James Beard Foundation’s Taste America Culminates in LA

jblardoAfter stops in major food cities like Miami, Seattle, Boston, New Orleans and Chicago, the James Beard Foundation’s Third Annual Taste America hit Los Angeles November 6th and 7th. The local celebration of the national epicurean tour, which focused on regional flavors from coast to coast, was chaired by restauranters and entrepreneurs David Bernahl, Bill Chait, Barbara Fairchild, Sheila Lamb-Cohen, Emily Luchetti, and Robert Schueller.

On Friday, November 6th, the foundation kicked off a weekend of activities with a cocktail reception at the glamorous Ebell of Los Angeles. Chef Ari Taymor, a James Beard Award nominee, created the cocktails for Taste America in collaboration with one of the event sponsors, BACARDÍ® Gran Reserva. Hors d’oeuvre were provided by a half-dozen local culinary luminaries. It was really exciting to see the chefs’ creativity and finesse rise to the occasion as they worked with a smaller group of guests and a bigger budget than most of the food events I normally attend.

Chef Taymor’s seasonal cocktails were inspired by two of his favorite cities, Chicago and LA. The Headless Horseman is a spiced-up play on a classic Dark and Stormy, created for chilly Chicago winters. The combination of Gran Reserva Ocho Anos and ginger beer made it a very drinkable cocktail, in spite of its dramatic appellation.

The Siam Daiquiri was influenced by LA’s large Thai community. Created with Bacardi Maestro de Ron, the cocktail is “Taymor’s take on his favorite rum cocktail, with a personal touch of Thai aromatics,” including Thai basil, coriander and Kaffir lime leaves. The lime juice and jalapeno really reflect the vibe of LA, while staying true to the Thai influence.

The carved wood interior of the gorgeous Ebell was the perfect vessel for the rarified air through which we floated. I don’t know if anyone else in Los Angeles ate as well as guests at The Ebell did last Friday night. Chef Jessica Koslow of Squirl created a light smoked kabocha salad that nicely balanced the rich plates to come.

Ray Garcia of B.S Taqueria and Broken Spanish brought the heat with Oxtail Sopes with Plantains and Habanero. The habanero wasn’t so strong as to overwhelm the intense, beefy flavor of the oxtail. Zach Pollack of Alimento impressed us with a Veal Tongue Tonnato with Dill Pickles and Olive Oil Brioche. It was a very dainty stacked slider with a nice combination of tongue and homemade pickles, without one flavor dominating.

Michael Hung of Vivienne created a statement dish to say the least. Gently cooked lobster meat was tossed with Fuji apples in a creme fraiche and then topped with trout roe to create a “Lobster Parfait.” I only had one question. How many of these could I eat before I began to draw attention to myself? The chef was working all by himself, and mid-event I saw Matthew Kang from Eater behind the table helping him out like a total superhero. Host chef Louis Pechan of The Ebell went high-end with whole diver scallops that were so well-cooked they were delicious all on their own. Yet Pechan took it one step further with the best seasonal salad thus far this Autumn, comprised of sunchokes, persimmons and watermelon radishes.

My first bite of the evening was also my last bite, as I returned for seconds. Chef Timothy Hollingsworth of Barrel & Ashes and the upcoming Otium at The Broad presented sea urchin brioche with lardo, pistachios and truffle butter. I spent a good amount of time lingering nearby, and it appeared that he fried little fingers of brioche in truffle-infused butter, topped one end with a little uni, wrapped the lardo around the tip of the brioche to secure the uni, and rolled it in truffle butter. It almost seemed like the kind of a process you would use to compose a dessert. It was one of the most unique and satisfying combinations of flavors that has ever touched my palate. At the end of the evening I jokingly asked him if I could lick out the lardo bowl. He passed me a transluscent square of lardo hanging from the tip of his long metal tweezers. Bonus fat.

Entertainment was provided by local band The Replicas. Enjoy their version of “Lake of Fire” by the Meat Puppets.

Siam Daiquiri
1 part BACARDÍ Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron
½ part Kaffir Lime Juice
1 tsp Aromatic simple syrup*
Method: Mix ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously and serve in a chilled coupe.

*Aromatic Simple Syrup
1 cup water
12 Thai basil leaves
3 Coriander seeds
¼ Sliced Jalapeño
2 Kaffir Lime Leaves (if available)
1 cup Sugar
Method: Bring to a boil, steep 15 minutes, strain and cool.

The James Beard Foundation is proud to donate a portion of the evening’s proceeds to the Taste America Scholarship Fund.  All photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat. 

Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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