Monday, June 28, 2010

Good Food Sunday @ Dwell on Design 2010

At this year's Dwell on Design, the design show at the LA Convention Center hosted by Dwell Magazine, Lesley Bargar Suter, the Dining Editor for Los Angeles Magazine, and Evan Kleiman, the host of Good Food on KCRW and the chef/owner of Angeli Caffe, curated a series of panels about food, under the rubric of Good Food Sunday.

Chris Nichols, an editor at Los Angeles magazine, moderated a panel on Mid Century Modern restaurant design, with a special focus on the California coffee shops with the Googie look. Designs for Panns, Denny's, Bob's Big Boy and Norm's among others were shown. The panelists included Victor Newlove, an architect who helped design many of the seminal buildings of the genre. Unfortunately most of the original buildings have been torn down. You can see my pictures and read about my dinner at Pann's here.

Lesley Bargar Suter moderated the next panel, "The Changing Shape of the Modern Restaurant." This panel focused on the rise of food trucks and pop-up restaurants in Los Angeles. Michele Grant and Dave Dahni from the Grilled Cheese Truck, Josh Hiller from RoadStoves, Nick Bognar from the Border Grill Truck, and Ludo Lefebvre from LudoBites and the soon to launch Ludo Fried Chicken Truck were the participants.

LeFebvre spoke about launching his first iteration of LudoBites, his pop-up restaurant, "It happened almost by accident. I was consulting with BreadBar and the restaurant was closed in the evenings. It was low cost. I didn’t need investors. It was an easy and quick way for me to open a restaurant, as I was looking to open a restaurant at that time.”
He enjoys being an entrepreneur and not having to run his business to meet investors’ expectations or to charge more in order to pay for an expensive restaurant buildout. “I am my own boss. Nobody can tell me what to do. With this concept [LudoBites] I am full every night. It is new all the time. The more money I spent to open a restaurant, the more I will have to charge my customers. A restaurant is about eating and not about chi chi. Maybe one day I’ll go back to that, but not now.”

One of LeFebvre’s signature items, fried chicken, has spawned its own food truck which will launch next month. LeFebvre said, “I really want to bring gastronomic food to the street, to everyone. When I created LudoBites it was accessible to everyone. Food is about how to meet people and to put people together. All my menu items on the truck are exactly the same food I am doing in a restaurant. Good food; fresh.”
The panel felt that food trucks are more than a fad; that they will continue to be a significant part of the food landscape. LeFebvre said, “Food trucks are here to stay. The good trucks are going to stay around, just like with restaurants. People don’t have the time [to eat leisurely] now. It is a great way to eat good food quickly.” Other panelists agreed, noting that the weeding out process of trucks without good food or good business plans has already begun, but that the most successful trucks have already expanded through additional vehicles.

Danhi and Grant from the Grilled Cheese Truck said that their idea to launch came from the Grilled Cheese Invitational and they love the flexibility of the truck. “It is liberating. You get to reach different demographics. We have way more direct contact with the people who love our food than we would in a restaurant. Social media is a huge component of our success. The interactive input from customers affects how and where we move our truck. The truck provides an interactive aspect to dining out. When you go to eat at a truck, you are not looking for the same experience as at a restaurant. Trucks are a little more social.”

The gourmet food truck concept is not as easy as it has appeared to some. As Hiller noted, ““You still have to be the chef and the cook and run your own business.” The Grilled Cheese Truck duo said, “You are dealing with a kitchen on wheels, with all of the issues of a kitchen and all of the issues of a vehicle. The limited space on a truck and the prepping are some of our key challenges.”

LeFebvre has found working on a gourmet food truck to be difficult, “To work on the truck is not easy, it is a nightmare” he said. The Grilled Cheese Truck team responded, “It may not be a nightmare but more of an adventure.” LeFebvre replied, “Maybe for you.”

The next panel was a demonstration of Molecular Gastronomy with Evan Kleiman and Fany Setiyo of Le Sanctuaire. Le Sanctuaire is based in San Francisco and is the premiere source for the ingredients required for molecular gastronomy cooking techniques. Setiyo’s demonstration used both peanut butter powder and nutella sand. At the conclusion the attendees were able to sample the two products. I felt the nutella sand tasted much more strongly of its product than the peanut butter powder did.

The final panel of the day was a discussion about “What’s New in Cheese” between Bargar Suter and Alex Brown, the General Manager of Gourmet Imports.

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