Saturday’s Grill & Chill was the last event of the three day All-Star Chef Classic at LA Live. Krissy Lefebvre and Lucy Lean of Alice in Events LLC pulled it off without a hitch. In only its second year, it has sailed over the hurdles that often plague events this large. To avoid the catastrophe of chefs running out of food too early, they created a key ring with little tabs to trade in at each station. All evening the employees waiting at the front of the lines would flip through the tabs and remove one. I assumed they were color-coded for different categories of food, and momentarily considered that the different colors were actually a ranking system — maybe a salad was worth less than steak. But then I thought, who would want to tell Ludo or Josiah Citrin that they did not have an “E Ticket?” Not me. Near the end of the night I tried to trade one in for a second helping of Fonuts (you would too), and discovered that every single tab had one of the chef’s names on it. Foiled again.
After sundown, the lighting was bright enough for photography, but with lots of blue to keep the mood classic and subdued. Each station had the chef’s name clearly printed across the top, making it visible from a distance. Each station also had a sign describing the dish, hung in the exact same spot every time so you didn’t have to search for it. It not only helped journalists and guests, but the chefs didn’t have to repeat the menu all night. At one point, we wanted to sneak around the back of a station to take a picture with one of the all-stars, and were confounded by a large artificial hedge creating a barrier. Pretty slick. I was not surprised by the attention to detail, as I know Krissy Lefebvre has always anticipated the needs of her guests, and has proven she is able to smoothly manage a gigantic front of the house.
The weather was warm and sunny, but comfortable enough for strolling between the outdoor chefs’ stations. Wafts of smoke drifted across the patio carrying the smell of barbecue, a harbinger of what was to come. Ten chefs were ready to “grill” and ten chefs were serving “chilled” tastes. As we transition into Spring, peas, berries and lamb were all represented. When you think of lamb, you naturally turn to Middle-Eastern and Moroccan flavors, which were present in a number of dishes.
From the grilled plates, we were most impressed with Nancy Silverton’s hanger steaks with Balsamic, Parmesan-Reggiano and a lemon vinagrette. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the generous slices of cheese felt incredibly indulgent. Suzanne Goin also plated a delicious flank steak, topped with a black olive tapenade and cleverly resting in a leaf of baby romaine so it could be eaten like a taco. London chef Dan Doherty created one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, using a combination of pork and N’duja sausage topped with smoked eggplant and yogurt.
South Bay homeboy David Lefevre grilled a Moroccan Lamb Belly with caramelized onions, kumquats and orange curd. The first bite filled your mouth with a sweetness and spice that slowly developed into the rich umami of lamb. Josiah Citrin’s tender lamb was served with onion that had been cooked in a salt crust, as you would do with meat or fish. Carolynn Spence surprised us with her Grilled Rabbit Sausage Bruschetta with English Pea Tapenade and Morel Butter. Buried beneath an edible flower garden was a toast spread generously with the sausage, which seemed like it was mixed with the butter, because it had such a beautiful texture. It was almost like a rustic pâté.
Seafood virtuoso Michael Cimarusti’s Hokkaido Scallop “Lil’ Smokies” served in little hot dog buns were the talk of the event. Mark Hix, another London chef, created “Prawn Slippers,” a clever take on sliders. The bun was spread with McIlhenny mayonnaise, i.e. Tabasco mayonnaise, and it boasted the most heat of any dish that evening.
Ludo Lefebvre took the road less traveled by grilling tender baby carrots in a delicious orange curry with yogurt and avocado. If you’re going to serve carrots at a barbecue, you better bring it, and it was brought. Without the yogurt, it would be a completely vegan dish, yet it had a rich flavor and meaty depth. LA Beat favorite, Neal Fraser, also pleased any vegetarians with his pozole made with smoked tofu. Each homey, comforting bowl was topped with slivers of tortilla chips, fresh herbs and a small wedge of lime. We found our old friend Chef Rory Hermann, formerly of Bouchon, enjoying some hot pozole. He has been collaborating with restaurateur Bill Chait, Chef Timothy Hollingsworth, and mixologist Julian Cox to create Barrel & Ashes in Studio City.
Inside of the tents we found the chilled dishes. Again, seafood was popular, especially Brit James Lowe’s oyster with rhubarb. My favorite was probably Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s Tuna in a Calabrian Chili Vinaigrette with Lemon Zest rolled into a paper-thin slice of Daikon radish. It was served chilled and was quite refreshing. Aaron Sanchez, probably the kindest judge on “Chopped,” presented a miniature snapper tostada with no less than 21 ingredients balanced on each tiny chip. The dish was embellished with a dollop of Paddlefish caviar. Jenn Louis added her own twist to the usual ceviche with a Beef Tartare Tostada that was a perfectly composed bite.
As the day slid into night, the large central tent lit up and drinks seemed to become the priority. Event sponsor Stella Artois had beer and cider on tap. I don’t normally like cider, but I really enjoyed theirs. Over at the Sunset Tasting Room, they were pouring curated selections of their favorite wines. As with the most recent event I attended, I was pleased to find an array of nonalcoholic and unsweetened drinks available. Do you really think I want to waste my daily sugar allotment on sodas with such amazing pastry chefs in the house?
Because, yes, chilled dishes also meant dessert! Waylynn Lucas brought Founts, an overnight sensation that became an instant classic. The adorable mini Fonuts are the perfect bite, unbelievably moist and delicate. Zoe Nathan is involved in so many projects, including Sweet Rose Creamery, she provided a tantalizing array of sweets. Triple chocolate cupcakes, lemon meringue pie, a Farmers Market Berry Trifle, and a blueberry cornmeal cake with vanilla ice cream made it almost impossible to choose. The lemon meringue pie was intense and pleasantly tart, while the triple chocolate cupcake was moist and complex, and would make it worth driving to Huckleberry. We will have to see if that recipe is in her cookbook.
The adorable Sherry Yard delighted the crowd with a dessert that was so complex I thought it was two desserts at first. The deceptively simple moniker of Raspberry and Passion Fruit Ambrosia was an inadequate description of this sweet concoction. Let’s try to break it down. There was a cookie, a sorbet, possibly whipped cream or custard, fresh raspberries, pillow candies in her trademark pale pink, and marshmallows which she brûléed with the impassioned abandon of a mad scientist. Oh, and then there was the cotton candy topping, which I could swear had a hint of anise.
As the night progressed, everyone seemed to be enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Because of a tight cap on attendance, there were no long lines to tire the guests and stress out the chefs. The celebrity chefs had time to chat with each other and pose for pictures with fans. When I left, I picked up a booklet in case I might need the name of one of the dishes. I can’t believe I almost went home without it. What a treasure trove! It was full of recipes —Ludo Lefebvre’s carrots, Nancy Silverton’s flank steak, David Lefevre’s lamb belly, and Zoe Nathan’s Blueberry Cornmeal Cake. Best of all, it included the recipe for Christina Tosi’s crack pie, the dish I was most disappointed to miss at one of the other events. Because once again, they had anticipated my needs. And I need that crack pie.
Perhaps the best part of the event was the reasonable price. These are not $500 a plate dinners by any means. Having sponsors like DCS Appliances, Stella Artois, Mercedes-Benz, Melissa’s Produce and media partner, Sunset magazine, probably helped keep costs down. The advertising was unobtrusive and styled to almost look like decorative designs. AEG Worldwide, the company behind the venue, who worked with Alice in Events to initiate and bring this event to life also deserves credit.
With so much going for it, we will definitely mark down the All-Star Chef Classic in our event calendar for next year. In pen.