A Look at the First Ever L.A. Food & Wine—and the Locals Who Made It Go
October 20, 2011
Randy Jackson of American Idol fame made his debut as a DJ. at Los Angeles Food & Wine's red-carpet opening gala.
Something he spun early on felt particularly appropriate, and it wasn’t Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” It was his selection of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'.”
Something big, something L.A. big, is certainly starting here. And the folks behind its launch are Cannery Row-based Coastal Luxury Management, the team behind Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Restaurant 1833 and Cannery Row Brewing Company. [Photos by Tanja Roos.]
The first—no, immediate—indication that this undertaking would trump even the rarefied opulence of Pebble Beach: Some 70,000 square feet of red carpet smothering the streets in front of Lakers' home court the Staples Center at LA Live!, smack in the middle of L.A.'s downtown.
One fitting thing that carpet provided, as spotlights crawled the sky and I made my way over to a cup of creme di avocado with crab by none other than Hubert Keller, was an electricity you don't get everywhere: I must've unintentionally shocked six or seven partygoers just by walking near them because of the static electricity or the natural energy of the night.
The flavors zapped palates, meanwhile, from the caviar tuna tartare from L.A. Market's Kerry Simon…
…to the inventive pepper stuffed with smoked brisket by Tim Love of game-changing Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth, Texas.
A runway with requisite media stacked up bordered the Nokia Plaza epicenter. That's Wolfgang Puck, whose partnership and preceding American Food and Wine Festival were fundamental to LAFW’s foundation.
Nokia Plaza, meanwhile, was appointed with multiple VIP platform decks and enough huge T.V. screens spooling LAFW trailers and other ads to make Times Square blush.
CLM co-founder/frontman David Bernahl shared that main-stage mic with Puck, shiny L.A. mayor and seemingly certain gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa and Idol’s Jackson.
“This has been two years in the making, plotting and planning,” he said on stage, in the shadow of Staples. “It’s the first citywide event of its kind in the most exciting food city in the country. It’s…amazing.”
Normally D.B.'s guilty of a little overstatement, even with parties as atmospheric as these. Hey, it's part of his job. But here the superlative fit as tightly as the skirts proliferating on the red carpet.
And I'm not even talking foie-gras-lollipops-dusted-with-watermelon-Pop-Rocks-type amazing. (Those were by Michelin-starred Chicago chef Graham Elliot.)
I'm talking about a 7-foot drag queen reportedly dancing with famous pastry chef Sherry Yard on top of a Lexus to tracks spun by ?uestlove at Saturday's "Decadence" party. Or Bernardus’ Ben Spungin making desserts out of vanilla cream to look like eight-balls of cocaine for a “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” party.
I’m talking legendary Daniel Boulud (in glasses), who was honored with a special dinner, hijacking a three-way celeb chef demo with a surprise double-dose of incredible lamb terrine (below)…
…and roasted guinea hen, despite being a last second fill-in—and staying up till 4:30am with Bernahl at the after-after party the night before.
I’m talking seemingly buttoned-down Roederer Estate President Gregory Balogh saying he crashed out Thursday night with seven LAFW bracelets on his arm, and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat (above) saying he runs around his vines in his underwear.
I’m talking lunch at gorgeous Patina…
…in the mind-boggling Walt Disney Concert Hall by Boulud, Joachim Splichal and Jonathan Waxman while talking to Michael Mina wine boss Raj Parr at the two-top next to ours about how he oversees 18 destination restaurants’ standout vino lists smoothly.
The "power lunch" segment of the event—including special midday feasts at spots normally open only for dinner from Manhattan Beach to Beverly Hills—did wildly well, with the vast majority selling out, as did Patina…
…and a collaboration at WP 24 on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.
There the scallops were as comely as the views…
…the Kin Medai snapper with geoduck, papaya, peanuts and coconut was as seductive as…
…the creatively sleek lounge space.
Bernahl materialized to kick off that lunch too, against the backdrop of downtown.
Most amazing, though, was just how much Monterey County’s fingerprints coated this creature. Trying to make much headway across the red carpet underlying the opening party or the grand tastings without running into an area product was like trying to dodge L.A. smog…
…And not just the ubiquitous CLM dream team (Mark Ayers, above, Jordan Funk, Beth Lane and James Velarde among the many) that ran itself ragged pulling it off.
They pulled in known quantities like Gary Obligacion, Thamin Saleh (lef-to-right, above) and Dory Ford to coordinate things like special lunches, wine supplies and Saturday’s Brew B’ Que with Guy Fieri, respectively.
Kent Torrey (above) did his manic-charismatic cheese thing.
