Food for the event was generously catered by the new local restaurant Starry Kitchen, led by the husband and wife team of Nguyen and Thi Tran. Their signature crispy tofu balls were very much in evidence. Starry Kitchen held an online contest two win tickets to the roundtable and the winning entry was this very cool game.
The event was held in REDCAT, in Walt Disney Concert Hall. The free tickets "sold out" in only 45 minutes according to event organizers. Wolfgang Puck's comments were very personal, speaking about how he got his start in kitchens at the age of 14 and how he overcame being fired from his first apprenticeship to his stepfather's not believing he should be a chef (he wanted him to be a mechanic). Feniger and Peel spoke a lot while Hatfield was mostly silent; it was like pulling teeth for Foxx to get her to say anything. She did say when asked what it takes to open your first restaurant, "Desire alone is not enough. You have to fight for every dollar you make." A group of culinary students sat in the first few rows and listened attentively.
The dining scene has evolved significantly since many of these chefs who are now major players and businesspeople in the dining industry in LA got started. As Puck put it, "when I came to LA it was an open playing field. The high end restaurants were all serving Continental cuisine." He was able to open Chinois without even knowing what fried rice was; something unimaginable now as the broader range of "ethnic" cuisine and flavors has filtered to the general population. Ingredients that were hard for even fine dining restaurants to obtain in the 80s are now readily available in your local supermarket.
Foxx was an unusual choice for a moderator. She is apparently a foodie and an investor in Citrin's Cache, which she brought up way too many times. Her style is perhaps more suited for drive time radio than moderating a panel of culinary heavyweights as she did not display a depth of knowledge about the dining scene in Los Angeles.
One potential grenade did not explode, as over the past week Peel has been in a nasty online imbroglio with a local writer/editor for LAist about a negative review she wrote about his new bar/restaurant The Tar Pit. No questions were asked about bloggers, yelpers or critics, and the author in question chose not to attend the panel.
It was interesting to see how many of the panelists had worked for either Puck, Splichal, or both. They have been godfathers/mentors to the younger generation of chefs that followed in their footsteps. Puck's honest responses were both entertaining and felt very genuine; there was nothing canned or rote about them. I'd happily sit through a Q&A with just him and a host any time, although next time bring in someone from the LA Times, Los Angeles magazine, Jonathan Gold or Ruth Reichl to moderate please.
The entire one hour talk can be viewed online here via streaming video.
Note, I assisted the Starry Kitchen team in their preparation for this event.