Three Nights at the Los Angeles Food and Wine Show

Matt participates in a series of grand tastings and cooking demos hosted by chefs Giada De Laurentiis, Wolfgang Puck, Andrew Zimmern, Graham Elliot and many more at the Los Angeles Food and Wine Show. Photo: Matt Payne

LOS ANGELES, CA – August 14, 2012 - Last weekend, under the frenetic lights of the Nokia Plaza, located in the epicenter of the hip and ever-expanding downtown Los Angeles, affectionately known as DTLA, is ground zero of the LA Food and Wine Show. The decadent four-day event spans from downtown across the city to the shore of the Pacific in Santa Monica and features countless chefs from restaurants across California and the country.

Nokia Plaza over the LA Food and Wine Show.

While the process is simple, the event itself, is at first, daunting. It is hard to wrap my brain around the availability of 200 wines and food from more than 100 super star chefs.

Not to try each and every morsel from each and every tent of this eclectic collection of culinary outliers would be a colossal slap in the face to foodies across the globe, and while the term “foodie” makes me cringe, this weekend that is just what I am.

Chef superstar Giada De Laurentiis hosts Thursday’s event, called Giada’s Festa Italiana and it features Italian chefs from restaurants as far north as Big Sur and more than 200 wines from wineries across the world.

By night’s end, culinary delights from such chefs as Matt Molina from Osteria Mozza, Gino Angelini from Angelini Osteria, John Cox from Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn, Danny Elmaleh of Cleo, Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani from Café Frienze, Michael Fiorelli of Mar’sel will be fighting for space in my stomach in a sea chardonnays, merlots, pinot noirs, pinot grigios, syrahs, and tempernios to name a few.

And while that thought makes me fear for the future, never in my life have I been so eager to live in the present.

Penne with Short Ribs Ragu & Summer Watermelon and Coucous.

The line for a tasting of Giada De Laurentiis’ featured dish of the night, Penne with Short Ribs Ragu and Summer Watermelon and Coucous, is long but moves fast. As it does, I sip a Pinot Grigio from an Italian vineyard called Barrymore, owned none other than Drew Barrymore. There are whispers that she might even turn up to pour a couple of glasses herself.

To my right, Giada poses for pictures with adoring fans and upon trying her Short Rib Ragu, I understand exactly why. Forget that she’s famous. Her food is perfect.

Some of the dishes are familiar ones.  Others, like Post Ranch Inn’s John Cox get creative, serving oysters with lemon verbena, cucumber, basil seeds and balsamic.  Cleo’s Elmaleh personally hands me a squash blossom with tallegio, honey and truffle.

While I don’t have the slightest idea what tallegio is (sorry foodies), my taste buds are pulled into a thousand blissful directions.

The next day takes me to the elegant Fairmont Hotel, located just across the street from Santa Monica’s picturesque stretch of sandy beach at the north end of the world famous third street promenade for Summer at the Shore. Chicago’s Top Chef Masters star and three-time James Beard nominee, Graham Elliot hosts the soiree serving up a dish called “The taste of the Pacific.”

Taste of the Pacific

This curiosity, served in a shell literally looks like a tableau from the beach and is filled with edible sand (panko crumbs burnt to three different shades of brown then stuck together with chicken fat), three types of seaweed, a piece of dungeness crab, a piece of ahi tuna, fresh uni (sea urchin) and is topped off with some edible sea foam.

Delicious confusion at its finest.

Across from Elliot, a camera crew from Bravo chases around Four Star pastry Chef Waylann Lucas of Jose Andres’ Bazaar, and owner of LA’s hottest new dessert craze, Fonut, as she dishes out ice creams served upon arguably the world’s best gourmet doughnuts to a line of eager fans, sipping wines as they wait.

While I’ve got a lot of main course tastings before it is officially desert, I help myself to a chocolate and coconut doughnut with coconut ice cream. All of this happens in a sea of other chefs across Los Angeles’ west side as they feature dishes ranging from the simply stated pastas to veal and everything in between.

And let us not forget wines poured from such vineyards as Cambria, Thorny Rose, Byron, Bernardus, and Rombauer just to mention a few.

Saturday’s events take me back down to the Nokia Center, specifically to the Ritz Carlton/JW Marriott where I begin my morning on the 42 floor of the Ritz Carlton at an exclusive wine tasting from Napa’s Halran Estate. This superb wine retrospective featured nine wines from 2007 dating back to 1991 and a discussion of each wine led by Don Weaver, Harlan’s estate director.

Live on the Plaza with Wolfgang & Friends.

While there is yet another Grand Tasting going on in 60,000 square foot tent just off of the Nokia Plaza, I elect instead to sit in on a cooking demonstration by food and travel legend Andrew Zimmern, host of The Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods.

Zimmern, who also hosted Asian Night Market across town on Friday, colorfully prepares a Thai dish, all the while sharing antidotes about his life and travels to a room of adoring fans. I catch up with him after the show and ask him how he keeps traveling fresh and food fresh.

“I think that traveling is transformative,” he tells me. “When I am traveling I learn and see and grow to be the best person that I can be.”

I couldn’t agree more.

After a two hour reprieve, the festivities pick up once again and this time the night is hosted by perhaps the most famous chef of them all, Wolfgang Puck.

Wolfgang’s Live on the Plaza with Wolfgang and Friends also features a concert by Third Eye Blind. The night is a grand one. Many chefs show up for encore performances, including Danny Elmaleh of Cleo and his squash blossom with tallegio, honey and truffle.

Someone behind me asks what tallegio. “It’s an Italian cheese,” I explain, shaking my head at their lack of culinary knowledge. The guy is obviously not a foodie, I think to myself, making my way back to the Cosmopolitan for one more booze infused push-up-pop and then calling it a night.

It is hard not to think of yourself that way after 3 days at the LA Food and Wine Show. 

For a complete list of events, chefs and wineries go to LAFW.com

To read more from Matt Payne, go to mattpaynewriter.com.

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Matt Payne

Matt Payne has lived and worked as both a television writer and producer in Los Angeles for nearly ten years.  Matt grew up in Oklahoma City and began his career with a degree in Film and Video Studies from the University of Oklahoma.  Since then, he has worked as part of writing staffs for such hits as 24 andWithout A Trace. Most recently Matt wrote and produced episodes of CBS’s The Defenders starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell and Memphis Beat, starring Jason Lee, which is set to air on TNT in August of 2011.

In addition to a successful television-writing career, Matt has developed features with major production companies and continues to work as a freelance script analyst for Relativity Media, the production company behind such hits as The Fighter, Zombieland, and Catfish where he has provided script feed back on nearly a thousand features.

When he is not writing and producing television, Matt works as contributor to the Washington Times Communities Travel section, where he has writing skills have taken him from the top of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar to the jungles of the Philippine Islands.  New York City’s finest restaurants to the earthquake ravaged Port au Prince Haiti. 

Matt was the winner of the 2004 Comedy writing award for Scriptapolooza, a finalist for the Warner Brothers Television Writer’s workshop, and is an active participant in Los Angeles’s Young Storytellers Program.  

Early in his career, Matt spent two years working as an assistant the Endeavor, which is now part of WME, the second largest talent agency in the world, working closely with such talent as Christian Bale and Michael Douglass.

Matt  is a member of  the Writer’s Guild of America and the Screen Actor’s Guild.

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