While Los Angeles has never had a Woodstock, we do have Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco Weekend, a two-day event that brings together people, numerous musical genres and, of course, delicious food. Reflecting a diverse lineup, the festival’s culinary choices are a foodie melting pot of ethnic deliciousness.
Music and nature have always inspired Top Chef finalist Shirley Chung, who will be serving three different types of steamed, house-made dumplings (chicken, beef, vegan) at Ms. Chi’s Cafe, along with a “bright and light” glass noodle salad, milk tea and coffee.
“Ms. Chi’s Cafe is my first concept in L.A. We feel very welcome by the community — we can't wait to meet everyone,” she says.
“Because we are cooking outdoors and it’s summer, I want to make something vibrant and light,” Chung says. However, she adds, “Pasadena has a rich history; I have three generations of relatives calling it their home for over 100 years now. So I want to make something more traditional at the same time.”
Some of the recipes are from her childhood. “‘Beijing girl that grew up in California’ is the direction of my menu,” Chung says. “It’s the perfect way to represent L.A.'s melting-pot culture.”
Also at Arroyo Seco will be Chilola’s Filipino Taco Stand, the latest concept from Ardour Hospitality’s Michael Hung. The veteran chef feels his purpose is to create community through food.
“Chilola is the creation of a Filipino-Chinese American chef and a Mexican-American business operator, who were inspired by their culinary experiences in East L.A. The food is not just a tribute to the festival but a true mirror of what Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles is, in terms of multiculturalism,” Hung says.
Chilola’s will be serving two types of tacos: Filipino chicken adobo and a vegetarian roasted mushroom and tofu with black soy and garlic chives.
“These are both pretty classic in terms of Filipino flavors, redolent of garlic, bay leaf, soy, etc.,” Hung says. “We found a great producer of all-natural handmade tortillas and our two salsas, a roasted pepper and vinegar salsa and a charred tomatillo salsa, are inspired by my partner Abby's grandmother's cooking from Guadalajara.”
Hung is just as passionate about cooking as he is about the bands performing.
“I grew up listening The Bangles (performing Sunday) in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and they were on heavy airplay. Hearing (lead singer) Susanna Hoffs' voice especially brings me back to my youth, and always gives me a sense of nostalgia,” he says.
“For me, cooking is similar, in that flavors and dishes can trigger the past and remind us of where we have been.”
While Freedman's is primarily an ode to the food of Jewish and Eastern European Americans, it frequently tips its hat to the multiethnic-topia that is LA.
‘Our guava cheesecake is an homage to the Cuban restaurant that came before us. The late-night menu item we do every so often, the Pastrami Crunchwrap Supreme, is a nod to the many late-night taco trucks that dot our city,” owner Jonah Freedman says.
He adds: “The albacore tuna, done tataki style, and the yellowtail and green tomato, served like sashimi, pay tribute to the thriving Japanese culinary scene. We pull from everywhere and filter our choices through the lens of a Jewish-ish deli.”
Freedman's is serving the tasty Crunchwrap at Arroyo Seco. Besides pastrami, it has nacho cheese, corn tostada, a big flour soft tortilla, shredded lettuce and sour cream — that ought to power anyone through a full day’s concertgoing.
Cal Mare co-owner and chef Adam Sobel has two goals at Arroyo Seco: Hang out backstage with music icon Neil Young, and offer attendees intriguing coastal Italian lifestyle dishes that have a lot of “soul and passion.”
“As the festival attracts a range of ethnicities and cultures, me being an Italian Jewish American, having a really crazy diverse upbringing, I feel at home in that kind of surrounding,” Sobel says.
The restaurant is serving a Sloppy Giuseppe osso bucco parmigiana sandwich (braised veal shank) and Jagged Little Potatoes at the festival. On the lighter side, Sobel is showcasing Phish but Not That Fish, which is yellowfin tuna crudo with Calabrian chilies, tangerines, basil and mint.
About the tuna, Sobel says: “It’s refreshing and great to eat during Pasadena’s hot weather. While it’s something you wouldn’t necessarily see at a food festival, I would take that over a corn dog or a fried funnel cake. It’s a much cleaner, healthier option.”
For vegetarians, there is also Not Your Grandma’s Parmigiana mushroom parmigiana option.
And no matter what your background, Barrel & Ashes is hoping you like BBQ.
“Every culture has their own version of BBQ, but its basic origins came from cooking underutilized and often discarded parts of the animal, bringing out their delicious flavors,” notes Greg Allen, general manager.
The restaurant will be serving Black Angus beef brisket, pulled pork sandwiches and watermelon.
“We were one of the headliners at last year's Arroyo Seco Festival and are very happy to be invited back again this summer,” Allen says. “Cooking outdoors for people who were so excited to be there for the music and food was a truly special experience.”
This time, rather than having all of its dishes come off the grill, Barrel & Ashes is going to factor in the Pasadena heat. “People want something refreshing and delicious to eat. Instead of grilled corn on the cob, we’ll also be serving a chilled grilled corn salad. It's deeelicious!”
Arroyo Seco Weekend, Brookside at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena; Sat.-Sun., June 23-24; arroyosecoweekend.com.