Bone marrow custard with camel milk. Sea urchin ice cream. Frito BBQ casserole. Octopus prepared half a dozen ways. Seen as abstract and lofty by some, these kinds of ideas were executed with near-perfection on a grand scale at the LA Food & Wine Festival [LAFW], which took place August 25 – 28 in venues across Los Angeles. And while these novelties wowed attendees day in and day out, they served a far greater purpose in strengthening LA’s reputation in the culinary world.
LA has no shortage of all that is hip and trendy in the foodie realm. Myriads of places pop up practically every day to experiment with the newest concepts, giving the city a massive portfolio of best practices. LAFW was kind enough to reel in some of the most forward-thinking players.
Let’s take a look at three of the festival’s biggest draws, each of which drew dozens of restaurants to showcase their style. Up-and-comers, household names and outright culinary celebrities all followed through on the same mission to bring new meaning to the dishes they created.
Friday’s Night Market
Based on the night markets that serve street food across East Asia, this event delivered the same ‘casual’ fare with an obvious gourmet western twist. Taking place on First and Grand in Downtown LA, a city thoroughfare was covered in red carpet [literally] with the Walt Disney Concert Hall serving as the backdrop. Highlights included the following:
- Badass’ Indian-spiced sliders. Badmaash, Chef Pawan Mahendro
- Liquid nitrogen-chilled foie gras. Patina, Chef Paul Lee
- Octopus salad. Café Pinot, Chef Jake Eaton
- Gourmet hot dogs. Sumo Dog, Chef Jeffrey Lunak
Chefs Jet Tila and Brian Malarkey took the stage to tout Los Angeles as “one of the greatest food cities in the world.”
Saturday’s Grand Tasting
Some seriously good eats made for a glorious LAFW afternoon in Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar—a surprisingly popular venue that hosts other events such as the Planned Parenthood Food Fare. Chefs from across LA represented the city’s culinary diversity in spades.
- Sea urchin ice cream. Chaya Downtown, Chef Joji Inoue
- ‘Mountains of’ foie gras. Hot’s Kitchen, Chef Sean Chaney
- Lobster and shrimp sausage. The Lobster, Chef Collin Crannell
- Purple yam bread pudding. B Sweet, Chef Barb Batiste
- Cocktail-infused cupcakes. Bree’s Cakes, Chef Bree Miller
Restaurant: Impossible Host Robert Irvine was present, serving up some amazing fried chicken and deviled eggs. Celebrity Chef Aaron Sanchez also made a cameo appearance.
Saturday’s Live on Grand
Live on Grand brought in some eye-catching features to bring the festival to its peak. From Barrel and Ashes’ speed-eating competition to Starry Kitchen’s Nguyen Tran shouting obscenities through a megaphone while donning a banana costume, there was no shortage of personality to keep the energy flowing. The food was, of course, excellent.
- Curry sugar and German chocolate donuts. ICDC, Chef Mariah Swan
- Homemade pasta and pesto with Parmesan foam. Ray’s & Stark Bar, Chef Fernando Darin
- Braised beef cheek with basil spaetzli. Nick + Stef’s Steakhouse, Chef Andreas Roller
Tyler Florence brought a splash of Norcal to the scene, representing Wayfare Tavern with shrimp and grits like you wouldn’t believe. He also praised LA’s food scene, and went on to introduce blast from the past De La Soul, who performed for the latter half of the event.
Of course every event came with impeccable and free-flowing wine, beer and cocktails from across the world. Wineries such as Bastianich, Michael Mondavi Family Estate, Chateau d'or et Gueules and Zonin poured while Glenlivet scotch and Hendrick’s Gin showed off their marketing prowess with grand displays of audience interaction.
The retailers showed some impeccable novelties of their own. Be on the lookout for Choctal Single Origin Ice Cream, where a 40-year winemaking veteran decided to apply his attention to detail toward ice cream and sources ingredients from across the globe. Skinny Pop has come out with dark chocolate-dusted popcorn. Even Lexus showed off via its foodie partners, serving chocolate grilled cheese sandwiches and Not Your Father’s adult root beer floats.
LAFW spanned over four days with dozens of events. In addition to the grand tasting-style gatherings, restaurants across the city featured special menus and guest chefs that made for landmark dining occasions. Be on the lookout for next year’s LA Food & Wine Festival at www.lafw.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.