Friday’s Global Grand Tasting, presented by Melissa’s Produce, was the first strolling event of this year’s All Star Chef Classic at LA Live. In its third year the event is seamless, as Alice in Events LLC tweaks every detail to near perfection. Instead of the key ring with plastic tabs they used as currency last year, they have switched to a less unwieldy and more practical ticket book. There is one ticket per chef, so there was a little bit of ticket trading happening amongst the guests. Lines were short and even when they were a little long, they moved swiftly. Again, the clear and well-placed signage was very helpful.
The tents were flooded with subdued red and blue lights, which make it really hard to get a nice food photograph. But what do we find in the middle of the room? A light box that you can put your plate into and take a picture with perfect lighting! The bloggers and Instagrammers were in heaven. The event planners certainly know their audience.
True to its name, the event featured an international assemblage of over 20 chefs, also including our beloved locals. Participating chefs hailed from Peru, Mexico, San Francisco, New York, Maryland, Texas and Florida. Chefs seem to have been inspired to up their game and serve unusual and creative dishes.
Norman Van Aken from Norman’s in Orlando brought his “A” game with a Tamarind and Ancho Marinated and Grilled Breast of Duck Pinchos (skewered) with a Tropical Fruit Chutney. This was the duck of my dreams, cooked to blush in the middle, without a hint of gaminess, just pure duck flavor brought out by the perfectly paired fruit compote.
Another winner was from Corazon De Tierra, Diego Hernández Baquedano’s restaurant in Mexico. I have never had hog jowl before, and I was delighted with his Papada de Cerdo with Chile Guero Emulsion, Peas, and Chirmole (a Central American black sauce). The hog jowls were beautiful; the meat is denser and more flavorful than bacon, striated with luscious fat that floods your mouth with rich, unctuous, umami with every bite.
Other favorites included Aarón Sánchez’s Mexican Grilled Shrimp & Grits, with Chorizo, and Roasted Poblano. The delicious but always predictable Shrimp and Grits has been needing this improvement for a long time. And who could resist Josef Centeno’s Savory Panna Cotta, sea urchin, abalone, and pickled vegetables? Not me. Anita Lo had a clean and refreshing crab leg with a rich, creamy sauce that was so good I could probably do a shot of it.
Spanish Grilled Oyster with Fermin Bacon from Bazaar by Jose Andres featured a very small oyster — almost like a tiny mussel, tucked under a wealth of bacon. David Lefevre of MB Post presented Korean Honey & Sesame Charred Pork Belly & Red Cabbage, Asian pear, and puffed forbidden rice. Korean flavors aren’t what I expected from him, but he executed it flawlessly. I guess you gotta keep changing it up. Keep them on their toes.
Edward Lee’s Delta Rice Grits with ssamjang (Spicy Korean dipping sauce), smoked scallops, dried shrimp, ham and salt was layered and complex. There were bonus mushrooms and sea urchin tucked inside. The dried shrimp is a little intense for me, but the presentation rocked. At Rice Bar’s table we were treated to Charles Olalia’s Pork Longganisa, with pickled vegetables, garlic fried rice. I was really excited, because I have been looking for good Filipino Food in LA. Manila Good Ha! doesn’t always cut it.
There was a fantastic trio of ceviches. Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo’s Tuna and Leche de Tigre was pure heaven. Gastón Acurio’s Scallop Ceviche was sprinkled with hominy and topped with a tongue of uni. Paul Qui’s Yellowtail Kinilaw: Filipino-style ceviche, coconut milk, vinegar, red onion, and cilantro was so generously portioned I could hardly finish my plate.
Border Grill took a walk on the wild side with a luscious Wagyu Tongue Taco, with watercress, jicama, crispy shallots, arbol chile. The texture of tongue can be off-putting if it is too soft, but Mary Sue Milliken’s tongue was like extremely tender steak. Well done!
Another person thinking outside of the box was Chris Consento of Cockscomb in San Francisco (recently seen guest judging on Top Chef). When I tried his dish it was like nothing I had ever eaten before. I thought, “Is this ham tartare?” I checked the sign and sure enough, it was Iberico de Bellota (acorn) Tartare,with Hazelnuts and Meyer lemon. Iberico de Bellota is considered the finest of all Iberico, so it was definitely better than plain old ham tartare.
There were only three desserts, but there only needed to be three desserts. José Ramón Castillo’s restaurant Que Bo! presented a lovely quenelle of Chocolate Crémeux, with hibiscus and yoghurt. It was denser than a mousse, yet smoother and creamier. Carefully placed apple slices soaked in hibiscus gave the dessert the appearance of a bird from a Dr. Seuss book. Jose Ramon is kind of a big deal back home. He even has a fan club and a cartoon character! Valerie’s Confections pleased the palate with a comforting Salted Caramel Pudding Parfait. For the Trifecta, Mindy Segal’s Hot Chocolate partnered with McConnell’s Ice Cream to create a build-your-own-ice cream-sandwich Bar.
Along with free-flowing Stella Artois, there were two specialty cocktails, The Passion Mule with Absolut Vodka, Fresh Lime Juice, Simple Syrup, East Imperial Passion Fruit Ginger Beer, and The Benchmark Old Fashioned with Lot 40 Rye, Brown Sugar Cube, Angostura Bitters, and Walnut Bitters.
The Global Grand Tasting was a successful and welcome addition to this year’s schedule. Let’s hope they add it to the permanent roster!