This L.A. food fest is hosting some of the world’s greatest chefs
A nude dinner. An interview with the chef of the World’s Best Restaurant. Soft serve heresy or common sense? And the L.A. food fest where global and Southern California chefs meet. I’m Laurie Ochoa, general manager of Food, with this week’s Tasting Notes.
Meeting of the chefs
One of my favorite moments so far during this year’s L.A. Times Food Bowl — the monthlong food festival that draws chefs from around the world and all over Southern California — was watching the look on the face of Holbox chef Gilberto Cetina when he took a bite of Kato chef Jon Yao‘s gorgeous corn dumplings. The chefs were on the rooftop of the Aster in Hollywood for the launch party of Food Bowl, which culminates with this weekend’s Night Market. The two had never met and it was moving to see one great chef being wowed by the cooking of another great chef.
“It’s so complex,” Cetina said to Yao. “This is amazing, Chef.”
Chef Jon Yao of Kato in downtown’s Arts District is creating Taiwanese food through a Los Angeles lens. Why his approach might earn him a second Michelin star.
At the station beside Yao was Alta Adams chef and author Keith Corbin serving his restaurant’s classic deviled eggs along with Tsubaki and Ototo’s Charles Namba and Courtney Kaplan offering beautiful salmon and sips of one of their favorite artisan sakes.
Charles Namba’s road to Tsubaki, L.A.’s beloved izakaya, and Ototo sake bar began with a dead-end pizza job, an escape from LA to NYC and a return to the food of his childhood.
Stationed around the rooftop was more fantastic food from République and Bicyclette Bistro’s Margarita and Walter Manzke, Hau Fu Lee of Lunasia Dim Sum House, Stephanie Izard‘s Girl and the Goat plus Cabra, Marcel Vigneron from Lemon Grove at the Aster and the epically dense and gooey cookies from the L.A. outpost of Pam Weekes and Connie McDonald‘s Levain Bakery.
The international star of the night was Michelin-starred chef Malcolm Lee of Singapore’s Candlenut and Pangium, who was dishing up curry noodles with the Capitol Records building behind him.
A few evenings before, Lee was at the organic community garden Wattles Farm in Hollywood with Phenakite’s Minh Phan for Food Bowl’s kickoff dinner, a collaboration with Outstanding in the Field. The garden was looking especially lush in the late-summer light as the long table serving some 150 guests wound through the trees. Out of the tented kitchen came a Tok Panjang feast, which happens to mean “long table” and reflects the Peranakan cooking (a blend of Malay and Chinese cuisine) that Lee highlights at his restaurant; Jenn Harris wrote about it for a recent Weekend cover story after she traveled to Singapore.
For years, chef Malcolm Lee’s restaurant Candlenut struggled. At one point, he wondered if he’d made a mistake, but he doubled down on Peranakan cooking and a cuisine he saw disappearing.
Three bites worth remembering from the two chefs’ collaboration are Lee’s telor bandung, sunny-side-up eggs with a dusky, citrus-enhanced sauce; short rib curry, fragrant with rau ram and Wattles Farm curry leaves; and Phan’s “brassicas & friends,” with the friends being flower petals and creamy tofu.
But two of the most emotional Food Bowl moments came this week with celebration dinners for Restaurant of the Year Holbox, chosen by Times critic Bill Addison, and Gold Award winner Park’s BBQ.
Why we chose the newly expanded mariscos stand in Historic South-Central’s Mercado la Paloma as our Restaurant of the Year.
Mercado La Paloma, the community center that houses not only Gilberto Cetina Jr.’s Holbox but his family’s pioneering Yucatecan spot Chichén Itzá, was looking grand on Wednesday evening. I thought about how Cetina told me that despite offers to move his elegant seafood counter to Hollywood or the Westside, he’s stayed in the place where he began his career with his father, Gilberto Sr. It was great to see Cetina’s dad — and to hear from many of the seafood suppliers, including famed sea urchin diver Stephanie Mutz, who help make Holbox one of Los Angeles’ great destination restaurants.
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In Koreatown the night before, Park’s BBQ owner Jenee Kim was surrounded by family, friends and community members who came out to support “the ultramodern palace of high-end meats that changed the game in Koreatown,” as this paper’s late restaurant critic Jonathan Gold once wrote.
Jenee Kim’s Koreatown restaurant Park’s BBQ is an essential part of the flavors of Los Angeles — showing a generation of diners that Korean food is a thriving, evolving cuisine.
There was a Gold Award photo box and newly made Gold Award beer glasses, perfect for the bright yellow-and-red cans of Korean American lager on every table, a collaboration between Park’s, Sang Yoon’s Father’s Office gastropub and streetwear brand the Hundreds. Best of all was the food, which ranged from tiger shrimp and Korean pear salad to A5 rib-eye slices and rib-eye cap grilled at the table to icy and spicy acorn noodles before sweet rice doughnuts for dessert.
