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Blown Away By Los Angeles Magazine's Annual Food Event

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This past Sunday, Los Angeles Magazine hosted their 3rd Annual Food Event, held on a hot and blustery afternoon at Saddlerock Ranch, a winery tucked into the hills of Mulholland Hwy in Malibu. The rustic landscape was criss-crossed by narrow, bumpy roads that heightened the excitement as we drove onto the property, with slivers of dappled hillsides, vineyards, and pens holding exotic--and less exotic--animals came into view on the way to the clearing where the tents and tables were set up.

There was a lot of horsing around going on, all in the name of fun and good food and drink. More than 60 tables were set up featuring bites and sips from restaurants and beverage purveyors from Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, and behind many of the plates and cups were the chefs and owners, happy to serve up a dish, a taste, a smile, and some good conversation. There was a comfortable balance between the mingling crowd and the usual elbow crush at the tables, so that each guest could easily snag a sample and chat without getting shoved out of the way or having to wait too long. Props to LA Mag and the organizers for making the $95 admission be the right price to give a good balance of food and drink options that allowed guests to feel they had a myriad of choices but not be overwhelmed, and for bringing to the table chefs and reps who seemed legitimately delighted to be there and to interact with the crowd.

Although the event ran 3-plus hours, there was just no way we could eat or drink it all, despite valiant effort, some well-timed breaks, and a lot of "just-one-more" bites. While the initial strategy was to tackle the tables in an orderly fashion by following the event's layout, a few more substantial plates in the first area meant that there were a few bites sacrificed in the upper area, where sponsor Karma Tequila had a lounge that featured panel discussions, and more tables edged the perimeter.

Highlights included the vivacious Eric Greenspan (yes, the first contestant outed from the current crop of contenders for the title of Food Network's Next Iron Chef America) and his Foundry on Melrose with a delectable grilled cheese (and some singing along to the tunes being supplied by the deft hands and musical mind of one Richard Blade [warning: instant audio on link]). The European charm of Petrossian's blinis and borscht were irresistible, as was the rich and indulgent French lamb dip from the Westside Tavern.

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Spicy tuna became cleverly portable via a tempura cone spun by the folks from Onyx at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village, and more meat sandwiches were to be found from the Dakota at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Best non-alcoholic beverage nod goes to Lemonade (LAist Review); their cucumber mint drink was a refreshing respite from the heat of the afternoon and the heft of the food.

It was marvelous to be able to take a break in the center of all the action where a demonstration stage was set up. Hosted by KFWB's Cindy Dole and The Next Food Network Star runner-up Jeffrey Saad, the stage boasted short recipe demos from celebrated Los Angeles chefs and restaurateurs, including Andrew Kirschner of Wilshire Restaurant, David Myers of Sona and Comme Ca, and the chefs of Jar (on behalf of a last-minute couldn't make it Suzanne Tracht). We took respite and enjoyed watching Chef Ludo Lefebvre of the soon-to-be-back LudoBites (LAist review) thrill a crowd of admirers (read: giggling girls) as he prepared a spicy Jalapeño Chocolate Mousse with an Orange gellee he insists will put a little zing in your love life.

Video via Gourmet Pigs

A little later we grabbed a seat for Chef John Sedlar of Rivera, who wowed the crowd by making the eatery's beloved floral tortillas with avocado butter, and who spoke about the valuable role bloggers play in the current food business.

Up in the Karma Lounge three former Top Chef cheftestants, Betty Fraser (Grub; LAist Review '05), Fabio Viviani (the just-opened Firenze Osteria), and CJ Jacobsen (season 3), dished about all sorts of tasty things--including the delicious tidbit that they thought Anthony Bourdain was the toughest critic to please while cooking on the show.

But rest wasn't an option for long--there was the nomnomnom-worthy Butternut Squash Fritter to ooh and aah over from the Little Dom's/Dominick's table, as well as the charming chefs from Gordon Ramsay's London West Hollywood to crack jokes with. For the sweet-tooth there was gelato, chocolates, and brownies, but the best dessert was the one we gingerly carried and shielded against the blustery winds as the event wound down and we made our way home, which was an assortment of cupcakes from Swirls.

Just before heading out (and before the wind could knock over any more giant umbrellas in our path, yikes!) we found just a little bit more time to get a little wild with the chefs and the animals--two different kinds of creatures, we assure you! We watched delightedly as Chefs Sedlar and Viviani fed their toughest customers: A camel and a llama! Now that's how you put a cork on a successful food event!

Be sure to check out LA Mag's Food event next year if you missed out on the fun Sunday. In the meantime, head out and support these great chefs, bakers, winemakers and more.