Wineries like McIntyre, Bernardus, Boekenoogen, Caraccioli, Paraiso and Oh poured their hearts out, so to speak.
Craig Von Foerester and Matt Millea of Sierra Mar had the best dish of the weekend with their tender abalone in brown butter. Their classic Reuben on a stick (above) was screamin' too.
Our own Tanimura & Antle was a big sponsor, and also provided tastings like this grilled-romaine/pork belly/sun-dried tomato take on a BLT.
Vesuvio Trattoria's Adam Olthof helped with the sommelier squads.
Spungin's pastry creations—beyond the "eight-balls" he crafted green marshmallows to look like bags of weed and delicious chocolate "joints" for the "Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll" party—further demonstrated this dude is seriously on his way up.
Local talent and the CLM formula meant that while meals like the $750 "Krug House Dinner" in Beverly Hills definitely enjoyed an-only-in-L.A. feel, the grand tastings resemble Pebble Beach Food & Wine's installments pretty closely.
At Sunday's, Rick Bayless led a Mexican cooking demo and then dropped a pork taco with picked onions on the people that led to the biggest line of the day.
The Playboy Mansion kitchen team, who also appear at Pebble, did a foie gras sausage that was pretty damn good.
Dry-ice frozen red-wine ice-cream pops were particularly popular because of 85-degree heat.
I dug the use of super sustainable arctic char in this little fish-ball number.
Crown sponsor Lexus, a close CLM collaborator, did tomato bisque with mini pork-belly arancini in a swanky corner with a rotating bar…
…along with upscale mojito and strawberry daquari jello shots (!).
Perhaps the biggest differences between Pebble and L.A., then, were 1) the bandwidth (70 events is a lot, especially when scores are dinner collaborations that would trump the entire city's offerings on a normal night); and 2) the branding (“Where celebrity meets celebrity chef”) which didn’t materialize as impressively as they hoped. Rather than the Mary J. Bliges and Robert Downey Jr.s of the advertising campaign…
…we were left with folks you’d be forgiven from knowing without a little help, like Vanessa Minnillo, aka Mrs. Nick Lachey, seen here riffing with Michelin-starred Christopher Kostow on sweet potato soup.
That’s at least partly due to the fact that the competition in L.A. also approaches amazing. On Saturday night alone, the various LAFW events had to duel with some dudes named Bono and Bill Clinton. Bono and his buddy The Edge, Usher and—yes—Lady Gaga all shared the same bill at a 10-year anniversary party for the William J. Clinton Foundation.
That helped make Uncle Kracker’s choice of covers Saturday evening at the Brew B’ Que sound prescient. “You gotta know when to hold em,” he sang as sunset spun cotton candy pink on the sky behind Santa Monica Pier’s Ferris wheel. “Know when to fold ’em…”
Yes, 70 events is an eency-bit ambitious, but CLM doesn't know any other way to do it—and they still sold out a boatload of events. A few more L.A.-centric adjustments and they'll have a tradition as strong as Pebble Beach Food & Wine, which is going gangbusters heading into year six after a debut where they took a loss in the name of making sure everything surpassed expectations.
More power lunches like the whole slate of sold-out Hollywood lunches with the likes of guest chefs Mark Kiffin and Pedro Miguel Schiaffino and TV personality Giada De Laurentiis…
…fewer under-attended $250 Wines of Chateau Palmer wine seminars that are better suited to people traveling to a comparatively isolated Spanish Bay for an entire weekend.
But make no mistake: Ample events like Thursday's sold-out "Pigs, Pins and Pinot" at Lucky Strike Lanes hosted by Todd English, Friday's California Clambake with Tom Colicchio at the Jonathan Club (where Ford baked clams in the sand) and Saturday's 100-different-beer Brew B'Que with Fieri demonstrate CLM is among the best in the game at conceptualizing and completing a sexy party. (All three, like a majority of events, sold out.)
And sponsors like new addition Delta Airlines, who understandably salivate over this deferential demographic, will continue to be the artisan bread and unsalted butter of CLM's bottom line.
It was opening night when a weary but relentless CLM executive assistant Sarah Potter (above, talking shop with Bernahl before a morning panel) took a fleeting moment to pause on her towering heels and reflect on it all.
“L.A. Food & Wine changed me,” she said.
She was only half right, really. It’s like one member of entertainment giant AEG told Ayers: Even there, at the heart of L.A. entertainment, they’ve never seen anything quite like this kind of party.
So sure: L.A. Food & Wine represents an amazing change for CLM. But they’ve changed L.A. too.