After stops inÂ major food cities like Miami, Seattle,Â Boston, New Orleans andÂ Chicago, the James Beard Foundationâ€™s Third Annual Taste America hit Los AngelesÂ November 6th andÂ 7th.Â The local celebration of the national epicurean tour, whichÂ focused onÂ regional flavors from coast to coast, wasÂ chaired byÂ 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,Â created the cocktails for Taste America inÂ collaboration with one of the event sponsors, BACARDĂŤÂ® Gran Reserva. Hors dâ€™oeuvre were provided by a half-dozen local culinary luminaries. It was really exciting to see the chefs’ creativity and finesseÂ rise to the occasionÂ as they worked withÂ a smaller group of guestsÂ and a bigger budget than most of the food events I normally attend.
Chef Taymorâ€™s seasonal cocktailsÂ were inspired byÂ two of his favorite cities,Â 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 wasÂ influenced by LA’s large Thai community. CreatedÂ with Bacardi Maestro de Ron, the cocktail is “Taymorâ€™s take on his favorite rum cocktail, with a personal touch of Thai aromatics,”Â including ThaiÂ 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 EbellÂ did lastÂ Friday night. Chef Jessica Koslow of Squirl created a light smoked kabocha salad thatÂ nicely balanced the rich plates to come.
Ray Garcia of B.S Taqueria and Broken Spanish brought the heat with Oxtail Sopes with PlantainsÂ and Habanero. The habanero wasn’t so strongÂ as to overwhelm the intense, beefy flavor of the oxtail. Zach Pollack of Alimento impressed us withÂ a Veal Tongue Tonnato with Dill PicklesÂ and Olive Oil Brioche. It was a veryÂ 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 workingÂ all by himself,Â and mid-event I saw Matthew KangÂ 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.Â 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 everÂ 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. EnjoyÂ their version ofÂ “Lake of Fire” by the Meat Puppets.
1 part BACARDĂŤ Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron
Â˝ 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
ÂĽ Sliced JalapeĂ±o
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 eveningâ€™s proceeds to the Taste America Scholarship Fund.Â All photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat.