With so much creativity and art pulsating through the hearts of Angelenos, it’s no wonder Los Angeles has become one of the most exciting food cities in the world.
Reflecting the city's passion and multiculturalism, the eighth annual Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, running Aug. 22-26, has expanded to a five-day, immersive culinary experience, heating up the tail end of summer with tastings, chef demos and all-around foodie excellence.
David Bernahl, CEO of Coastal Luxury Management, works tirelessly to keep the massive event looking fresh, noting that it’s really the industry that updates the festival each year. “Food and beverage is constantly changing — ingredients, composition, flavors, styles — it’s always evolving,” he acknowledges.
“We really like to let our chefs and winemakers steer the course of our parties; in this way, our guests are always experiencing what is on the forefront of food and wine today," Bernahl adds. "We may have general themes for dinners or events, but the dishes and beverages show the real story of what’s happening in the culinary world.”
L.A. Weekly talked to LAFW chefs about their attraction to L.A. and what deliciousness you can expect them to serve.
Power Lunch (Aug. 24)
Several "power lunch" events are scheduled for Friday, Aug. 24. James Beard Award–nominated chef Casey Lane is creating a four-course, southern France–inspired power lunch at Breva in downtown's Hotel Figueroa, with Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch and Joey Elenterio of Paligroup.
“L.A. inspires me so much, because there is so much variation in the neighborhoods ... such authenticity in the different communities,” Lane says. “I think that’s the reason why the food culture is so outstanding — you have restaurants in Thai Town, dim sum in Alhambra and Mexican restaurants throughout the city.”
During the lunch, Lane will be serving dishes including smoked trout cornetti, quail egg with caviar sabayon; melon, Fresno chili and gamberetti marinotti; salmon crudo e cotto, tres cebolla, pistou.
Also part of the “Power Lunch” chef collaboration series is Steve Samson, who will be creating an Italian lunch with Denver’s Alex Seidel, the James Beard winner for Best Chef Southwest, at Rossoblu.
“L.A. is one of the great food cities of the world due to the accessibility of excellent raw materials,” Samson says. “The climate allows for year-round access to great produce, meats and fish.”
Samson is enthusiastic about out-of-town chefs coming in to stake their claim in L.A.
“As the second largest city in the country, it’s not as cost-prohibitive to do business, compared to San Francisco and New York,” he explains. “Also, the diversity here offers an amazing spread of ethnic foods throughout the city.”
During his lunch, Samson will use as much local produce as possible. “Chef Seidel is bringing ingredients from Colorado and is doing the pasta course. I’ll be doing a California lamb dish and local swordfish dish.”
LIVE on Grand Avenue, DTLA, Aug. 25, hosted by Curtis Stone and Tiffani Amber Thiessen
If you are headed downtown Saturday night, check out Top Chef’s popular mustached contestant, Joe Sasto, executive chef at Cal Mare, who's serving warm zeppole, whipped burrata, fermented leek and Black River caviar to hungry fans.
“L.A. is a new, up-and-coming hive-mind in the food scene,” Sasto says. “I feel it is still in its infancy; we are at the cusp of seeing a lot of really amazing things in the future.”
The veteran chef has been aware of a “huge turning point” in the last five years. “Diners are now looking and willing to travel for chef-driven restaurants, and are no longer content with the generic big-box chain outlet.”
Sasto is motivated by his access to the bounty of California. “Some of the best ingredients in the world is often where the inception of a dish begins. That, coupled with a consumer base that gets just as excited about a humble carrot, makes L.A. an incredibly inspiring and exciting place to be.”
Also at Grand Avenue is Fernando Darin, executive chef at LACMA, Ray’s & Stark Bar and Comadre Pizza. He is inspired by the sustainable garden the museum built behind Ray’s.
“I’ve been into vegetables and meat substitutes for a while now, and have been leaning toward vegetarianism for a minute," Darin said. "This is why I will be serving a vegan burger made with Beyond Meat. I’ll be making the burger buns to order in the back, serving them fresh and warm.”
Lexus Grand Tasting, Aug. 25-26, Barker Hangar, Santa Monica
Preux & Proper chef Samuel Monsour is mesmerized by L.A.’s rich imagery. “All the history, the cultures that have come together to create what it is today, and a constantly evolving food scene are all very inspiring. You can get a delicious meal for $2 to $200, from ketchup to caviar. It’s amazing.”
