The heat on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend was the sort that saps your strength – and your appetite. But walking through the arches of a famous Los Angeles film studio, surrounded by teeming crowds and intoxicating aromas, we were fired up – and hungry.
Their pulled pork sliders were made with some of the most tender, succulent meat we've ever tasted.
We were at Los Angeles Times The Taste, a three-day festival held on the sets of our favorite films and TV shows, to sample some of the best food and drinks the city has to offer. With dozens of chefs, bartenders, and food insiders from Southern California whipping up dishes, mixing cocktails, and demonstrating unique cooking techniques, there was a lot to see, learn, and sample. Our taste buds tingling, we hit the studio backlot to experience the city's eclectic, electric culinary culture.
The unmistakable smell of barbecue was in the air, so we made a beeline for Belcampo Meat Co. We'd heard stories about the sustainable company's restaurants, farm, processing plant, and butcher shop, and how it prides itself on serving humanely raised, organic meat. The hype was well-deserved: Their pulled pork sliders were made with some of the most tender, succulent meat we've ever tasted.
Another highlight of the morning was a demonstration by Chef Esdras Ochoa of Salazar, a recently opened Mexican joint that's quickly gaining fame for its homemade tortillas and grilled meats. The trendy restaurant has already become a mainstay of LA's unique foodie scene, and Ochoa, who hails from Mexico City, has been described as a "taco missionary" by the Los Angeles Times.
He gave us a crash course in preparing a Mexican home-style beef stew called carne en su jugo – or "meat in its own juice" – and revealed that he learned to make the dish from his mother, who had traveled to LA for the event and was sitting front and center for the demonstration.
A chance to recharge
With sore feet, full stomachs, and dwindling cellphone batteries, it was time to head to the Citi Lounge to recharge – literally. While we took advantage of the handy on-site smartphone charging stations, we chatted with fellow food enthusiasts and shared posts about what we'd seen and tasted so far with our social media followers.
We sipped the refreshing "Fronzignon Blanc" wine cocktail before setting out for what promised to be an evening of delectability. After all, some of the city's most talented chefs and mixologists would be there.
We started our second tour de food with braised pork belly ssam – a bite-sized dish made up of pork belly, kimchi, and miso paste, wrapped in rice paper. The fermented treat wasn't just delicious, it was also a harbinger of things to come, as we learned later from Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, who helped set the themes and curated many of the chefs, speakers, and bartenders at The Taste.
A force in the culinary world, Gold told us that one of the year's emerging food trends was "probably fermentation, focused on regional cooking and lightness," and added that "this one will be with us for a while."
We also sampled salmon tartare from CHAYA, a modern Japanese restaurant with two locations in Los Angeles. The salmon, mixed with Fuji apple, Japanese cucumber, red onion, sesame oil, soy sauce, brandy, golden pea shoot, and nori crisp, awoke our senses with its combination of salty, sweet, smooth, and crunchy.
After that, we quickly made our way to the cooking demonstration from Chef Vartan Abgaryan of 71Above. Situated nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, 71Above is the highest restaurant in LA and offers panoramic views from the mountains to Long Beach Harbor – making it sometimes difficult to snag a coveted table. Needless to say, we turned up for Abgaryan's demonstration – how to prepare octopus with fennel salsa verde – with time to spare.
The chef began by sautéing garlic, shallots, parsley, sherry vinegar, and chili flakes. In a separate pot, he boiled a whole octopus for a few seconds to "tighten up" its tentacles. The two were combined into one skillet, covered, and then slowly cooked for 45-60 minutes to ensure a soft, tender texture. The fresh, flavorful dish is one we'll definitely be saving for a special occasion.
We closed out the night with a mixology demonstration steeped in showmanship and hosted by two of our favorite food personalities – Jonathan Gold and LA Times deputy food editor Jenn Harris. The duo have a knack for discovering small, hidden gems and we often use their articles as a guide when ordering from restaurants.
One crowd pleasing mixologist injected some chemistry into the classic mojito by using liquid nitrogen to break down fresh mint leaves into a fine powder. Not to be outdone, another shared his method of "fat washing" liquor, which involves melting a small amount of flavorful fat into a spirit and then skimming out, so you're left with its flavor but not the grease. Afterward, he served up a Thai-inspired cocktail with house-made coconut oil, fat-washed gin, and lemongrass soda.
Meanwhile, three mixologists took the crowd on a tour of cocktails made with crushed and cobbled ice – an ideal way to cool off on a long, hot day – and others offered unusual cocktail creating techniques. Tobin Shea from downtown LA's Redbird, for example, revealed how he was inspired by a book about cooking with kitchen scraps – and how, say, the leftover stems of mint could be used to create a magical mojito.
Feeling inspired, satiated, and a bit tired, we finished our cocktails and savored our last bites before bidding farewell to the event – and the summer. The Taste left us with a list of restaurant options we can't wait to choose from for our next night out, and a back pocket full of cooking techniques and ideas we're looking forward to trying during our next night in.