Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival 2014

While summer is winding down (booo!), food festival season is ramping up (yay!) with a slew of great culinary events happening in Los Angeles and across the country. Jenn-Air invited me to be their guest at the LA Food & Wine Festival this past weekend, where they were a major sponsor providing all of the kitchen equipment for the cooking demos, and of course that was an invitation I couldn't refuse. 

Food & Wine magazine is in its 4th year producing this event in LA. With a few dozen events happening across the weekend, here are a few highlights of what I was able to see and sample.

Faith & Flower Lunch with Ferguson Crest Wines

I recently dined at Faith & Flower so was excited to come back and see what else chef Michael Hung could dream up, with added inspiration from Dominique Crenn, from Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. I had missed the much talked about steak tartare on my first visit to Faith & Flower so I was happy to see it as a passed h'ors d'oeuvre, and this dish is definitely worth talking about, and even dreaming about. What a perfectly balanced appetizer with everything you'd want in one bite.

Faith & Flower steak tartare

The scallop crudo was no slouch either with a puckery pickled plum and shiso granita - delicate and refreshing. Another wonderful starter was Chef Crenn's oyster drizzled with wheatgrass and freeze dried coconut. The Ferguson Crest Viognier, yes from that Fergie's family, offered a nice balance to all of the starters.

Our sit down lunch stayed off the beaten path without the typical chicken and white fish sightings. Instead, we were graced with a tender roasted rabbit and a unique, but slightly difficult to cut, squab in a cauliflower and white chocolate emulsion, which paired well with the "Fergalicious" red blend.

Mariena Mercer, the Las Vegas Cosmopolitan Mixologist (do you even remember when that word didn't exist?) spiked the lunch with some interesting concoctions as well, but there was the Catcher in the Rye that moved us to...tears, and taxis. I could tell you that it mixed bourye, carpano-fig infused Vermouth, chocolate ancho masala syrup and Nutella, but that wouldn't do it justice. It was like all your favorite fall and winter memories in a glass. Picture that and then a chocolate pig's snout to finish your meal, and your weekend is off to a great start.

Lexus Grand Tasting

LA Food & Wine Festival 2014

That was just an amuse bouche for the rest of the weekend. The Lexus Grand Tasting was 3 hours of grand small plate eating and high end drinking.

It was nice that we weren't baking outside in the hot sun for the day tasting. Instead the afternoon event was held inside the LA Center Studios in two different large neon lit rooms. The word of the day was "crudo." Raw, citrus drizzled fish was a hot player at many of the booths, and understandably, due to the ease of prep and quickly serving to the masses.

Perhaps that's why one of the longest lines of the day was for Badmaash and their punjabi pork sliders. That, and they taste amazing - buttery, toasted bread, well spiced pork and a crisp, zesty slaw.

Richard Blais went crudo, but switched up the fish with a carne crudo asada.

I had wanted to get to SPQR in San Francisco on my last trip, but there was not enough time or stomach space, so I was happy to see them serving a wonderful savory corn panna cotta with bacon, sturgeon and black truffle salad. This teaser proved that I must return for a proper visit.

Peter Haller at The Gorbals pulled a bold move by serving steamed mussels in a coconut curry sauce. Not easy to plate on well, plates, but good flavors with a few twists like bits of pear in the sauce.

Scarpetta's Scott Conant served what else, but some pasta. Creamy gnocchi was bathed in bacon and mushrooms for a great bite, and Levi Meznick had an uber rich, uber delicious shrimp and grits plate.

And I have to say the guys having the most fun were the folks at Church Key who were serving, and spraying the crowd, with liquid nitrogen used to compress slices of watermelon, with hamachi laid on top, drizzled with white soy and lime salt. Good fun and good flavor.

Cooking Demonstrations

There were some great demonstrations on the Jenn-Air stage, including Food & Wine's Justin Chapple, aka the Mad Genius Tips guy. A few good nuggets: just put an inch or two of water in a pot when hard boiling eggs so it doesn't take as long for the water to come to a boil and you won't overcook the eggs. When cooked, crack the bottom, slide in a spoon and peel in a second by sliding the spoon all the way around. If you need a quick party app and don't have any wonton wrappers on hand, roll out crustless bread, insert filling, pinch and fry.

LA Food & Wine Festival 2014

Michael Chiarello took the Jenn Air stage in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Who would have thought you could move a working kitchen to a theatre and eat stage right. I've always been a fan of Chiarello's work, enjoying his cuisine while in Napa or San Francisco, but after hearing him speak, I'm smitten. He's unabashedly bold, confident and he probably wouldn't bristle if you called him arrogant. He called himself a badass, and I'd echo that. He explained that you have to be gutsy in this business. You have to care. Go big or go home. 

LA Food & Wine Michael Chiarello

He hit home the mantra of "have a relationship with your food." He encourages relationships with farmers to know what's in season and eat accordingly versus blindly picking up whatever is in the supermarket.

He prepped watermelon and prosciutto appetizers while he spoke and his daughter looked on as she follows in his footsteps. Asked her favorite dish, she replied gnocchi because it's the first thing her dad taught her to make. We were also served a very nice, "gutsy" full bodied Chiarello Family Vineyard Zinfandel. Will be looking for that around town.

Live on Grand

The grand finale event (for me) was the Live on Grand party, held in a roped off, red carpeted section of Grand Avenue, at the foot of Disney Hall.

There were more big names serving up their best - Nancy Silverton, Marcel Vigneron, Ben Ford and Neal Fraser to name a few.

Yes, there was still some crudo, but that was peppered with a larger range of different bites ranging from frito pie and iron pressed pastrami from Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach to a great spread you'd want to start any dinner party from Nancy Silverton at Chi Spacca.

Fabulous wines were flowing all day with a few favorites: Flowers Chardonnay Camp Meeting Ridge, Kunin's Carignane and a great line-up of French Rose from Chateau d'Esclans.

Are you completely hungry with food and drink envy right now? Fear not, there's more food festivals to be had.

Los Angeles Times The Taste

In just a few days, the LA Times is putting on The Taste, August 29 - 31. More great LA Chefs will be congregating at Paramount Studios for events like Field to Fork with the best locally sourced ingredients, hosted by Food Editor Russ Parsons, and a Sunday brunch for the books with the likes of Thomas Keller. Jonathan Gold will be manning some of the evening events and their will be cocktails a plenty. Tickets are still available by clicking here.

Photo by Marie Astrid

Photo by Marie Astrid

Portland Feast

Those in the Pacific Northwest or those ready to hop a plane, should head to Portland's Feast, presented by Bon Appetit. There will be events, grand tastings, night markets and top chef dinners happening all around town. Ari Taymor from Alma will be representing LA, as well as Jon Shook from Animal and Kuniko Yagi from Hinoki & the Bird. EggSlut is also going to be serving during the big brunchfest and yes, this means, I'm going to Portland to experience my first LA based EggSlut sandwich. There will also be big name chefs from NY, TX and of course Portland. Tickets to select events are still on sale here, but get them fast as they are starting to sell out. Word is out that this is a food event not to be missed.

Photo by Portland Feast

Photo by Portland Feast

*I was a guest of Jenn-Air at the LA Food & Wine Festival, but all opinions are always my own.