Every year, the All-Star Chef Classic presents three days of well-organized, fun and glamorous food events. Since the beginning, my favorite event has been Grill & Chill, with a fantastic array of chefs barbecuing on the patio of LA Live. Meanwhile, inside a large event tent, more chefs prepare “chilled” dishes and desserts. This year it rained, but luckily the big tent stayed cozy while the outdoor stations were covered, but it was a bit of an adventure crossing from place to place. That’s the kind of thing that makes an event memorable though, “Were you there the year it rained cats and dogs?”
Two seafood dishes were vying for the best bite of the night. Chef Michael Fiorelli of Love and Salt served olive oil-poached tuna conserva with fingerling potatoes, pickled red onions, charred shishito peppers, and black garlic aioli. I was surprised at how well all of these simple, yet quality ingredients married to make something better than the sum of its parts. It would be a good thing to feed your picky friends who won’t eat anything they are unfamiliar with. Just don’t tell them about the black garlic. I will confess that I ate two.
I also ate two of the Uni bocol (corn cakes) with shiso and encacahuatado (peanut salsa) from Chef Diego Hernandez Baquedano of Verlaine in Ensenada, Mexico. He is known for deconstructing ingredients, combining the rural and gourmet, and “listening to the terroir.” That last one came from his bio. The masa cake base was tender and melted sensuously on your tongue along with the uni. In fact, they were so good I grabbed two more and insisted some friends I had run into eat them. Umm, yes, I guess I do spend a lot of time talking people into eating things. Why do you ask?
There was a lot of seafood on the “chill” side of things. Chef Sang Yoon of Lukshon filled little glasses with chopped Hawaiian Butterfish with limequat kosho, tapioca, cucumber, rao ram (Vietnamese coriander) and frozen sake. Jen Louis of Ray in Portland served a generous tuna with harissa, caper, lemon and smoked olive oil that would have been a lovely starter for any meal. Except maybe breakfast. Sorry, I am prone to hyperbole.
Timothy Hollingsworth of Otium somehow found a loophole in the theme, and served Chilled and Grilled hamachi with green apple and horseradish. It was an excellent dish, with the sour green apple brightening everything while the horseradish made things a little more serious.
Outside on the grills, seafood also got its due. Jessica Largey of Simone impressed with a tender octopus simply adorned with chickpeas and green garlic. Holly Jivin from The Bazaar by Jose Andres grilled a creative BLT oyster, which was a crowd favorite.
Lamb was also a popular grill item, befitting the beginning of Spring. Some heavy hitters made competition fierce. Chef Evan Funke of Felix served a big, meaty agnello alla scotadito, an Italian lamb shoulder chop. His was probably the longest line. Chef Michelle Bernstein’s Hawayej-crusted lamb spareribs with a labneh fattoush salad from Crumb on Parchment was definitely one of my top dishes of the night. Hawayej is a bold Yemenite spice mix made with coriander, cumin, caraway, cardamom and a bunch of other spices that do not begin with the letter “C.”
The Mina Group’s Chef Adam Sobel’s salsiccia di Finochi alla griglia al limon with green garlic, kumquats and chilies was worth the wait while nibbling kumquats with the chef. The round, patty-style sausage was juicy and not at all gamey. It was partially encased in a leaf, which made it easy to eat without setting down your drink.
Nyesha Arrington, you know I like you best, but beef is just the last category. The Grilled Aisoon Ribeye cap with spring garlic from the chef at Native was last but not least, one of the best things I ate all evening. And it was also handily served on a leaf so it could be eaten like a taco. Or, umm, like a lettuce wrap with Aisoon Ribeye cap inside. The meat was intensely seasoned and tender as a newborn. Chef Steve Samson of Rossoblu grilled beef shoulder and served it over mashed cauliflower and topped it with chestnut gremolata. It was like a homemade stew, cozy and comforting on the cold and rainy night. I don’t even like cauliflower. But when the chefs are of this high a caliber, they can make me like almost anything.
Chef Nicole Rucker gave us a preview of her upcoming bakery and restaurant, Fiona, with a delectable assortment of cookies. I will be waiting in the line outside on opening day to taste another one of her dulce de leche brownies. It was also great to try Valerie Confection’s cookie selection, since I love her chocolates so much. There were many traditional favorites like gingersnap and snickerdoodles, as well as the elegant new treats like Malt Balls and Miso Tahini cookies.
Chef Wylie Dufresne of New York’s wd~50 restaurant is known as a pioneer of molecular gastronomy has a new project, Du’s Donuts. I asked him if they were going to explode or anything. He laughed and denied any chemical experiments. Sure enough, no foam bubbled out, there were no pearls of any kind, and there were no eye droppers with pastry cream to inject into the little donuts. There was a mix of the familiar, vanilla bean and dark chocolate, as well as creative flavors like oatmeal chai and blood orange creamsicle.
We are grateful for another splendid event from All-Star Chef Classic. In spite of the rain, everything went swimmingly. Mark your calendars for next year!