The Taste LA Festival 2016, LA

Photo: Erin Poole for Average Socialite
Affair: The Taste LA Festival 2016

When: Friday, September 2- Sunday, September 4, 2016

Hot Spot: Paramount Pictures Studios, Los Angeles, CA

 The Los Angeles Times hosted thousands of culinary explorers over Labor Day weekend for its seventh annual food festival, The Taste, which brought acclaimed chefs, master bartenders and award-winning restaurants together at the iconic Paramount Pictures Studios backlot. Hosted by The Times Food staff – Amy Scattergood, Jonathan Gold, Jenn Harris and Noelle Carter – alongside Michael Cimarusti (Providence/Connie & Ted’s), Ray Garcia (Broken Spanish/B.S. Taqueria), Master Bartender Michael Lay (Broken Spanish/B.S. Taqueria), Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill), and Kris Yenbamroong (NIGHT+MARKET), the three-day epicurean celebration featured five events highlighting various aspects of SoCal’s rich dining landscape. Throughout the weekend, attendees enjoyed unlimited bites from the region’s renowned kitchens along with sips showcasing local cocktail culture, as well as a dynamic series of cooking and mixology demonstrations, wine seminars, and engaging panel discussions.

The festivities kicked off on Friday with Opening Night, an intimate soirée featuring a curated selection of tastings, craft cocktails, and premium wine and beer offerings. Bites from top L.A. restaurants – including charred octopus over African spiced chickpeas with harissa from Miro and spicy Thai chicken wings from Same Same – wowed hungry guests, including Kathy Griffin (Emmy and Grammy award-winning comedian), Phil Rosenthal (“I’ll Have What Phil’s Having”) and Aarti Sequeira (“Aarti Paarti”). Attendees mixed and mingled with a who’s-who of the local food and dining community as they walked through the pop-up stations that took over the backlot’s glittering cityscape.

The following morning, Scattergood, Times Food Editor, and Chef Cimarusti hosted Field to Fork, a tribute to the distinctive seasonal cooking and local produce that fosters California’s endless culinary possibilities. Cimarusti shared his socially-conscious kitchen secrets during a live demonstration, while Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer (Madcapra), Esdras Ochoa (Salazar), and Katsuya Uechi (Katsuya) also took to the stage to flex their oft market-driven kitchen muscles. Guests of the daytime event also sampled noshes from community favorites like Doomie’s Home Cookin’, Kye’s Montana and Lodge Bread Co. Across the lot, Scattergood moderated a lively discussion with Nan Kohler (Grist and Toll), Alex Weiser (Weiser Farms) and Roxana Jullapat (Friends and Family) that examined SoCal’s new and increasingly significant artisan grain movement.

Saturday night brought the best of L.A.’s dining and cocktail culture together for an al fresco, end-of-summer jam hosted by Gold, Times Restaurant Critic, and Harris, Deputy Food Editor, alongside Chef Garcia and Lay. As twilight descended over the bustling outdoor studio, eclectic bites like pickled mussels with black garlic from Kali enticed the palates of event-goers, who also imbibed premium cocktails from a slew of pop-up bars. Live demonstrations led by the two co-hosts, Tony Esnault and Kyle Billings (Spring/Church & State), Kris Morningstar and Ryan Wainwright (Terrine), and Vartan Abgaryan (71 Above) paid homage to memorable dish and drink pairings. The city’s innovative beverage scene shone further in a group demonstration led by Gold and Harris with market-driven cocktail masters Katie Emmerson (Gwen), Nathan Oliver (Wolf), and Tobin Shea (Redbird).

The final day of The Taste kicked off with Sunday Block Party, a backyard cookout-inspired gathering where the simple pleasures of great food and good times reigned. Carter, Times Test Kitchen Director, and Milliken served as hosts of the mid-day affair, during which attendees indulged in buttermilk fried oysters from L&E Oyster Bar and cooled off with ice cream sandwiches from Hinoki & the Bird. Milliken showcased her pioneering take on modern Mexican fare, while Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo (La Casita Mexicana/Mexicano), Duff Goldman (Charm City Cakes), and Rika Yukimasa led demonstrations that offered peeks into their colorful kitchens. Elsewhere, root-to-stem cooking took center stage in a roundtable moderated by Carter focusing on sustainable uses for food waste with Bruce Kalman (Union/Knead & Co. Pasta Bar) and Michael Flood (L.A. Regional Food Bank).

The renowned Flavors of LA, hosted by Gold and Yenbamroong, closed the weekend in the festival’s tribute to the depth and breadth of L.A.’s culinary mosaic. Guests were taken on a veritable tour of the city’s diverse flavor influences, savoring tastes like Jitlada’s larb chicken curry to Chichén Itzá’s salbutes with short rib and pork shoulder. Meanwhile, Yenbamroong demonstrated his classic Thai cooking, while critically-lauded chefs Nyesha Arrington (LEONA) and Kwang Uh (Baroo) took stages to showcase their market-inspired and freestyle Korean fare, respectively. Gold also led a thoughtful discussion exploring new Filipino cuisine with Charles Olalia (Rice Bar), Gary Menes (Le Comptoir), and Alvin Cailan (Eggslut/UNIT120/AMBOY).

Throughout the weekend, key sponsor activations brought additional interest to The Taste, which was presented by Citi, produced in association with Best Events, and supported the L.A. Regional Food Bank and Cal Poly Pomona’s Collins College of Hospitality Management. Citi provided all attendees with access to a stylish outdoor lounge and picnic area, as well as a cardmember exclusive tent serving catered snacks and wine slushies. Knob Creek and Suntory Whisky both featured branded pop-up bars encouraging festival-goers to enjoy signature cocktails, while Acura displayed a number of luxury vehicles and hosted the event’s Acura Culinary Stage.

In an effort to mitigate food waste and support the alleviation of hunger, leftover prepared food from the weekend was donated to Midnight Mission; Zero Waste Management and Athens Services were also on hand throughout the festival diverting waste to compost.

Spotted: Foodies, chefs

Hint For The Average Socialite: General admission, LA Times subscriber, and CITI cardmember tickets are available for purchase.

Details on the 2015 Taste Festival.

What's Trending: @TheTasteLA #TasteLA