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DineLA Chef Roundtable – Of Puck, Preparation and Produce

June 18, 2010

(Click for a larger picture.)

Mark Peel of Campanile, The Point and The Tar Pit.
Josiah Citrin of Melisse.
Susan Feniger of Street, Ciudad and Border Grill.
Joachim Splichal of the Patina Group.
Karen Hatfield of Hatfield’s.
Wolfgang Puck.

To listen to any of these chefs would be a pleasure. To hear all six of them speak at the same event? That’s a privilege.


This post was originally going to recap the roundtable and the conversations that took place there – I even took mental notes on specific things each chef mentioned that I wanted to address. However, as you’re probably familiar with my typical lag period, you shouldn’t be surprised that, by the time I got around to actually writing this post, the fine people at DineLA had already posted a video of the entire event online. (Oops.)

Well, since the job of recapper is no longer necessary (*whew!*), I’m going quickly cover the parts I enjoyed most about this whole roundtable.

– I’ve always loved listening to successful people tell the story about their life. There’s something so intriguing about hearing about them before they made it big, whatever trials or tribulations they may have gone through, and seeing where they are now. Wolfgang Puck is no exception – he could have been on that stage by himself, speaking for the entire hour and I would have been perfectly happy.

My favorite Wolfgang story of the night was the one about how he got started in the restaurant business. (Start at 14:10 in the video. Watch it – I’m not gonna recap it for you!) Imagining little 14-year old Wolfgang being told he was good for nothing and then seeing him in person on stage now, governing his empire…It’s surreal to hear him tell his story (and probably even more surreal for him to live it).

– As an accountant, I have a rather practical view on life. Thus, I appreciated the concrete advice Joachim gave when asked about starting a new restaurant (at 27:43 in the video). While the chefs prior (Susan, in particular) spoke of passion for their craft, Joachim asked them to think and prepare and…well, basically be a businessman. I may not know much about running a restaurant but I’ve seen this much from my accounting gigs over the years – you can’t run a business on passion alone.

– I found it interesting that, throughout the roundtable, the chefs repeatedly touched upon the abundance of fresh produce in Los Angeles and the appreciation for food. It was especially interesting because, about 2 years prior, I attended a similar event moderated by Jonathan Gold on the topic of California cuisine and remember taking away one thing from that event: California cuisine is the abundance of produce matched with our variety of ethnic influences. At the time, I almost thought that was almost a cop-out answer – “Yes, I know we have great produce but…what else??”, says the girl who has only lived in California and has been surrounded by fresh produce her entire life – but to hear the same talking points two years later made me re-evaluate my original reaction and how I may take California’s strongest assets for granted.

Anyway, as you can tell, the roundtable was a great experience. I had the opportunity to listen to some of my favorite chefs in person and the stories of their lives. Plus, after it was all over, I gorged myself on Starry Kitchen‘s tofu balls and got to take a picture with Susan Feniger! (Woot woot!)

(Picture taken by Julian of Jewelz, What Are We Doing Today?)

McDonald’s – Killa Kali McGangBang

June 11, 2010

Before the KFC Double Down there was…the McGangBang. Two items from the McDonald’s, sandwiched within one another to create a sandwich where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We’re talking about a McChicken inside a double cheeseburger, chicken inside beef, McDonald’s inside McDonalds. This sandwich is NOT messing around.

I first read about this monstrosity on folie à choisauce, who personally recreated the McGangBang and lived to tell the tale. She even added her mark on the sandwich by adding fries to the mix, and dubbed it the “Killa Kali” McGangBang (i.e. the KKMGB).

From the moment I read that post, I never forgot about the KKMGB…ever. It was like the thought of the KKMGB was lurking in the back of my mind, jumping out whenever a McDonald’s came into sight. Sooner or later, I had to give in.

I wish I could say that I’ve only tried the KKMGB once but, sadly, that’s not the case.
I wish I could claim I was drunk but, sadly, that’s also not the case.
(If this totally kills my credibility as a food blogger, I completely understand.)

My first time was accidental. I was working in the office and had rushed downstairs to grab a quick bite for lunch. Halfway through my meal, I realized I had all the components for a KKMGB. Did I dare? I dared.

My second time was premeditated. Somehow, during a normal conversation at work, I had convinced others to join me in trying the KKMGB. We made plans to build it the following day at lunch, with one slight adjustment: The original McGangBang was based on two items from the $1 menu, coming together to create something worth more than $2. As double cheeseburgers are now $1.19, we agreed to use a McDouble instead to keep that original spirit alive.

($3.19+tax later, I found myself with all the tools to make a KKMGB.)

With a crowd starting to form in the office lunchroom, eyeing our goods and whispering of the events to come, we built our KKMGBs and took a bite. (Yes, I actually ATE it.)

(“What does it taste like…?”)

If McDonald’s had a generic flavor, the KKMGB would taste like that. The flavor of fake chicken was dwarfed by the flavor of burger. It was a little dry and needed more ketchup, some BBQ sauce, or maybe sweet and sour sauce…SOMETHING.

Afterwards, I felt disgusted. I was completely unproductive the rest of the afternoon. We looked up the nutritional facts – 1040 calories, 47 grams of fat. I told myself I wouldn’t eat dinner that night. (Sadly, I did eat again.)

Note to self: I am NOT doing this again.

330 S Hope St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 626-0709
Twitter: @mcdonalds

McDonald's (Wells Fargo Center) on Urbanspoon

Shake Shack (Manhattan, NY) – The Place May Be Shakin’ But This Ain’t No Shack

June 8, 2010

When I first imagined Shake Shack, I imagined some run-down hole in the wall that served burgers like the ones you can find in the hood in LA. Seeing it in person, I realized – the place may be shakin’ but this ain’t no shack.

