Since 1982, Wolfgang Puck (left) and Barbara Lazaroff have raised over $15 million dollars for Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles. The Puck-Lazaroff Charitable Foundation has raised millions primarily through the wildly popular American Wine and Food Festival. Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles is an extraordinary and vital service serving thousands of meals every day to homebound senior and disabled people. Each year prestigious chefs and many businesses donate their time, talents, and wares to the festival. Ticket prices are steep for the event but worth every dime for what people get in return, channeling money to a very worthy cause and enjoying a world class event.
This year’s American Wine and Food Festival is over but we can all continue to donate money and time to Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles. You’ll find plenty of useful information on their websites. There are a number of Meals on Wheels programs in Greater Los Angeles including St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and Meals on Wheels of West Los Angeles.
I attended the Saturday evening (September 25th) Grand Tasting of the American Wine and Food Festival. It was held on the Universal Studios Old Europe backlot. As I pulled up to the festival, on one of the ubiquitous Universal Studios trams, the aroma of roasting meat was a very appropriate welcome to the evening. Inside the festival, just to my right was Floyd Cardoz and his staff from Tabla, from New York City, grilling lobsters. This was just the beginning of an evening of sensory satisfaction.
Everywhere I turned I saw chefs whose careers have been very important to the advancement of my own cooking skills. I was, in all honesty, humbled. It was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with Chef Paul Prudhomme (left), the man responsible for bringing Cajun cuisine into the national and international spotlight. He spoke to me about the struggles in New Orleans, a region still in recovery from Hurricane Katrina and now the Gulf oil disaster. Chef Prudhomme urged me to come back to New Orleans and talked about how the food is as wonderful as it always has been. He, like so many of his fellow New Orleans cooking brothers and sisters, are working so hard to breathe life back into the city. He knows how to use his celebrity for good and found the time to come to Los Angeles to help out our own charities.
Everyone who participated deserves recognition for their contribution. The food, wine, and other beverages served were all deserving of the $300 ticket price. Not one table served up a sub-par meal. I talked to people who raved about the fried clams from Chef Jasper White and Chef Dean Fearing's fried quail. The raw bar at the Bouchon table was very, very popular. I was a little surprised that Nancy Silverton and Mozza decided to go with corn dogs and frozen bananas dipped in chocolate. The more I thought about it, the more I understood the joke. Yes, this was food more appropriate to the Los Angeles County Fair, but it struck a chord with people. It was fun and the frozen bananas were a welcome treat on a sweltering evening.
I think a lot of chefs made last minute changes to their menus based on the hot weather. Chef Amar Santana from Charlie Palmer Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza served a cooling avocado gazpacho and a tequila and lychee juice cocktail, El Lychedor. People loved both. Both Chef Santana and Charlie Palmer worked the table. Fiji Water was a big sponsor of this year's festival and Chef Santana used Fiji in the dishes he presented. Please check out the complete list of chefs who were there at the festival website. My one regret is that I didn't take the opportunity to speak Chef Jose Andres outside the Cosmopolitan (air conditioned!) cocktail lounge.
My favorite foods of the evening were the sandwich from The Hitching Post, featuring their very delicious house-made bacon and the pork belly sandwich from Slanted Door. What was up with the location for Slanted Door? Hidden away. No line. Is this San Francisco gem unknown to Los Angeles diners? Chef Charles Phan playfully beckoned me to his table, where I was the only diner. Buttery, tender pork belly.
Chef Wolfgang Puck was wearing a smile on his face as he worked the crowd and talked with his friends from the culinary world. It was great to watch everyone, including the chefs, (Thomas Keller lobbing beach balls!) having fun. I know setting up and working in the heat must have exhausted everyone before ticket holders even got into their cars to drive to the festival.
There was a very poignant end to the evening for me. When I arrived at the tram pick-up, there was a huge line. Hundreds of people were waiting for the tram to take them back to their cars. The heat caused a number of the trams to suffer hydraulics failure. So, in a small way, as we waited for the one working tram, we experienced what it feels like to be inconvenienced by a very brief lack of mobility. However, unlike those who are housebound and dependent upon Meals on Wheels for daily sustenance, our inconvenience was temporary.