The Raw, the Cooked and Everything in Between: Taste of the Nation

The raw and the cooked--and everything in between--were showcased at Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation fundraiser event in Culver City on Sunday. Many of the participating local chefs were big on crudo, while others preferred carbonizing their protein. The sheer number of chefs and food businesses meant that plenty of textures, cooking styles, and flavors got their due and reflected the range and creativity of L.A. culinary culture. Even a hybrid object -- the spork -- was TOTN's multi-purpose utensil of choice. What would Claude Lévi-Strauss have said? Thankfully, he'd have been too busy eating.

What to pick next? Crowds mill about, chat and eat at Taste of the Nation in Culver City.
What to pick next? Crowds mill about, chat and eat at Taste of the Nation in Culver City.
Jessica Ritz

Jason Travi at Fraiche and Riva went for a hamachi and albacore number, while Simon LA rocked the seared ahi tuna with fava bean puree (a season legume that M Café also took advantage of), K-Zo went the spicy tuna tartare route, and Josiah Citrin's Melisse served a delicate fluke with avocado number. The Animal guys pulled back the reins with its delicate, tiny cubed marinated amberjack that got its subtle heat from diced chiles. John Sedlar and his Rivera crew churned out tortillas florales with verde shrimp salsa. And for a different flavor profile, Octavio Becerra spooned out Palate's smoked whitefish salad with pickled shallots.

Jimmy Shaw included beef tongue in Lotería's tacos selection, 8 Oz. Burger Bar made what one would expect, Church & State fried up some succulent mini pig burgers, BLT Steak's Chef de Cuisine Brian Moyers prepared beautiful adobo marinated strip steak with smoked potato salad and charred green tomato chimichurri, Warren Schwartz handed out James Ranch lamb French dip sandwiches with carmelized onions and horseradish cream from his Westside Tavern, Bowery/Delancey also had diminutive burgers going, and Eric Greenspan grilled up creamy rich taleggio sandwiches.

Oh, and we mustn't forget the crisp pork belly posse, which was well represented by Suzanne Tracht's Jar and Tom Colicchio's Craft, who paired their pig with a minty melon side, and a corn and tomato salad, respectively.

The Bazaar plated thin slices of traditional jamon iberico alongside José Andrés's signature nueva cocina liquid olives. Fig's Ray Garcia created a duck confit with farro and cherries that helped ensured the small but dignified bird didn't get lost in the bigger animal shuffle.

Other standouts included Indian Vada dumplings from Susan Feniger's Street, plus its chrysanthemum mint tea, which was among the booze-free beverages that the teetotalers in the crowd appreciated. (Props to LAMILL's tea and coffee selection, too.) But drinkers were thrilled to sip Belgian brews from authentic glasses, and taste selections from wineries such as Qupe, Lioco, and Paige 23.

If there were an award for best costume and booth theme, the highly art decorated station from which Fred Eric handed out Frieda's Real Deal Campfire Chili while casually strumming a banjo would win hands-down. And Jonathan Gold was in the crowd and at the Weekly's booth to field whatever questions were thrown his way.

You could get your sugar fix too. The Mozza crew dished out the accolade-magnet butterscotch budino with salty, crisp rosemary pine nut cookies, kids and adults eyes popped out of their heads at the sight of Bluebird Café's dazzling cupcakes, and Gail Silverton and Joel Gutman were busy non-stop at Gelato Bar's station.

The competitors anxiously await the judges' results during the mole tasting.
The competitors anxiously await the judges' results during the mole tasting.
Jessica Ritz

But this event wasn't about just about eating. During the cooking demos (Michael Mina, Mary Sue Milliken and Ms. Feniger), live auction, and mole tasting competition (judges Mr. Gold, Evan Kleiman, and Nancy Zaslavsky declared Moles La Tía the winner in what seemed like a tough choice) announcers from the stage reminded folks about Share Our Strength's work to alleviate children's hunger nation-wide, a need which is only getting more acute given current economic woes. To support the cause, visit www.strength.org.


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