[Photo gallery from Trufflepalooza 2010 after the jump.]
What kind of crazy, ambitious non-professional chef buys a pound of truffles at a time? That's what the vendor wanted to know when Erika Kerekes picked up her first big haul of black summer truffles.
The backdrop couldn't have been more prosaic. It was 6 a.m. in a Carl's Jr. lot on La Cienega Boulevard just off the 10 freeway. Kerekes pulled her van up next to the delivery guy's truck. In exchange for a sealed brown box, she gave him $100 in cash and he sped off. "Anyone watching us would have thought it was a drug deal," laughs Kerekes. That was three years ago on a Wednesday. With so many truffles, she decided she'd have a party -- on Sunday.
The industrious social media professional, home cook and mother of two set about devising a multi-course menu that incorporated truffles into every dish. Four days later, along with 40 friends, Kerekes toasted her first annual truffle party. Every year since, the scope and ambition of her private Trufflepalooza has grown.
Last year, Kerekes cooked for 75 people, a 13-course menu that included truffled radish tartines, chilled green beans with a porcini mushroom and truffle dip, truffled mac 'n cheese and open-faced filet mignon sandwiches with truffle butter, that she served (with the help of her husband, two sons and assorted friends) in her Santa Monica home. Many of the guests were friends she had met through In Erika's Kitchen, a cooking blog she launched in December 2008.
In addition to working full-time and raising two children, Kerekes has, in her abundant spare time, become a noted Los Angeles food blogger who's a regular at local food contests and has appeared on KCRW's "Good Food."
"I'm very organized," Kerekes says. "And I definitely sleep 8 hours. I would much rather be busy than not be busy, and everyone helps. My 12 year old makes the menu and the signage. Both kids will serve at the party, and my husband does the shopping and gets the house ready."
This weekend, Kerekes will host the third annual Trufflepalooza. (While we don't normally cover private events, when we're invited to something called Trufflepalooza... well, you had us at "truffle.")
The menu, this year, runs to 15 courses and required two-and-a-half pounds of black truffles. Kerekes always hold the party in summer, because summer truffles are cheaper than winter truffles, though this year, Sabatino is supplying the truffles.
Favorites from past years show up (the truffled egg salad and the radish tartines) alongside a few new items like truffled cod mousse in cucumber cups and truffled shu mai.
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"I try to keep things really simple," Kerekes says. "If I thought it was going to be too complicated, I probably wouldn't do it. My husband came up with the shu mai idea, and I resisted. It thought it would be too fussy. He pushed me and pushed me, so we tried it. It's not that hard, and it's really delicious."
The way she makes it sound, it does take that long to pull everything together. Kerekes preps for about four hours on Thursday and Friday night then all day on Saturday. Only four hours? Really? "I'm very organized in the kitchen. I know exactly what I'm doing when. I already have my shopping list made up, and my husband does all the shopping. Because I'm making nibbles not full meals, it doesn't seem that overwhelming."
Sure, for a woman who can throw together miniature crepes with truffled duck confit with more grace than most of us can muster for a frozen stir-fry, it probably isn't overwhelming. It helps that Kerekes has a resoundingly unfussy attitude about it all.
"I'm not that good with presentation," she says. "I'm not a Martha Stewart-type person. Even if it doesn't come out looking perfect, I'm sure it will be delicious and people will eat it anyway."