The annual epicurean fest known as THE TASTE, produced by the Los Angeles Times on the backlot of Paramount Studios, offers a paradise for singular foodies.
Where can you watch some super-cool chefs in action, taste the best bites and beverages in the city without a reservation and satisfy your craving for local flavor—all in one quintessential L.A. setting? If you answered, “The backlot at Paramount Studios,” you’re one smart cookie.
Welcome to THE TASTE, the annual three-day food festival celebrating Southern California’s culinary scene. Hosted by the Los Angeles Times over Labor Day weekend, THE TASTE offers unlimited food and drink tastings from local restaurants and chefs, along with cooking and mixology demonstrations, wine seminars and panel discussions. There are five themed events for “epicurious” souls: Opening Night, Field to Fork, Flavors of L.A., Labor Day Block Party and Cocktail Confidential.
Sunscreen? Check. Floppy hat? Check. Fork? Go! It was late morning on one of the waning days of summer, and I was primed to savor the region’s freshest ingredients and seasonal dishes during “Field to Fork.” Ever the devoted Food, Wine and Spirits Editor for Singular magazine, I sampled almost every edible and quaffable offering over the next four hours so that I could share the best with you.
They had me at porchetta. You know, that rustic Italian classic, perfumed with fennel, rosemary and garlic and slow-roasted until the lean loin and fatty belly transform into the most perfect union, and the golden skin crackles with salty goodness. But then those geniuses at Pizza Antica upped the ante.
They caramelized onions with balsamic vinegar (onions agrodolce), spread that onion jam on the most adorable little buns made from pizza dough and lovingly inserted slices of porchetta in between. Thank you, Pizza Antica, for portable porchetta. Brilliant and beyond delicious.
Most Unexpected Pairing
That would be the “Oyster Luge” brought to you by the good folks of Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. There’s a strong history of pairing oysters and scotch whisky on Islay, a small island on the southwest coast of Scotland, so if you’re wondering how to attempt a proper oyster luge, get a man from Islay to show you how; easy enough at THE TASTE, where I had the pleasure of learning from the real deal.
Here’s how it’s done, according to Johnnie Mundell, the Bowmore Scotch Ambassador (resplendent in a plaid vest and fine Scottish brogue): Take a sip of oyster juice straight from the shell; you’ll feel your mouth pucker. Take a sip of scotch whisky and note how the oyster juice magnifies the flavor of the whisky. Next, eat the oyster and pour the remaining whisky into the oyster shell. Tilt your head back and slurp down every last drop.
Johnnie paired Del Sol oysters with Bowmore 12 Year Old, and also paired Carlsbad Luna oysters with Bowmore 18 Year Old. Pow! The briny, cold finish of the Luna oysters with the smokiness of the Bowmore 18 packed a wallop, somewhat like the sensation of Pop Rocks exploding in my mouth. Now I can cross “oyster luge” off my list of things I didn’t realize I needed to do.
Best Healthy Bite
LYFE Kitchen’s Quinoa Crunch Bowl was sensational. Farm-fresh and full of bright flavors, this wholesome composition of quinoa, adzuki beans, creamy edamame hummus, avocado, cherry tomato, crisp broccolini and asparagus was topped with “Fireman Hot Sauce” (yes, it really is made by firefighters in Palo Alto) for just the right amount of heat.
Fave Non-Alcoholic Refresher
He’s crafty. I’m talking about Kristofor (Kip) Barnes, Co-founder of Los Angeles Aleworks, who treated festival goers to a trio of craft sodas: Thai Tea Soda, Costa Rican Coffee Vanilla Soda and Watermelon Ginger Ale. Each soda was delightful, but the standout was the Watermelon Ginger Ale. Made by hand with organic watermelon puree, ginger puree, fresh lemon juice, palm sugar and turbinado sugar, it had layers of body and flavor without being mind-bendingly sweet. I’m a big fan.
Most Promising Newbie
The Muddy Leek has only been open for nine months, but if the outstanding amuse-bouche that Chef Whitney Flood prepared is any indication, I have high expectations for this farm-to-table restaurant in Culver City. My favorite taste at THE TASTE, the chicken and duck liver mousse with fig jam on sourdough crostini was divine.
Why are you still reading this? Book a table already!
Best Adult Beverage
Hands down, it was Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. What a discovery. The 2011 is such a refreshing departure from many California Sauvignon Blancs that lack acidity and minerality and overdo it with the tropical fruit. No, this one gives you elderflower and apple on the nose, then holds your attention with a long, citrus finish. And if you can get your hands on a bottle of the 2010, expect an exceptionally bright wine with wonderful acidity and flavors of quince, lime, guava and nectarine. Bliss.
It’s a tie. I went back for seconds and I still couldn’t pick a winner. The heavenly Good Witch cupcake from the Cake Mamas was a masterpiece of light lemon cake filled with strawberry rhubarb filling and topped with lemon mascarpone frosting. And it might just be the cutest cupcake I have ever seen.
Oh, but then I popped a Salted Caramel Brownie Shot from Sweets for the Soul. Do you realize what happens when a rich, cake-like brownie made with Valrhona chocolate is crowned with a square of sea salt-flecked caramel? Right. So, I couldn’t possibly decide which dessert would take the, uh, cake.
You know that feeling when you can’t find good coffee to pair with dessert? Depresso. Thank goodness Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf was serving up freshly brewed cups of happiness. As I exited under the Paramount Studios arches, thoroughly caffeinated and on a complete sugar high, the only downer was the reality that I’d have to wait an entire year to experience this culinary carnival all over again. Perhaps if we ask very nicely, they’ll consider a spring rendition of THE TASTE, for fork’s sake.
Copyright © Michelle Gigon / 2013 Singular Communications, LLC.