July 25, 2010
If you think this post is going to be your typical “I went to this event and this is what I ate” type post, you are mistaken. Oh no, this is going to be my take on the LA Street Food Fest’s Summer Tasting Event from the other side – the VENDOR side.
I can’t remember exactly when I found out that my DTLA lunch haunt, Starry Kitchen, was going to be participating in the LA Street Food Fest’s Summer Tasting Event…All I know is that I somehow found out they were and that they were looking for help for the event. I like being helpful and I obviously like Starry Kitchen, so it only made sense for me to offer my services. Who knew that this would be how I would find myself serving thousands upon thousands of crispy tofu balls on a sunny July Saturday afternoon to thousands of hungry attendees?
(Picture taken by Remil M.)
Before I dive into the Summer Tasting Event, let me just say that Team SK is a force to be reckoned with. Why? Because Team SK rolls deep in food bloggers. The Manila Machine may have been founded by Nastassia of Let Me Eat Cake and Marvin of Burnt Lumpia and Scoops Westside may have Matt of Mattatouille leading the charge, but I think we top them both in numbers. Team SK had not one, not two, but FIVE food bloggers in its ranks. We’re talking:
- Danny of Kung Food Panda – Plater of the tofu balls
- Julian of Jewelz, What Are We Doing Today? – Fry crew
- Christine of folie à choisauce – Fry crew
- Misty of Noms Not Bombs – The voice of the tofu ball (I think she gave the crispy tofu ball spiel at least a thousand times)
- Yours truly – Plater of the tofu balls, pandan flan passer-outer
Not only did we have the five of us, we also had half a dozen more people to help:
- Matt K. – Napkin/postcard passer-outer
- Justin M. – Sauce squeeze-bottle extraordinare
- Remil M. – Bringer/announcer of the tofu balls
- Caleb C. – Fry team
(And if you’re questioning my counting abilities, rounding out the “half a dozen” is Nguyen and Thi, the husband/wife team behind Starry Kitchen. I didn’t include them in the above because they ARE Starry Kitchen.)
So…the LA Street Food Fest. I went to its first incarnation in February – it was sort of an organizational mess. This summer tasting event was supposed to be the new and improved version – it was exponentially better.
There were a lot of changes made to this event – the venue, the time, the setup, the ticket sales – EVERYTHING was revamped to make this event move as smoothly as possible. My favorite change was the switch from food trucks to food booths – rather than having each vendor cooking in a cramped food truck, they each had a assigned food booth and cooking area that allowed much more space to maneuver and serve. (Not only did it make more sense, logistically, but it also gave us an excuse to decorate.)
(Our beautiful booth.)
To go along with our festive booth, we presented equally festive food. Starry Kitchen pulled out all the stops for their first go at the LA Street Food Fest. Their menu for this fateful day consisted of one dish: their “Game Changer #2”, the crispy tofu ball.
(What’s all the hoopla about? These babies – Crispy tofu balls!)
A crispy tofu ball is made from tofu that has been marinated, pressed and ground, then mixed with corn and dipped in buttermilk and a natural green colored rice flake from northern Vietnam. I don’t know if you can tell by the description, but this baby is a labor-intensive monster. We’re talking about a week of long nights of prep work in order to roll almost 3500 tofu balls for this event. (I, sadly, didn’t get to roll a single ball during prep, but I really wanted to!)
So I covered the booth, I covered the food, now what about our mascot…
(Oh Captain, my Captain!)
…If you didn’t see Nguyen, then I don’t know what you were doing during this event. He’s wearing a banana suit. His sign is telling you to taste his balls. I mean, seriously. What. Were. You. Doing. ?!
Anyway, wonder what the life of a vendor is like on the day of a food festival? Here’s a sneak peak:
(Picture taken by Remil M.)
10:30AM – Team SK meets at SK in DTLA to pack. 21 sheets of tofu balls make their way into four SUVs. (Note, crispy tofu balls cannot be stacked, which makes it hard to transport.) My car is filled to the brim with boxes. A tower of pots is seat-belted into my front passenger side seat.
11:30AM – Leave DTLA for the Rose Bowl. I almost get crushed by said tower of pots in the front passenger side seat. (One hand on the wheel, one hand keeping the pots in place.)
1PM – After waiting in a line of cars and trucks outside, we finally enter into the Rose Bowl. Lots of unpacking and set up. Main agenda: Get oil heated now in order to have it hot enough to fry when the VIP doors open.
2PM – The first test batch of balls is fried. (Note: From this moment onward, the fry crew never once stopped frying. They fried tofu balls from 2PM until 8:30PM – 6.5 HOURS OF FRYING.)
4:15PM – VIP admission opens. Lines aren’t too long, we’re figuring out how to plate, we’re getting in the groove of things. We get a slight pause every 10 minutes or so. (I sneak a bite from our neighbors from Mo-Chica. If you didn’t get to try their scallops dish, then you missed out.)
(Picture taken by Sarah Reingewirtz of the Pasadena Star News.)
5:45PM – The general admission crowd really gets going now. People are constantly getting in line. From this moment on, we never stop moving. The only time we rest is in between batches since we have nothing to serve. Otherwise, we’re constantly serving, serving, serving. Our fry team can’t keep up with the demand; however, we’re still able to get a new batch of balls out within 5-10 minutes of running out. We try to eat in between batches – Matt has been trading tofu balls for food with the other stands. (We tried a bunch of random stuff, but I’m honestly not sure what most of it was and I definitely DON’T have pictures of any of it.) We chat with the crowd. People seem happy.
8PM – We bring out dessert – the mini pandan flans. (We only made 200-ish of them, as a reward for those who stay late.) I pass them out to the people in line while they wait for the next batch of balls to come out.
8:30PM – We receive notice from the fry crew that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. (Literally, not figuratively – our fry crew is frying in one of the Rose Bowl tunnels.) No light = no more frying. We have two batches left – that’s it.
8:50PM – We give out our last tofu ball. We’re done with service!
(Yeah crispy tofu balls!)
9:30PM – We start cleaning up. We wait for the oil guy (his name is Sam) to come take away our fry oil. We start throwing everything into plastic garbage bags. We load up all the cars with the leftover balls. We look for our leader in the banana costume. (Bill of Street Gourmet LA stole him away and made him take shots of tequila. Shots shots shots shots shots shots!)
10:15PM – We’re done with clean up at the Rose Bowl. Everyone else drives to DTLA to bring everything back to the restaurant and get some late night grub. I drive home, planning on resting after a long day, but…well…apparently choosing to blog instead.
1:45AM (the following day) – I finish blogging and realize how stupid it was to blog instead of sleep (especially since I have to do real work tomorrow). My feet are still a little sore from standing all day. My eyes are getting droopy. I’m definitely tired. I click the “Publish” button – I’m finally, completely DONE!