At Saturday night’s “Grill and Chill,” All-Star Chef Classic co-founders and executive directors Krissy Lefebvre and Lucy Lean outdid themselves with a fun, laid-back barbeque and beer event. Presented by DineLA, the spacious tent maintained a club-like ambiance with a DJ spinning 80s and New Jack Swing while guests watched the action of the chefs grilling outside. I don’t know if it was ingenius planning or weather from the gods that prevented the copious amounts of grill smoke from wafting into the tents. Partner Stella Artois kept the beer flowing while generous wine pourings and specialty cocktails added to the festivities.
Jon Shook (Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec) pulled a surprise move by presenting a vegetarian dish that still retained a certain meaty quality. A Boniato sweet potato was topped with a rich mushroom ragu that would have been at home on any grilled steak, rounded out with freme fraiche and Green Goddess dressing. Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Connie & Ted’s) brought a little brightness to grilled Naked Cowgirl oysters with a touch of apple and lime. New Yorker Gabrielle Hamilton (PRUNE) put her own spin on surf ‘n’ turf by combining octopus and tongue. The two notoriously challenging proteins were delicate and tender, intensely flavored with an unforgettable marinade.
Paul Qui (Uchiko) has a day named in his honor in Houston. It is no wonder after tasting his charred cabbage with sweet pepper jam, curried yogurt and chicken jus that was elevated by the addition of crispy chicken skin. Ricardo Zarate (Mo-chica, Picca Peru)made use of an underrated part of the chicken with his Culito de Pollo, which roughly translates into “chicken butt.” I asked him, “Guess what?” but he wasn’t biting.
Some of our favorite dishes were the meatiest. International chef Gavin Kaysen (Cafe Boulud) impressed with his bahn mi with Thai sausage. Portland’s Naomi Pomeroy (Beast, Expatriate) presented dark-lacquered BBQ lamb ribs glazed with burnt honey, fish sauce, and black garlic paired with a refreshing Szechuan cucumber salad. Roy Choi (Kogi BBQ, A-Frame, Sunny Spot, POT, Chego), king of food trucks and racy tweets, won my heart with his ready smile and famous Galbi beef, which skillfully avoids the common trap of cloying sweetness.
Ludo Lefebvre (Trois Mec, Ludo Bites) possibly won best dish of the day with beef with charred broccoli, smoked peanut butter and crispy shallots. I asked him about the peanut butter and he responded in his trademark curmudgeonly style, “What? People have been doing that for hundreds of years! I didn’t invent that!”
New Orleans chef Donald Link (Herbsaint, Cochon, Butcher, Calcasieu, Pêche Seafood Grill) presented a Mamou Grilled Pork Sandwich, paying homage to the Mamou region of New Orleans, which he explained has a colorful Mardi Gras tradition where the young men ride around town collecting contributions for a huge communal gumbo. Link later did a cooking demo of the sandwich, confounding everyone with his pronunciation of Tony Chachere’s spice mix and freaking Ludo out with his mayonnaise and white bread.
Unlike many food events where chefs are stressed out and trapped at their stations, Grill and Chill had an easygoing pace and the chefs seemed to really be enjoying themselves as they joshed with each other and chatted with their admiring fans. The event brought out the best of LA, not only its food, but its relaxed vibe, hospitality, and sense of fun. This event was definitely chill.