Guilty Pleasure

logos.jpgBeing a Wine Afficianado and not really a Foodie,  on June 1st I attended my first gourmet eating event Share the Strength’s Taste of the Nation in Culver City, California, which has apparently become a food-lover’s mecca over the last few years. This event occurs over 55 times a year in locations across the U.S., gathering the top chefs in each place to showcase the best the host city has to offer. At this incarnation, the group included Brent Berkowitz (BOA), Tom Colicchio (Craft), Evan Kleiman (Angeli Caffe), Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill), David Myers (Sona), Remi Lauvand (Citrus) and chefs from about 25 other leading restaurants on the L.A. scene.

None of the restaurants were familiar to me because I choose my dining experiences on cost (under $40 per person), convenience (can’t be more than 2-3 miles away) and what’s on the wine list. If I could get protein from Pinot Noir I would never eat again. Needless to say, I was way out of my element. Thankfully, I went with friends who are Food Network junkies and knew their way around a food festival.

Initially all the booths were packed as people hungry from waiting in the Will Call line hit the first booths they could find. But after about the first hour, you could tell what was popular by the number of bodies begging for another morsel.  I found myself drawn to the meager selection of wine tables because that’s more my forte. Then, when I got a little light-headed from tasting, I would head back out for ballast.

gelato.jpg Like all festivals, there is just too much to see/eat/drink. Inevitably, you’re going to miss out on something really amazing due to lack of time, energy or the will to continue swallowing. Though I was hungry when I arrived and the chefs were only serving single bites of each specialty, I quickly felt full. Unlike wine tasting, it’s considered poor form to spit.  I wanted to try everything, but unlike a meal that unfolds over time that you build with care, the randomness of my choices, when powered down, didn’t exactly mix well once in my belly.

I felt satisfied when we left, but when I went back through the event program I realized how much I failed to try like the mango gazpacho with smoked lobster from Blvd, the braised short rib sandwich from Akasha, the caramelized onion tart with smoked salmon and crème fraiche from Citrus, the roasted shrimp with garlic sage butter from Bottlerock. What had I been doing with my time? Though I did try the sandwich from The Foundry that won the 2008 Grilled Cheese Invitational Competition, which featured pulled pork and taleggio and was quite delicious. As we drove home the thought of dinner was laughable, yet I found myself eating again 3 hours later.

Unlike other food events this one is held for greater reasons than merely showcasing the best chefs and restaurants. The money raised goes to ending childhood hunger in America. While a very worthy cause, it felt odd eating up a storm while listening to speakers talk about children going without regular meals. Like every morsel I ate would be even less for them.  Since the focus of the event is on food, the unlikely marriage sort of works, drawing people to the cause by celebrating those who turn ordinary ingredients into mouthwatering pleasures. That these chefs give their time and talent on their day off is commendable and lucky for those of us not usually able to sample their fare. 

My favorites from the event:


Heirloom Tomato Tart with Herbs and
Goat Cheese Filling from Bar Marmont


Duck Rillette Crostina with Sour Cherry Chutney, Duck Proscuitto and Wisconsin Carr Valley Gran Canaria from Table 8


Carne Asada Taco with Fresh Salsa and Guacamole from Loteria Grill


Barbeque Short Rib with Crispy Onions and
Creamy Corn Polenta from Napa Valley Grille