails or lemonade. As the ice cubes melt, sweet watermelon juice releases into the drink. Delicious!
Serves 4-6

Total time to prepare: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, washed, stems removed
2 pounds ripe watermelon, washed
1 ripe avocado
1 cup homemade croutons
1 ripe avocado, washed
5 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch cayenne
Sea salt to taste

Directions

Place a box grater over a non-reactive bowl. Grate the tomatoes and collect all the juice. Or, run the chopped tomatoes through a food mill and collect the juice. Scrape the pulp off the underside of the food mill sieve and add to the juice. Pour into a large container.

Add the dried spices to the tomato juice. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Use a sharp knife to cut off the watermelon rind. Press the flesh through a fine mesh sieve or through a food mill and collect all the juice. Pour into a large container and refrigerate.
Just before serving, peel the avocado, remove the pit and chop into dime-sized pieces. Pour the tomato juice through a sieve to remove the dried spices.
Combine equal amounts of seasoned tomato juice and watermelon juice and mix well.

Pour gazpacho into bowls or cups. Top with avocado and croutons. Serve chilled.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

For Manifesta 11, Swans Learn to Duck in Zurich

The world is in turmoil. There is an insane amount of violence. It's difficult to find relief. But when I was in Switzerland I had some great experiences that transported me away from all the stress. 

One particular moment stayed with me. When I was in Zurich, I was walking around the city. 
On the bank of the lake, the guide wanted us to see one of the Manifesta 11 installations. A bienniall European festival of contemporary art, Manifesta this year had as its topic "What People Do For Money." 
Some of the installations were small. Some were large. 
The one on the lake was an intimate amphitheater built onto a floating pier. Short films were screened that documented what people do for work. A small cafe/bar served drinks and snacks. The setting was very pleasant. When we visited, a short film documented firemen demonstrating fire fighting techniques. 
Leaving the amphitheater I noticed that a narrow bridge had been built from the shore to the floating pier. That bridge covered a watery path that water fowl use as they swim from Zurich Lake to the Limmat River. For the swans to pass under the bridge, they had to lower their necks. I know it's silly, but thinking that the swans had to learn how to duck struck me as really funny. 





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