There are few television shows I love to love and love to hate more than “Top Chef.” Even when Padma is posing for the camera in some inane outfit that makes her look like a penguin or one of the cheftestants is mugging about his delicious broths and delicious male parts, I can’t get enough of Bravo’s hit reality show. The only problem with watching the chefs battle it out in the kitchen is that I inevitably feel jealous of the judges and guests who get to eat their food. My tepid cup of nighttime tea is no match for seared scallops in a fenugreek broth. Or so season seven’s Angelo would have me believe.
As a guest of the Saban Free Clinic’s at their 13th Annual Extravaganza of the Senses at the Sunset Gower Studios on Saturday night, however, I finally had the opportunity to experience what it must be like for guests who are lucky enough to attend the “Top Chef” events. The extravaganza featured unlimited small plates and samples from more than 35 of LA’s hottest restaurants, along with pours from over 80 wineries, including Kim Crawford, Stag’s Leap, Robert Mondavi, and one of my favorites of the evening, the Crossings, which was serving a lovely summery Sauvignon Blanc with an intense presence of grapefruit. It was the perfect way to wet (and whet) my palate on the warm evening.
The food, served by many of the participating restaurant’s chefs or top personnel, was equally impressive. Even though I no longer get my feathers ruffled when I see celebrities out and about in LA, when I approached Jar’s table for a sample of their chopped salad, I was rendered speechless in front of Executive Chef Suzanne Tracht, who was manning the booth. I sheepishly retreated with my salad without saying a word to the famous chef. Moments like this truly made me feel like I was on an episode of “Top Chef” or “Top Chef Masters,” which Chef Tracht competed on.
Just like on the show, there were also clear winners for me on Saturday night. Valerie Gordon and Stan Weightman were there representing Valerie Confections with their pristine white chocolate rose petal petit fours and champagne truffles. Valerie and Stan’s charming personalities are mirrored in their charming confections, and their sweet offerings continue to be one of my favorite indulgences in the city. I was also charmed by Milk’s chocolate-dipped vanilla macaron ice cream sandwiches.
On the savory side, romantic Lauren Canyon hideaway Pace dished up a well-executed sea bass with a refreshing avocado relish accompaniment, and Momed’s Executive Chef Matt Carpenter wooed me again with the restaurant’s famous “Duck Shawarma.” I, along with several of the event's revelers, went back for seconds of the latter.
I also went back for seconds of “Top Chef” Season 7 contestant’s Alex Reznik’s deconstructed bacon-wrapped date which included a piece of caramelized pork lardon, a date and a tempura-battered blue cheese ball that he instructed me to eat in one bite. The famous chef was there representing Hollywood restaurant Ivan Kane’s Cafe Was, and was far more charming in person than he’s depicted on the show.
Despite my protestations that I’m not a burger person, I braved the line at 25 Degrees for one of their sliders which came topped with jack cheese, green chilies and bacon. While some found the meat to be overcooked, the only slightly pink center suited me just fine – if I wanted my meat to moo, I’d go live on a farm. Another favorite for the night was the panko fried shrimp in a jicama taco with spicy aioli and fennel slaw that Reservoir was serving in the VIP lounge. I couldn’t resist eating two of the brightly flavored bites while I was waiting in line for one of the neck massages being offered by Bliss Spa.
No bite, however, could compare to Susan Feniger’s Street’s Burmese Melon Salad with watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, toasted coconut, peanuts, fried onions and a sesame ginger dressing. Over the course of the evening, my friend Ashley and I went back for three generous helpings of the unique salad that was an explosion of textures and sweet, salty and spicy flavors. Even though Susan Feniger didn’t make it to the final round when she was on “Top Chef Masters,” this dish certainly proved she is already a Master even without the title and pat on the back from Tom Colicchio.
It was a sad moment when the chefs at the event began packing their knives to go at the end of the night. It meant back to real life as it doesn’t exist on reality television for me, and back to the kitchen for them. Either way, I can’t wait to go back for season two of the affair next year. I might even work up the courage to say hello to Ms. Tracht.
For more information on the Saban Free Clinic, visit their website.