The owner of Koreatown’s Park’s BBQ, winner of the LA Times 2023 Gold Award, teaches her son how to use her ‘magic sauce’ marinade to make bulgogi, japchae and LA galbi.
We’re now in the final flurry of Food Bowl activities. Saturday’s Outstanding in the Field dinner at Coleman Family Farms featured many guest chefs, including Kinn’s Ki Kim, Matthew Schaler of Birdie G’s, Lasita’s Nico de Leon, Brian Bornemann of Crudo e Nudo and Otium’s Aric Attebery and Jonathan Granada.
On Sept. 25, Bangkok chef Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn of Le Du, named this year’s No. 1 restaurant in Asia by the World’s 50 Best list, is cooking a special dinner on the rooftop of the Aster. The Times’ Harris went to Bangkok to meet Chef Ton, as he is known, and find out more about why so many diners around the world have fallen hard for his “radical approach to Thai cooking.”
Chef Ton’s cooking career was already an act of defiance, and then he doubled down by using local ingredients at a time when fine dining was Eurocentric. It landed him at the top of Asia’s 50 best list.
Then there will be three spectacular days of eating at Food Bowl’s Night Market Sept. 22-24 at the Paramount Studios backlot with chefs from all over Southern California and beyond.
Among them will be Virgilio Martinez, chef of this year’s No. 1 spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Central in Lima. I had the privilege of traveling to Peru to meet Martinez, his wife and fellow chef, Pía Léon, his sister and head of his research projects, Malena Martinez, and many more members of his team working to bring the flavors of every corner of Peru to the plate. Read about the work they are doing in my cover story for Sunday’s Weekend section and come meet Martinez at the Hammer Museum on Thursday when I interview him and his sister before a screening of “Virgilio,” a documentary directed by Alfred Oliveri.
Virgilio Martinez achieved the pinnacle of his profession when his Lima spot Central topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in a country ignored by Michelin. He’s seeking more
Meanwhile, read more about the many of the chefs coming to Night Market — including my story on how the L.A. food scene is being reshaped by the kids of immigrant restaurant pioneers growing up to become chefs themselves. And watch some of the work that our incredible video team has been doing all summer long with chefs at their restaurants here and abroad and in the Times Test Kitchen.
Generation Los Angeles: How the sons and daughters of Los Angeles immigrant restaurant families are taking over and influencing how we eat.
A bare encounter
“Whatever you do,” Jenn Harris writes in her report on her first nude dinner, “don’t look down at your own body. Don’t be weird and look at anyone else’s either!” She and 25 other guests paid $150 “to experience Füde, a plant-based gathering that invites people to leave their inhibitions, self-doubt and clothing behind.” Everyone — the cooks, the diners, even our own photographer — was required to take off their clothes for the dinner, a series begun by 29-year-old multidisciplinary artist and chef Charlie Ann Max. “I can’t deny that the nudity helped pull back the layers we each hold close,” Harris wrote, “our bare bodies an invaluable conduit to a more vulnerable state.” If only the mosquitoes weren’t biting that night.
Soft serve, hard argument
The Food team has been keeping things cool and sweet in our Summer of Ice Cream series, with stories on restaurants with fantastic sundaes, shaved ice, sorbet and more frozen desserts; a sampling of every paleta flavor at Mateo’s Ice Cream; the story behind SueEllen Mancini’s Sad Girl Creamery; where to find vegan shakes; choosing the perfect ice cream scoop; an ode to the ice cream man; and a guide to the many (mostly) independent places selling great soft serve. This week, Lucas Kwan Peterson adds to the soft serve conversation with the contention that the best soft serve is not at the many worthy small businesses selling the frosty treat but at fast-food chains, corporatized cones and all. Then he ranks them. Where McDonald’s comes in may surprise you.
Ben Mims breaks the fast for Yom Kippur with extra-crumb kokosh cake, or as he puts it, when babka meets strudel.
Have a question?
- Flirting, come-ons and outright harassment are often thought to come with the job of restaurant hostess. But a 23-year-old woman working as a hostess at Nobu Malibu says no more. Stephanie Breijo and Cindy Carcamo report on the lawsuit filed this week alleging that the unnamed plaintiff was harassed by a manager and customers at the celebrity favorite spot as well. “As the first point of contact for Nobu customers Plaintiff, and young female hostesses like her,” read the lawsuit, “are expected to address and deflect whoever and whatever advances are made toward them, with a smile on their face.”
- Breijo also gives us a first impression of chef Kwang Uh’s long-awaited reopening of Baroo. Can’t wait! Plus more restaurant news.
- Bill Addison has 21 worthy slices for you to try in what he calls L.A.’s golden era of pizza.
- Jenn Harris on the restaurant with “the best grilled cheese in the universe.”
- Assistant Food Editor Danielle Dorsey has updated our guide to rooftop dining, now with 51 places to take in incredible views over dinner and a cocktail.
Eat your way across L.A.
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