Showing posts with label Universal Studios. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Universal Studios. Show all posts

Monday, September 27, 2010


Since 1982, Wolfgang Puck (left) and Barbara Lazaroff have raised over $15 million dollars for Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles.  The Puck-Lazaroff Charitable Foundation has raised millions primarily through the wildly popular American Wine and Food Festival.  Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles is an extraordinary and vital service serving thousands of meals every day to homebound senior and disabled people.  Each year prestigious chefs and many businesses donate their time, talents, and wares to the festival.  Ticket prices are steep for the event but worth every dime for what people get in return, channeling money to a very worthy cause and enjoying a world class event.

This year’s American Wine and Food Festival is over but we can all continue to donate money and time to Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles.  You’ll find plenty of useful information on their websites.  There are a number of Meals on Wheels programs in Greater Los Angeles including St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and Meals on Wheels of West Los Angeles.

I attended the Saturday evening (September 25th) Grand Tasting of the American Wine and Food Festival.  It was held on the Universal Studios Old Europe backlot.  As I pulled up to the festival, on one of the ubiquitous Universal Studios trams, the aroma of roasting meat was a very appropriate welcome to the evening.  Inside the festival, just to my right was Floyd Cardoz and his staff from Tabla, from New York City, grilling lobsters.  This was just the beginning of an evening of sensory satisfaction.

Everywhere I turned I saw chefs whose careers have been very important to the advancement of my own cooking skills.  I was, in all honesty, humbled.  It was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with Chef Paul Prudhomme (left), the man responsible for bringing Cajun cuisine into the national and international spotlight.  He spoke to me about the struggles in New Orleans, a region still in recovery from Hurricane Katrina and now the Gulf oil disaster.  Chef Prudhomme urged me to come back to New Orleans and talked about how the food is as wonderful as it always has been.  He, like so many of his fellow New Orleans cooking brothers and sisters, are working so hard to breathe life back into the city.  He knows how to use his celebrity for good and found the time to come to Los Angeles to help out our own charities.

Everyone who participated deserves recognition for their contribution.  The food, wine, and other beverages served were all deserving of the $300 ticket price.  Not one table served up a sub-par meal. I talked to people who raved about the fried clams from Chef Jasper White and Chef Dean Fearing's fried quail.  The raw bar at the Bouchon table was very, very popular.  I was a little surprised that Nancy Silverton and Mozza decided to go with corn dogs and frozen bananas dipped in chocolate.  The more I thought about it, the more I understood the joke.  Yes, this was food more appropriate to the Los Angeles County Fair, but it struck a chord with people.  It was fun and the frozen bananas were a welcome treat on a sweltering evening. 

I think a lot of chefs made last minute changes to their menus based on the hot weather.  Chef Amar Santana from Charlie Palmer Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza served a cooling avocado gazpacho and a tequila and lychee juice cocktail, El Lychedor.  People loved both.  Both Chef Santana and Charlie Palmer worked the table.  Fiji Water was a big sponsor of this year's festival and Chef Santana used Fiji in the dishes he presented.  Please check out the complete list of chefs who were there at the festival website.  My one regret is that I didn't take the opportunity to speak Chef Jose Andres outside the Cosmopolitan (air conditioned!) cocktail lounge.

My favorite foods of the evening were the sandwich from The Hitching Post, featuring their very delicious house-made bacon and the pork belly sandwich from Slanted Door.  What was up with the location for Slanted Door?  Hidden away.  No line.  Is this San Francisco gem unknown to Los Angeles diners?  Chef Charles Phan playfully beckoned me to his table, where I was the only diner.  Buttery, tender pork belly.

Chef Wolfgang Puck was wearing a smile on his faceas he worked the crowd and talked with his friends from the culinaryworld.  It was great to watch everyone, including the chefs, (ThomasKeller lobbing beach balls!) having fun.  I know setting up and workingin the heat must have exhausted everyone before ticket holders even gotinto their cars to drive to the festival.

