Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Food

A Taste of the American Wine and Food Festival

Stories like these are only possible with your help!
You have the power to keep local news strong for the coming months. Your financial support today keeps our reporters ready to meet the needs of our city. Thank you for investing in your community.

On Saturday October 3rd, celebrated chefs and vintners/spirit-makers from all over the nation gathered on the backlot of Universal Studios here in Los Angeles to showcase their best bites and sips as part of the popular 27th annual American Wine and Food Festival (AWFF), hosted by Wolfgang Puck and Barbara Lazaroff. The event is a big draw for food and wine lovers of all calibers, and offers an astonishing quantity of quality eats and drinks for the ticket price; although the pricetag is hefty ($300 advance, $350 at the door), the event is not merely a showcase for food and wine, but rather a wildly successful fundraiser for Meals on Wheels.

Spanning five hours and what seemed like branch after branch of cobblestone European-styled film exterior sets, the AWFF was a memorable night complicated for our purposes only by the eternal struggle of balancing plates of food, cups of cocktails, the details of the dishes, a camera, and the setting sun all while standing on two feet and roving from station to station with decreasing room in our stomachs. While some of the chefs and restaurants opted to stick to the concept of presenting guests with a small bite that showcased their signature flavors, others created either full plates or offered multiple dishes, which made for tricky consumption, faster filling-up, and more waste than necessary.

It is impossible to taste everything the Festival has to offer, but highlights included the sumptuous raw bar (lobster, crab, mussels, oysters, prawns) set up by Thomas Keller, whose Bouchon will soon have an outpost in Beverly Hills. Keller's Bouchon area emphasized the playful nature of the evening, as goodie bags complete with caramel popcorn and yellow and red Bouchon beach balls were pressed into the hands of guests eager to chat and pose with the celebrated Napa Valley food innovator. (A non-food highlight would be when an errant beach ball was lobbed back directly to Keller, flying from the hands of none other than the LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold himself.)

We were eager to meet up with Bay Area Chef Traci Des Jardins, particularly because she had been so gracious to chat with LAist prior to the event about her visit to LA for the AWFF and her culinary adventures. Her duck meatballs and fig compote were one of our favorite tastes, as was her former employer's, Patina Chef Joachim Splichal, who tingled our palates with his corn pudding topped with refreshing cucumber foam. Top Chef winner Ilan Hall, whose DTLA The Gorbals, has just re-opened, had a tasty mac and cheese sprinkled liberally with his beloved bacon, though, we've got to be honest, he wasn't as welcoming a personality as many of the other chefs on hand, like BLT's Chef Laurent Tourondel, who not only dazzled us with his duck dish, but made us feel right at home at his table.

Support for LAist comes from

Adhering with panache to the one-bite philosophy was San Francisco's Slanted Door, whose bright and sassy spoonful of Vietnamese inspired flavor brought smiles and cheers to our roving band of tasters. Tucked in a corner was Nancy Silverton and the Mozza crew, whose samplings were plentiful, and of which the dessert was a personal favorite. One of the most enjoyable moments was courtesy of Chef Walter Manzke of Church & State, when our nosy camera prompted a bemused inquiry: "Is that going on Twitter?" he asked. "It is now!" we declared, and sent off a fuzzy sunset-hour snap of his tasty, tiny bites via iPhone to the internets.

While it was the Food & Wine festival, we actually drifted more towards the spirits and not so much the wine, and loved the mango cocktail served up by the requisite scantily-clad shakers in the area that was brought to life by a cover band who segued with ease between covers of classic funk and rock tunes to contemporary Top 40 pop hits. In the dessert corner, which opened up a couple of hours into the night, the champagne flowed freely, as did cutlery wands swaddled in pink clouds of cotton candy swirled up by a team of pink-wigged characters. In the dark we fumbled past a crowded table decked out in a half dozen flavors of truffles and chocolates, and definitely stumbled upon samples mis-matched with their flavor cards. By this time the night was waning, our feet were aching, and our bellies stretched beyond negotiation--even for "just one more bite" of what someone assures is "the best thing ever!"

Although the AWFF happens but once a year, for those who keep tabs on the local dining scene, the event is a great way to get a taste of some of the city's best eats. We're already hungry for more in the form of visits to eateries like Mozza, Church & State, BLT, and, when it opens later this fall, Bouchon. And, above all, once again, the AWFF raised money for Meals on Wheels...and, really--that's the most important food that comes from the event after all.