Monsour also is influenced by the Mexican culinary staff who assist him at his restaurants. “I have been lucky whenever they have brought in treats from their neighborhood. I love learning about their family recipes and incorporating that into our menu.”
Along with his tasty Colorado lamb ribs, which are heavily seasoned with Jamaican jerk spice, Monsour is bringing a few of his secret bottles of Maker’s Mark private select bourbon, but only for L.A. Weekly readers who ask to do a shot with him!
The Belvedere at the Peninsula Beverly Hills also will be at Grand Tasting, serving Yukon gold potato waffle topped with lobster and Béarnaise sauce; and a crab falafel pita with taramasalata and hummus.
“Within the past decade, new industries have brought more residents and cultures to L.A., and these communities expect more authentic and exciting flavors,” says executive chef David Codney.
“Restaurants and bars have opened in neighborhoods all over Los Angeles. If you have an innovative culinary idea, it’s a great city to open a trendy hot spot, pop-up, food truck, a cart or a dumpling shop in a mini-mall. In L.A., if you build it, and it’s great — they will come.”
Codney invites L.A. Weekly readers to stop by the Peninsula booth for some wine. “We are pouring rosé — come see us!”
And while you are eating Blue Ribbon’s black vinegar–glazed pork ribs with spicy slaw, congratulate chef/owner Bruce Bromberg on celebrating 25 years in business.
The restaurateur, who recently moved to L.A., will be opening two restaurants.
“L.A. is very inspiring to me; it is developing into one of the great food cities of the world. There are some venerable institutions, but add to it lots of newcomers, coming from everywhere — across the Pacific Rim, Hawaii, the South, etc. There are new flavors, new cultures and a mixing of lots of flavors you can’t find anywhere else,” he says.
For a long time, maybe Los Angeles wasn’t taken seriously as a food city, Bromberg acknowledges.
“But I think it really came down to the way we ate. L.A. is about casual, local and a diverse spectrum of flavors, all aspects that we’re looking for, more than ever, when we go out to eat now.”
“This is one of the few cities where you can find authentic street tacos, falafel, Korean BBQ and a chef-driven restaurant all on the same block. That creates a vibrancy and a freedom we should all be excited to explore.”
Ultimate Bites of L.A., Aug. 23, Grand Avenue
“Why it’s an exciting time in food right now actually has more to do with the people of Los Angeles where there’s been a demand,” asserts chef Antonia Lofaso, who is hosting Ultimate Bites with chef Alvin Cailan. “They are the ones who support all the restaurants, saying, ‘We will be out every night in the restaurants eating and drinking, because we love and are loyal to our city.’”
Lofaso, who is chef/owner of Black Market Liquor Bar, Scopa Italian Roots and the Local Peasant and a chef/partner of Dama, will be serving two favorites at Ultimate Bites, aguachile and churros, to lucky attendees.
“I always say Los Angeles has some of the most loyal patrons of the country. They follow chefs and restaurateurs and want to see the great new thing that they’re opening — they’re excited about the great new thing that’s happening, they’re interested and excited to learn instead of being pessimistic.”
HEAT on the Street, Aug. 24, Grand Avenue
“Since I moved here in 1981, L.A. has been the most exciting food town I’ve ever experienced — and I travel a ton! It’s just that everyone has suddenly, finally noticed,” muses Mary Sue Milliken, one of the chefs at HEAT.
“L.A. has always had such a strong culture of openness and curiosity, and coupled with the spectacular quality of raw ingredients, it’s the perfect storm," she adds. "I like the fact that no matter what neighborhood I’m in, there’s an extraordinary bakery, craft bar, restaurant, deli, coffee shop, etc., and you don’t have to drive across town anymore to find excellence.”
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Along with Susan Feniger, Milliken will be serving Peruvian poke tostadita with a vegan option as well.
Also during “Heat,” chef Aarón Sánchez (Fox’s MasterChef) will be serving his abuela’s albondigas. “I liked the idea of bringing a family recipe that is simple, fun and honors my legacy.”
Sánchez and Lofaso also are doing a power lunch on Aug. 24 at Dama.
For more events and information, visit lafw.com.