There was a very poignant end to the evening for me.  When I arrived at the tram pick-up, there was a huge line.  Hundreds of people were waiting for the tram to take them back to their cars.  The heat caused a number of the trams to suffer hydraulics failure.  So, in a small way, as we waited for the one working tram, we experienced what it feels like to be inconvenienced by a very brief lack of mobility.  However, unlike those who are housebound and dependent upon Meals on Wheels for daily sustenance, our inconvenience was temporary.

See more of Denise Fondo's work at Truffles, Chestnuts, Cherries.  Follow her, tweeters:@DeniseFondo.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


AWFF Hot Ticket

The scene was set at Universal Studios backlot Saturday September 25, 2010.  The extremely hot - and humid - weather during the day persisted into the evening, but the makeup stayed in place and all the participants were ready for their closeups, Mr. DeMille.  Lights, sterno, clapboard, please!

The American Wine and Food Festival went off almost without a hitch.  That's saying a lot considering how the hot weather caused quite a few last-minute changes for chefs who had planned on serving hot food, only to realize something cool would be more appropriate.

In fact, the biggest hitch I found was at the end of the evening.  When waiting to board the tram back to the parking garage, I found about 300 other people already waiting.  A nice Universal employee named Dave informed me that due to hydraulics problems, they were down to their last tram.  They were trying to cope as best they could by pressing vans and small buses into service.  Those options were not much help in replacing trams which carry 160 people at once.

The event itself, though, was nothing short of spectacular.  The food samples handed out by some of the best chefs in the world were of uniformly high quality.  The wine tasting was great, too.  I only wish the food temptations hadn't been so great.  I wanted to spend more time in pursuit of the grape, but I can't honestly say I was disappointed by dabbling in one culinary treat after another.

The backlot - which you've probably seen on TV and in movies a thousand times - provided several different settings to walk through.  As I turned one corner after another, the cobblestone streets were lined with food and wine booths.

O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery was my first stop.  Eager to pour some big Napa reds, the guy manning the booth seemed a little peeved that I asked to start with the Sauvignon Blanc.  I had just arrived, and already I was dry and thirsty.  The O'Shaughnessy Sauvignon Blanc hit the spot with bracing acidity and a cool grapefruit profile with a sweetness to it that relieved my palate.  I liked his reds, too.  Two Cabernets, the Howell Mountain and the Mount Veeder, were full, rich and intense expressions of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  If I had to choose one, It would be the Howell Mountain, but the Mount Veeder runs behind only by a nose.

C. Donatiello Winery offered a wonderful Chardonnay, lightly oaked, crisp and laden with citrus.  The Healdsburg outfit has five different Chardonnays available, and I have no idea which one this is.  I liked it, though.

The Whitcraft Winery table was capably manned by Drake Whitcraft.  He talked a little about how his father Chris got him into the family business, and he seems to be getting the hang of it quickly.  Drake is a 100% whole cluster guy.  His winemaking setup includes actual foot-stomping of the grapes, for real, not for show.  As I understand it, he's working on the second vintage which is all his.  His father is battling poor health and couldn't be prouder of the way Drake has stepped in to handle things.

Drake poured a really nice Chardonnay he had just bottled two weeks ago.  His Grenache is bright and full of cherries on the nose, with a very fruity taste and a great finish.  A pair of Pinot Noirs are Drake's real pride.  The '07 vintage is clone 667 from San Luis Obispo, while the '08 has 20% Anderson Valley fruit.  Drake likes the '08 better, and I have to agree with him.  It's full of bright cherry flavors and has an excellent finish.

From Au Bon Climat: Hildegard, a white blend showing bracing acidity and an interesting blend of grapes.  Hildegard is 55% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc and 5% Aligote.  It's a very complex white wine with a zesty lemon finish.

