Monday, September 2, 2013

A Taste of "The Taste"

Temperatures in the 90s didn't stop the crowds from eating and drinking merrily on the Paramount Pictures lot at The Taste Saturday and Sunday. The Los Angeles Times-sponsored event, an annual culinary happening in L.A., drew a diverse crowd of foodies eager to sample all manner of novelties in bite-sized portions and to be entertained at multiple wine tastings and cooking and mixology demos by top chefs, restaurant critics, food writers and wine and drink experts.

In 2 1/2 hours I didn't manage to see--or consume--even a fraction of what was available--not surprising, as the program guide included four pages of featured restaurants, wine and spirits companies and miscellaneous participants. It seemed that everyone had a booth, a gimmick and something to sell. Yet even with limited time, I did sup and sip quite well and take in an illuminating salmon cooking demonstration with chef Michael Cimarusti of L.A.'s much-lauded Providence restaurant.

Cake Mamas Jessica and Destiny with Good Witch cupcakes

I started with a bite of dessert at the Cake Mamas booth, where Destiny Lopez and Jessica Quijas introduced me to three of their favorite mini-cupcakes, including the Good Witch, a lemon cupcake with strawberry-rhubarb filling and lemon mascarpone cream cheese frosting, which also happened to win the top prize on Food Network's "Cupcake Wars." (The secret ingredient was apparently the rhubarb.) Also on offer was the French Toast cupcake, with maple syrup frosting topped with blueberries and bacon, and the Carmel Apple, an apple cupcake with caramel frosting, apple filling and chocolate on top. Clearly, themed cupcakes with catchy names and ingredients are in!

Dr. Chocolate, 

Michael Nemcik, wearing chocolate-colored scrubs with "Dr. Chocolate" stitched on the pocket, was hocking a chocolate vodka made in Poland from Chopin Vodka. Mixed with a cold-brewed coffee and some chocolate flakes, it tasted like a spiked mocha shake--which essentially is what it was. Dr. Chocolate said they were a recommended medicine at any time of day

Rachel Belavic and Amy Tetherow of Constellation

What's in a name? Well it can't hurt for a wine to be branded "Simply Naked," especially when you're walking around in 90-degree heat wishing you were. But the wine, sold by mega-beverage corporation Constellation Brands, means the naked double-entendre to be, yes, catchy, but also to refer to the character of a wine that is aged in steel, not oak, so allows the consumer to taste the true varietal nature of the vino, Rachel Belavic, SoCal sales director, told me. In the heat, all varietals, whether white or red, were being served chilled--and that was a good thing!

David Coleman, right, prepares squash blossom tastes.

Growing up as one of nine kids in Orange County, CA, David Coleman didn't have the luxury of eating out often--Mom was the chef. But from a young age, he was bitten with a cooking bug and graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 2002. Executive chef at Michael's on Naples in Long Beach, CA, he describes the menu as traditional Italian but seasonal. "A lot of our products are local, and we change our menu constantly." He does it not only to stay competitive but because he wants to "keep our customers interested and keep them coming back."

At The Taste, Coleman served batter-fried squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta served with a honey-basil pesto sauce. Quite delectable, as was the house-made fennel sausage with an eggplant caponata. Alas, the lasagnetta, small bites of lasagna made with basil pasta, heirloom tomatoes and house-made mozzarella, had run out. I forgot to ask him if any dishes were inspired by his mom.

Michael Cimarusti preparing salmon for the frying pan

I sat in on Michael Cimarusti's salmon demo, where every seat appeared to be filled. He and his assistant filleted and deboned a whole king salmon, brined it, cooked and beautifully plated it, while 100-plus people watched with their mouths open, swarming the stage afterwards to get a small bite. Brining the fish in a 5% sea-salt solution and then cooking it twice for brief periods, with a short resting period in between, was the recommended prep because, he said, "You don't want to overcook salmon--ever."

Here's my audio report from The Taste:

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