The modern looking “shack” you see above is the Shake Shack. Known for their burgers and frozen custard shakes, it is the only place I’ve heard of on the East Coast with a cult following that rivals In-N-Out’s. I mean, if you thought the drive-thru at In-N-Out was long, just LOOK at the line of people snaking through Madison Square Park. (It’s so long, they even let you can even keep tabs on their line via their “Shack Cam”!) Luckily, I caught the line at a slow point – it only took me about half an hour to get to the front and order the most loaded burger they’ve got.

The Shack Stack is the love child of their regular Shake Shack cheeseburger and their specialty ‘Shroom burger. You have your normal meat patty and cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato and Shack Sauce, as well as a crispy fried portobello filled with melted muenster and cheddar cheese sandwiched in the middle. Personally, I think I would have rather had a regular burger sans ‘shroom. When I have a portobello mushroom in a sandwich, I want to taste it; however, because it was battered, fried and stuffed with cheese, I couldn’t really taste the mushroom hidden inside.

‘Shroom aside, I did enjoy the rest of the burger. The patty itself was juicy and flavorful. The oozing muenster and cheddar may have overpowered the portobello, but complimented the meat naturally. I did find myself wanting more than one leaf of lettuce (a want spawned from my In-N-Out upbringing), but I was willing to overlook the lack of crisp lettuce for the soft potato bread buns.

In a city that feels like it never stops moving, these juicy patties and fluffy buns are worth standing still for. It may not look like the hole-in-the-wall that I imagined, but Shake Shack’s definitely got the soul of one.

Shake Shack
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-6600

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

Frostbites (Cypress, CA) – I See FOOD Things

June 2, 2010

I think I can see into the future. Nope, none of that important stuff like saving people’s lives or averting disaster – I can see into the FOOD future.

I first stumbled upon Frostbites on my own, during a late night web surf. I read the reviews touting its frozen custard and Italian ice, realized it was down the street from my client at the time, and made a mental note to try it out. A week later, I was listening to a coworker, who had just returned from a gig in Pittsburg, describe her culinary adventures at a particular Pittsburg institution. This institution, “Rita’s Ice”, happened to sell – *gasp!* – frozen custard layered with flavored ices.

…Did that shake up your world as much as it did mine? It’s like I’m the next Haley Joel Osmond! (“I see FOOD things.”)

Okay, even if you aren’t impressed, believe me when I say Frostbites is awesome.

(And, of course, I take a picture of the menu that DOESN’T have the prices for ice cream.)

Before I get into this delicious fruity/creamy delight, I first have to applaud the service at Frostbites for being absolutely fantastic. When we asked for flavor recommendations, the nice girl behind the counter almost threw free samples in our faces (not literally, of course) . I think I tasted three or four little sample cups in a matter of five minutes and almost had to tell her to stop handing them out. (I was getting full!)

Basically the way Frostbites works is this: They have about a dozen flavors of Italian ices in flavors ranging from strawberry and cherry to pineapple and sour apple. They also two flavors of frozen custard – chocolate and vanilla. You can get either the ice or the custard or have a combination of them both, layered within one cup. (Note: My coworker says Frostbites is better than Rita’s Ice because it alternates the layers of custard and ice, whereas Rita’s just has a layer of custard at the bottom and a layer ice on the top. Yup, it’s even better than the original!)

After tasting samples to my heart’s content, I finally settled on a combination of sour apple and watermelon with the vanilla custard, which the girl recommended because it tasted like a Jolly Rancher. (Note: The cherry and pineapple combo was a close second – it tastes just like those Big Stick Popsicles from elementary school!) The Italian ice had the texture of a firmer slurpee or a very, very fine granita. The frozen custard is both richer and creamier than normal frozen yogurt, but without the heaviness (if that makes any sense at all). Tasting both together is like having a creamsicle, but more awesome.

Note: If you get hooked on Frostbites the way I did, make sure you get a customer card! It’s based on the dollar amount you purchase rather than the number of items, and you get get double stamps on rainy days.

Frostbites Crepes & Frozen Delights
9111 Valley View Street #103
Cypress, CA 90630
(714) 484-1577
Twitter: @frostbitescyp

Freebirds World Burrito (Santa Barbara, CA) – “One Night, At Freebirds…”

May 31, 2010

(Quantity of food / Price of food) x Tastiness of food while drunk = Level of success

That’s the equation for the perfect college food. These hole in the wall joints aren’t going to earn any Michelin stars anytime soon, but there’s something about cheap, greasy food in absurdly large quantities that never ceases to satisfy.

Even though I didn’t go to UC Santa Barbara, the name “Freebirds” has often graced my ears. Typically referenced in some story about drunken debauchery (e.g. “One night, at Freebirds…”), Freebirds in Isla Vista is a Mexican joint that’s open 24 hours a day. Mexican food…Open late nights…This place was engineered for the college crowd.

(Note the size of my small, stubby hand next to this gigantic container of nachos.)

Although its prices are a little high for typical college grub (I spent $11 for a container of nachos), its huge portions easily make up for the price. My mountain of chips, cheese, grilled chicken, salsa and guacamole could have probably fed four sober people (or at least two drunken ones). Freebirds is about as authentically Mexican as Chipotle, but who cares – It’s college food.

Freebirds World Burrito
879 Embarcadero Del Norte
Isla Vista, CA 93117
(805) 968-0123

Freebirds World Burrito on Urbanspoon