Hitching Post Rosé '09 is made from what used to be called "Napa Gamay."  Turns out the grape is actually Valdiguie, with roots in the southern France region of Languedoc-Roussillon.  There is some Pinot Gris in the mix, as well.  This is a bone dry pinkie that's loaded with fruit and great acidity.

Paraduxx, the pun-laden label from Duckhorn, poured a stunning blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, vibrant and rich.

Lest you think it was all California wine being poured - not that that's a bad thing - Dr. Loosenwas there.  A dry, bracing Riesling was tasty, of course.  I asked for something with a bit of gasoline in it, but the pourer shook his head and said, "Sorry, nothing is showing the petrol yet."

An attempt at getting into the "Sherry Yard's Sweet Sanctuary Champagne and Port Lounge" proved successful, in that I was able to get into the roped-off area.  Live music and the promise of an after-hours "scene" produced such a crushing throng that I was unable to navigate within the area very well, and was completely unable to locate any Champagne or port.  Which was sort of the idea.  As the kids say these days, "#fail."

That's when I decided to check out, completely satisfied.  A full evening of snapping photos of celebrity chefs left me unfortunately unmoved when I saw Robert Wuhl, the guy who plays Arliss Michaels in the TV show "Arli$$," looking about for the next sample to go for.  I might have been more impressed had some other member of the cast been present, say, oh, I don't know, Sandra Oh.  She was after all in "Sideways," too!

Talking with Denise afterward, we ruminated on how much money must have been raised for the Meals On Wheels Programs of Los Angeles in this event and the accompanying auction.  It was inescapably ironic that an event in which food is handed out as a disposable commodity - we noticed how many "unempty" plates went into the garbage cans - was actually helping get food to people who are unable to get out and get their own.

The American Wine and Food Festival 2010 was a success from the standpoint of a food and wine lover who likes to scarf down free samples from world class chefs and winemakers.  It was also a success from the standpoint of someone who is old or ill and can't get to the market to buy broccoli.  And that is the real achievement.

Please see Denise Fondo's guest blog on the American Wine and Food Festival.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


American Wine and Food Festival

The 28th annual American Wine and Food Festival kicks off Saturday night, September 25, 2010 at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.  It benefits the Meals On Wheels Programs of Los Angeles, and since 1982 the event has raised more than $15 million for that institution.  Through Meals On Wheels, thousands of meals are served each day to the homebound, senior and disabled citizens of Los Angeles.
The Saturday night event, at Universal Studios backlot, features 30 top chefs and 80 wineries and spirit labels.  You'll be able to sample the best the culinary world has to offer, with food and wine placed face to face, where they belong.    
Saturday at 5:00 p.m., the Wolfgang Puck VIP Cooking Demonstration gets the festivities underway for VIP ticketholders, while the festival opens an hour later and runs until 11:00 p.m.  You can cap off the night in “Sherry Yard’s Sweet Sanctuary Champagne and Port Lounge” – an after-hours retreat.  Dance the night away to a live band or simply mingle among the 3,000 or so food and wine lovers that are expected to attend.  Tickets  for the festival are $300 per person.  For details and cost for VIP tickets, please call Joan Wrede at 310.574.3663.
The Chefs Grand Tasting Dinner is slated for Sunday, 6:00 p.m., at Spago Beverly Hills.  This dinner features celebrity chefs who will each prepare one course, which are paired with select wines.  This year’s featured chefs will be Nobu Matsuhisa of Matsuhisa Beverly Hills, Charlie Palmer of Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, Paul Bartolotta of Bartolotta and Ristorante di Mare, Michael White of AltaMarea Group, Santi Santamaria of Restaurant Can Fabes, and Dominique Ansel of Restaurant Daniel. There will also be a live auction.  Reservations for the Chefs Grand Tasting Dinner are $750 per person or $7,000 per table.  To make your reservations for this limited-seating dinner, contact Ellen Farentino at Spago: 310.385.0880. 
You can "like" the American Wine and Food Festival on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.