The sun emerged from the clouds just in time to shine down on the grassy picnic for LA Loves Alex’s Lemonade at UCLA’s Royce Quad Saturday. Guests mingled with celebrity chefs as they sampled savory bites and sweet treats. There is always a special vibe at Alex’s that is different from other annual food events. The picnic theme and kid-friendly atmosphere help to make it feel like a big family reunion. Or maybe it is the inspiration from Alexandria “Alex” Scott, a little girl with cancer whose front yard lemonade stand grew into a foundation that raised over a million dollars during her lifetime.
Chef David Lentz of Hungry Cat, one of the founders and hosts, wowed as usual with a sumptuous raw bar including oysters, mussels, shrimp, and uni sprinkled with sea salt. Another founder and host, Suzanne Goin of Lucques, AOC and Tavern presented a hearty porschetta with blistered cherry tomatoes, feta salsa verde and grilled toast.
Chef Bruce Kalman of Union in Pasadena created a single bite that exploded with flavor and literally stopped me in my tracks. A single duck agnolotti with gorgonzola dolce, pickled huckleberries and fennel plated like modern art proved the restaurant worthy of its place in Bravo’s “Best New Restaurant” competition. Chef Kalman told us they are filming now, and the winner will be selected before the January air date.
Photo essay after the break
The highly anticipated Love & Salt, soon to open in Manhattan Beach, served a corned lamb tongue that was tender and flavorful. A world away from beef tongue. We eagerly anticipate Chefs Michael Fiorelli and Rebecca Merhej’s menu. At every food event, there is always one chef who goes off the rails and creates something mind-boggling. This time it was Michael Voltaggio of Ink with his corn and white cheddar ice cream sandwich. He assured me it tasted like cheddar cheese, and it certainly did. We also spotted Ink’s own Cole Dickinson, who can be identified by his friendly demeanor and huge tattoo of his parents on his neck. I never envy chefs, because I see how hard they work, but I bet Ink is a fun kitchen to work in.
Besides Hungry Cat, there was a lot of seafood being plated. The Strand in Manhattan Beach served a tender wild grilled Norwegian sterling halibut. Chef Mette Williams of Culina Modern Italian prepared a sweet lobster ravioli with corn and microgreens. John Besh, one of only two chefs from New Orleans, went all out with Louisiana Jumbo Gulf Shrimp, Mangalitsa Gravy and Baked Burrata Grits that reminded me of gnocchi. Also from the Crescent City, Donald Link’s Boudain Sausage had the delicious snap of a natural casing stuffed with pork and rice. Summer’s produce made one last showing in Giada DeLaurentiis’ Fusilli with Tres Fagioli and Rustic Canyon’s flavorful Chilled Summer Vegetable Pozole with hominy, corn and poblano. I am a sucker for burrata, and Gordon Ramsey at the London (which no longer has anything to do with Gordon Ramsey) won me over with their Burrata Cheese, Summer Tomato, Nasturtium Leaves and Garlic Toast in adorable little glass jars.
Chef Maria Hines of Golden Beetle made a strong first impression with Spicy Chicken with Bleu Cheese Espuma, Carrot and Celery as well as rich gelato for dessert. Other winners included a sandwich of Mortadella, hazelnut honey, and ricotta on baguette as well as Yucatan Pork Tostaditas from perennial favorites, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of Border Grill. Speaking of favorites, what would a summer picnic be without Pink’s hot dogs?
There was lots of beer and wine flowing as well as lemonade. We gravitated towards the cocktails. Our favorite refresher was a citrus and ginger cocktail by Aidan Demarest and Marcos Tello using El Silencio Mezcal. The name was a little ironic, since tequila never makes anyone shut up.
Bidding was exciting for food-themed trips and meals cooked in your very own home by acclaimed chefs. By the last bang of the gavel over $200,000 had been raised to help fight pediatric cancer. After all of the plates and glasses are cleared, we can only hope that somewhere Alex is smiling.