Highlights from LA Loves Alex’s Lemonade 2017

Chef Giada de Laurentiis with kids (not all hers, she pointed out). All photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat.

The 8th annual L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade Stand held on September 9th, attracted more than 2,200 people, raising over $1.3 million to fight childhood cancer. The auctions alone raised $640,000. The big money makers were the always popular women’s chef dinner prepared especially for the winning bidder by Suzanne Goin, April Bloomfield, Giada De Laurentiis, Nancy Oakes and Sherry Yard. An impromptu dinner and event at Jimmy Kimmel’s barn cooked by chefs including Jonathan Waxman and Chris Bianco, raised so much money that they decided to offer it twice, at $100,000 each. The crowd whooped and hollered as the bids went higher, and it made you feel like you were a part of something truly good and meaningful.Over at the silent auction, The LA Beat was bidding on an entire year front-of-the-line pass at Howlin’ Ray’s Hot Chicken. If you have ever visited this cozy little joint in Chinatown, you know that the excellent chicken and infamous wait make it a prize worth fighting for. Starting at only $60 (including a $50 gift certificate), the final bid was $525. I’m trying to work something out for a month’s FOL with Chef Johnny Ray Zone on social media. We’ll see if that gets me anywhere.

The sun was shining down on Royce Quad all afternoon, and the yellow color theme made it seem even brighter. Over 100 chefs, vintners and mixologists were working hard to please the record number of guests. Alex’s is kind of fun, because unlike other events where each chef has their own tent, Alex’s Lemonade partners up the chefs, who share one tent. Some of the chefs request their partner, and others are paired up like a blind date. Some of the chefs work together to develop one plate, while other chefs create dishes to compliment each other. There was still a lot of summer produce, especially corn and tomatoes. but the slide into autumn showed in some heartier ingredients like red meat, polenta and mashed potatoes (Yay! Potatoes are back!).

Starting us off, chef Neal Fraser of Redbird served beef tartare and caviar ranch on a potato churro. Caviar Ranch dressing? Really? Chef Hilary Henderson of Cut by Wolfgang Puck grilled up a no-messing-around hearty Creekstone Farm’s sirloin steak with roasted corn and a smoked onion chimichurri. Jar’s Suzanne Tracht, whose ribs I always love, cooked up char siu baby back ribs. Chef Scott Conant’s new baby, The Ponte, won my heart by serving seared foie gras on polenta, with Parmesan frico. Scott Conant may seem very serious an intense as a television judge, but he is a great guy and even let me sneak some extra foie gras. And thank God I stocked up, because the ban is returning. Parmesan frico are just Parmesan chips, but they sound cooler.

The seafood game at Alex’s was also strong this year. Chef Nancy Oakes prepared a fresh and beautiful Hamachi crudo, with Brokaw avocado, white carrot, ginger, and turmeric for Boulevard in San Francisco. Josiah Citrin of Melisse and chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence collaborated on a dish of geoduck clam, heirloom tomatoes, kelp pesto and lemons. Kelp is big this year too. As is tradition, Hungry Cat set up a generous cold bar of Fruits de Mer, and we were super happy about the uni.

Possibly the best dish of the day was from Chef Jason Winters of Hearth & Olive. I almost didn’t even try the Middle-Eastern flavored dish because the coloring made it look like salmon, which I’m not always in the mood for. Luckily, the people at one of the tables I was hopping between were very intent on me trying it. The Ubame Oak- grilled ocean trout with beet tahina, pickled carrot, labneh and zhoug was tender and flaky, and the sauces were a rich but not overwhelming complement. A close second were the grilled prawns with a green thai curry and corn soup from Chef Walter Manzke. Can I just move into Republique and live there? I’ll happily scrub pots.

Nick Anderer of Martina in NYC served up tender polpette di pollo, which were so tender and juicy you would not have known they were chicken. Jon and Vinny Dotolo were also serving Jon & Vinny’s trademark meatballs with garlic bread and ricotta. Arancini are never a wrong choice, and Chef Evan Funke’s Arancini Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) from Felix were crisp on the outside with a rich lava filling.

We are always lusting after Union’s meatballs, but the salad Chef Bruce Kalman created was so good it was hard to be disappointed. The Fermented Grain Greek Salad with heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, pickled onion, goat cheese and flatbread was a nice change from the heavier dishes. Another perfect and simple dish on the lighter side was grilled sourdough topped with honey ricotta and plum from chef Shannon Swindle of Craft. Chef Rocco Whalen paid homage to the end of summer and the City of Angels with his Tokyo Street Corn. We will have to make it out to Cleveland sometime to visit Chef Whalen’s restaurant, Fahrenheit, and maybe visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Giada de Laurentiis of Giada in Las Vegas was very brave to serve muffuletta right next to renowned New Orleans chef Donald Link of  Pêche, Herbsaint, Cochon. The aptly named chef Link served boudin sausage with peaches. There is simply nothing better than a crispy grilled natural casing.

There were a number of desserts from Salt & Straw, Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery, Valerie Confections, and of course, Sherry Yard, but there was just no room left. Next year we will have to start with desserts first.

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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