The first time I ever watched Julia Child in action was actually on a show marked by her inaction: on Cooking with Master Chefs, she curiously peered over the shoulders of various “master chefs” (Jacques Pepin, Border Grill’s Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, Alice Waters, etc.) as they cooked. It’s to her credit, and fault, that I love food, can get totally snot nosed about food reviews, and budget my income so I have a good meal at Mozza instead of a new pair of jeans (which I sorely need).
Beyond cookery, Julia was an unabashed supporter of a number of causes, including Planned Parenthood. She even wrote a fundraiser letter on their behalf in 1982 (“Few politicians will take the risk of publicly supporting either contraception or abortion – and who is ‘for abortion’ anyway? We are concerned with choice.”). Apt, then, was her appearance at Planned Parenthood’s inaugural Food Fare in 1979, a food tasting and fundraising event. As the event became an annual bash, she made subsequent appearances, even managing to get out there in 2002, two years before she died at 91. Now, that is commitment!
Filling Julia’s big shoes at this year’s Food Fare (at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium) were Suzanne Goin (chef-owner of Lucques and AOC) and Nancy Silverton (former owner of La Brea Bakery and current co-owner/chef of Mozza). Sadly, there were no cooking demonstrations; they were present just to autograph their respective cookbooks. There also were tasting booths, vendors selling womanly wares like purses and children’s goods, and, as this was a fundraiser, a silent auction. The tickets themselves weren’t cheap: $125 for the day session and $175 for the more happening night session. I usually am extremely skeptical of well-to-do crowds congregating for fundraisers in which their donations help boost their ego, and, incidentally, their cause, but this event generally smacked less of privilege and more of an old-fashioned benefit ball.
Chatting with Suzanne Goin about her new restaurant, food tastings, and winning strategies for silent auctions after the jump.
Now, to appreciate this paragraph, you have to understand that I am in love with Suzanne Goin. One of the very few female chefs to attain any semblance of national prominence, I am in love with her, her food, her quiet but exuding confidence in her food, everything. Whenever I have a problem or need inspiration, I consult her difficult-but-still-manageable cookbook, Sunday Suppers with Lucques. My copy is dog-eared; there are post-its everywhere; the sweet onion tart recipe has a weird caked-on flour stain for some inexplicable reason; the cover is torn in a few places. This is the book I brought for her to sign. “Thanks for taking good care of this book!” she wrote. Ha ha! I love her even more! I asked her about her new restaurant in Brentwood (at the former Hamburger Hamlet space). The final word: she’s set to open it on April 15 with 7am to midnight operating hours. I am super excited about this, especially the fact that it will be open for breakfast – even with Huckleberry opening recently, there is a serious deficit of solid breakfast fare on the Westside.
Afterwards, I roamed the floor, looking for foods to try. There were lots.
Left to right: Clementine’s fudgy but not chewy cookies; Compartes‘ truffles; Border Grill’s pear and endive salad (that was spicier than it looks) and cochinita pibil (this was flavorful, but the rendition at Chichen Itza is better); Gonpachi’s shrimp ball that was not as difficult to eat as it looks; and Akasha’s not-too-mayonaissey egg salad on pumpernickel.
The highlight of the event, besides Suzanne Goin (!!!), was Gail Silverton’s Gelato Bar, tucked away in the corner of the room.
This was absolutely amazing, stop-reading-and-go-there-now gelato. Gail (aka (probably to her annoyance) Nancy Silverton’s sister) was the last person I expected to serve up my sample size gelato, but there she was, and telling me to come back to try the rest of the flavors to boot. I came back about 3 more times; as she fed me one sample after another, we chatted: why most gelaterias taste like ice cream (traditional gelato contains whole milk and no cream, so the difference probably is there), why gelato is served with those tiny spoon shovels (the small size of a proper gelato cup necessitates a utensil smaller than an American-sized silver spoon), and Chowhound, which is a higher form of Yelp, or at least the ‘Hounds would like to think so. I noted that all ‘Hounds seem to universally recommend Gelato Bar. Gail said she used to follow the threads, but then was a bit miffed when someone wrongly accused her of making the gelato from cans or tins. “First of all, how do you even can gelato??” Ahh, Chowhound, both the best and worst resource of information …
As this was an auction as well as a tasting event, there were all sorts of items up for bidding. The trick seemed to be getting your bids in right before the auction closed, and, in the meantime, circling your coveted item like a hawk, being sure to angrily eye anyone who picked up the pen to bid. If done properly, you could have won Tommy Lasorda wines (who knew he sold wines??), a dog training class for your “alpha” dog, “Fun with Warren Beatty,” gift cards, etc. Surprisingly (or not, given the price of the admission ticket), the starting bids for these items were fairly low. If you played your cards right, you probably could have won something for less than its actual value. And, this being LA, no event is complete without a chance to win a non-speaking, definitely non-union, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it walk-on role on a tv show – here, that sappy Sally Field drama, “Brothers & Sisters.”
Overall, I’m not sure that there was $125 worth of free tastings here, but it was still a very fun event for an incredibly significant cause. We’re concerned with freedom of choice. Ah, Julia. You helped kick off a nice thing here. Until next year …