The elegant courtyard of Vibiana in downtown LA was lit with cool lavenders last weekend for the opening reception of the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America. Four of LA’s best chefs provided a sampling of regional fare in line with the Taste America theme. Cocktails were twists on standards, and they were strong. I only drank a half of my gin and tonic before I decided I had better slow down.
Chef Neal Fraser of Redbird and Fritzi’s went high-end with Norwegian King Crab Legs topped with Darjeeling and seaweed so colorful it looked straight out of a decorative fish tank. Chef Josef Centeno of Orsa & Winston presented the most precious and Instagrammable hors’douvre of the evening. His “Breakfast in a Shell” consisted of a 3-minute coddled egg, Pecorino-Sardo, cream of wheat, whipped cream with sherry vinegar, pancetta and Japanese rice balls with just a little bit of maple syrup. His use of cream of wheat stemmed from a misunderstanding over polenta, and he discovered he loved it.
Chef Nyesha Arrington of Venice’s Leona was inspired by the spirits of James Beard and Julia Child to update the classic Coq au vin. She compressed duck, chicken and bacon together and served the uhh, “bacducken” with roasted chicken jus, red wine reduction, and an intense black truffle puree, then garnished it with crispy chicken skin, young celery leaf and pickled hanumanji mushrooms.
Chef Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon created a Pozole Verde with mussels, hominy and poblanos. I have never been a fan of mussels. When I was little, we used to cut them off of the pilings on the pier and sell them to fishermen for bait. Perhaps as a harbinger of my foodie future, we used the money to buy steamed crabs from the fish market instead of candy. But I will try anything made by a great chef, and for a moment I forgot what I was eating. It was delicious. That is the mark of a James Beard-caliber chef, making you love something you had never thought you liked.
Bruce Kalman of Union and Knead & Co Pasta Bar presented house-made porcini lasagnette with pioppini mushrooms, rosemary and Parmesan-Reggaiano. Amongst the intense mushroom umami there seemed to be a little heat, but they have been from being in close proximity to “Tabasco Mash.”
So, about the Tabasco mash…there was a representative from the Not So Ancient Order (NSOAO) of the coveted Not-So-Silver-Spoon (NSSS) offering tastings of the 40,000 Scoville mash, upon which the spoon would be bestowed upon the brave recipient. I politely declined the honor