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Day 2: The Taste

Spiced Lamb Belly Croquettes with a Ginger-Shallot-Mint Dressing topped with Pea Bavarois and Tendrils

Spiced Lamb Belly Croquettes with a Ginger-Shallot-Mint Dressing topped with Pea Bavarois and Tendrils

I woke up to a surprise on Facebook yesterday morning. “Chef is going to be at The Taste tonight,” Honey Bunny said. That’s cool, I thought. A few minutes later, “Hey — you’re going too!” Perplexed, I looked over at his computer screen. Chef had told him that he was bringing me with him to the LA Times sponsored food event and that he had extra tickets if Honey Bunny wanted to go and support. I was so excited I spilled my water all over my keyboard.

The first part of my day was largely uneventful. I helped prep for the garde manger station again – mixing corn muffin batter, making pesto, slicing bleu cheese, and the dreaded task: picking herb salad. The most exciting part was probably the pesto. We needed more pine nuts toasted, so I was tasked with a small pan (seriously, it was like one of those one-egg novelties they sell at grocery stores) and assigned a burner on the hot line. It was so hot that they turned golden in no time. But it was my first experience actually cooking on the line, even if only for the three minutes it takes to toast pine nuts.

Around 4 we started setting up for dinner service. That was when Chef pulled me off the station and had me go get a clean shirt and apron. I grabbed my knife bag and hopped into his already packed car, sharing the backseat with a cooler filled with sauces and purees. He was also bringing along his executive chef from his other restaurant.

Having planned for notorious LA traffic, we arrived at the venue rather early. Better early than late, at least! We unloaded the car (honestly, I wasn’t very helpful for this part since everything was so heavy. I made myself useful during the setup as best I could – setting out the utensils, organizing the station, moving our products to the refrigerator… we had some downtime during which Chef was meeting and greeting with many of the other vendors. They all seemed to know each other so that was really interesting, and mingling was a great way to kill time.

Before long, it was time to pop some croquettes in the fryer. Chef plated a few for some lucky VIP friends of his, and they looked gorgeous (see photo above). He made a few for us as well so we could sample the dish that we would be preparing all night. So freaking good. I was excited to get the show on the road, and to share this awesome food with (seemingly) all of LA! Seriously – the event was crazy-crowded.

There was a calm before the storm… about 15 minutes since the doors opened and before we got completely slammed. I was throwing down plates like dealing a hand of poker, grabbing croquettes still shimmering in 350 degree oil, drizzling with dressing, piping out a stunning pea puree like it were frosting, and passing them along to Chef for quality control and garnish. I think I burned my fingerprints off thanks to those hot little buggers. It was a mad rush but I felt like I was contributing and actually doing pretty well, if I do say so myself.

There was quite a mix of attendees from what I could overhear. Plenty of East LA peeps who hadn’t heard of us in our humble corner of Culver City. Lots of dedicated regulars who raved to Chef about how awesome his food is (I wholeheartedly agree). Some squeamish people who feared lamb belly would equate to lamb stomach or intestine. A surprising number of people who hadn’t the faintest idea what pea tendrils were.

And of course, a few foodie celebrities. Sang Yoon of Father’s Office and Lukshon was only 3 stalls over from us. Brooke of Top Chef and The Tripel hung out for a good 5-10 minutes chatting it up with Chef. And I’m fairly certain that I spotted Dana Cowin of Food & Wine Magazine in the crowd. That was cool.

But food celebrities aside, the most rewarding was hearing the crowd’s reaction to our dish. It was a one bite wonder, so many people devoured it right at our booth. Every single person’s eyes lit up and they could only utter, “Wow.” That felt good.

I had a brief break when Honey Bunny and his friend arrived so I met them at the entrance to give them their tickets and to show them to our stall. Aside from that though, we were pushing through at full speed for two hours straight. My fingers burned, my back ached, and I was sweating in the humid heat. We had plated and served over a thousand plates before we ran out of the dressing. Not wanting to compromise the composure of the dish, Chef called it a day at that point. We set out the last of the croquettes topped with some pea puree and toasted with the Shock Top beers that they had so kindly passed out to all the vendors.

Finally, we packed up our stuff and I was able to wander around with Honey Bunny. They showed me where their favorite dishes were so that I could finally (finally!!) eat dinner. What really hit the spot was kobe beef okonomiyaki from Gottsui paired with my fifth Shock Top of the night. Ahh comfort food. Honey Bunny said I looked pretty pro walking around with my knife bag and everything. And his friend said something that really struck a chord in me — she said that I looked like I was really enjoying myself and actually excited about what I do. And she’s totally right — I’m exhausted but I feel awesome. I’m making people happy with food and to me, there’s no greater joy than that.

I’m so grateful that Chef took me with him to this event. He could have taken any of his more experienced staff, but I think I held my own and proved that I have grace under pressure. It was an incredible opportunity, to say the least!