Guitarists, pianists, we've even met a conga drummer or two while standing in line for a cup of coffee. But it's not all that often we run into a harpist -- particularly one who plays hip hop tunes ("I don't do weddings") and also happens to make mashed potatoes.
Jill Flomenhoft is the woman behind Bangers & Smashed, a local startup that specializes in small-batch mashed potatoes in a dozen or so flavors. You may have seen her at various local food events as of late: Artisinal LA, Savor Los Angeles, or as we did, at The Market at Santa Monica Place last week. And no, she wasn't wearing a hot pink tutu when we met, although she does have a "red flannel" smashed potato variety (made with beets, bacon, caramelized onions and rosemary) that is about the same color. Which of course begs the question: What's the connection between playing the harp and making mashed potatoes?
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Actually, when we ran into Flomenhoft, she didn't mention anything about being somewhat of a renegade harpist. It wasn't until we poked around on our own that we uncovered the harp side of things, which caught Flomenhoft a bit off guard (it seems most folks stick to the same old potato story). "Wow, you've been digging," she told us via email. "Really I'm just your average, everyday, pole dancing harpist who creates mashed potatoes for a living."
About those mashed potatoes. Flomenhoft says she started out slowly about a year ago, doing a little mashed potato catering here and there between harp gigs, and that she's working on getting her mashed potatoes in more local retail shops. You can currently find them at Lindy and Grundy on Fairfax and online. Her seasonally changing selection includes goat cheese and sage, lemon artichoke, wasabi miso and black truffle mashed potatoes, as well as some year-round Thanksgiving flashbacks like bourbon-pecan smashed sweet potatoes with Jack Daniels and coconut candied yams with pineapple.
As for the harp-potato connection, Flomenhoft says she's "not exactly sure why mashed potatoes and music, but I suppose both have something to do with the idea of a new twist on a classic. Like, I don't make mashed potatoes plain and I don't play the harp at weddings... but Thai flavored mashed potatoes? Hip-hop samples on the harp paired with beatbox and spoken word? Both have the advantage of novelty with mass appeal."
There you have it. Just when you think you've heard it all, mashed potatoes, hip-hop, a harp and a marketing plan collide.