Is Los Angeles the best food town in America? So asked the entire text of a post on Gawker on Monday morning, which was in turn referring to a Daily Beast story that came out over the weekend anointing our fair city the country's best.
In the Gawker comments section the regular tropes about L.A. played out. "They don't even eat in Los Angeles"; stuff about the Kardashians; and every person claiming their own city as the best, from the obvious contenders (New York, Chicago) to some very wishful thinking (Denver. Sorry Denver, but seriously?).
Despite what I consider to be a completely meaningless discussion -- what is it with food people's obsession with the totally un-quantifiable concept of "best"? -- there's no doubt that Los Angeles is having a food moment of sorts, and that it's possible we'll finally begin to get our due on a national and international level.
It could be argued that this is simply a function of the media pushing a conveniently timed story, what with the incredible hype surrounding Roy Choi's new memoir. But it's the story told in that memoir that mirrors what's so interesting and vibrant about L.A. food right now -- the L.A. Choi grew up in is the L.A. that's currently producing a crop of chefs who play to their own tune, with great results.
The Daily Beast story actually does a very good job of describing the cultural forces that are giving us this particular moment, as well as shouting out the food that simply would not exist anywhere else. No matter what your definition of "best," L.A. is absolutely on the cutting edge of what American cuisine might become -- not an imitation of European or Nordic cuisine, but something wholly American, made up of the myriad cultural influences that thrive in this city.
What then, of the institutions set up to recognize excellence and innovation in food? Isn't it time for those institutions to catch up? Isn't it ironic that L.A. is having this moment just four years after Michelin pulled out of the city?
If you look at the James Beard awards, or the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, L.A. is never a big winner and is often left out completely. And when it comes down to it, while we can claim that there's a bias against L.A., the real issue is probably that those institutions tend to recognize the same old thing -- extremely high-end restaurants producing mainly European-influenced food. Do the institutions actually need to catch up to us rather than the other way around?
Or maybe part of why we're having this moment is because our most interesting food people have never felt the pressure to live up to the expectations of old-school institutions. Michelin left because our food never fit into their paradigm. The people who look to name the 50 best restaurants in the world would never think to consider the food that's genuinely exciting in L.A.
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Being outside of the purview of the international arbiters of taste -- being undefinable in any predetermined way -- may turn out to be our greatest strength.
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