Have you ever heard a battle rapper freestyle about a Korean-fusion meal? Or seen a traditional jarocho jam session performed in the name of food justice? Or watched as a historic Italian restaurant menu is sung as an opera aria? Probably not, since it's all happening for the first time this Sunday when To Live and Dine in L.A. turns the Los Angeles Public Library's historic menu collection into an unprecedented cross-cultural, multimedium show.
The event is being advertised as "a live mixtape," but even that doesn't really explain what's going to happen when dozens of people from across L.A.'s various art scenes take the stage in succession at the Regent Theater to perform short, digestible works that riff on food history, food justice and their own personal food memories.
Hosted by chef Roy Choi, USC professor Josh Kun and MC Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples, the night will include a performance from singer-songwriter Mia Doi Todd, a live taping of KCRW's Good Food with host Evan Kleiman, a reading of the "not-too-dark comedy" Inside the Creole Mafia, a musical blessing from Mexico City legend Luis Perez Ixoneztli, Ethiopian beats and food stories featuring DJ Ras G, and more.
"Mix The Moth with Grandmaster Flash at Grand Central Market — that's what we're trying to get," says Kun, who spearheaded research of the Los Angeles Public Library's historic menu collection and authored the resulting coffee-table book To Live and Dine in L.A. "It will be a bunch of quick performances that mix music and storytelling with the aesthetic sensibility of a hip-hop mixtape. People will be performing all over live beats."
Throughout the two-hour show, chef Roy Choi — who wrote the foreword to To Live and Dine in L.A. and assisted Kun and his students in their research — will be cooking the entire menu from his POT restaurant onstage, while the Line Hotel's resident spinster, DJ Zo, will cut together an all-genre melange of food-centric songs (think Ice Cube name-checking Fatburger and Beck singing about Zankou Chicken).
When the performances are all done and Choi is finished cooking, the world record holder for fastest freestyle, MC Supernatural, will talk to Choi about ingredients and taste some of the food before making up an on-the-spot rap about it. Snacks will be flying off the stage the whole time; afterward, there will be food trucks parked outside the venue.
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"Just like with music, everyone has something to say about food," Kun says. "They both go hand in hand. We want to get people thinking about food justice and food issues through performance."
Since it launched in June, To Live and Dine in L.A. has sparked a discussion about history, race, class and food access in Los Angeles. The book and accompanying exhibit at the library's central branch downtown (created in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Library Foundation) compiles hundreds of historic restaurant menus from the Los Angeles Public Library's collection, weaving them together with personal narratives, academic essays and artistic reflections.
"I wanted to figure out how the historic menu collection could come alive in surprising ways," Kun says. "I'm just trying to use the menu collection as a way of galvanizing those ideas and bringing them to a more mainstream audience."
To Live and Dine in L.A.: A Live Mixtape, Sun., Aug. 9, 7 p.m.; $20, tickets available here; The Regent, 448 S. Main St., downtown