Monday, February 15, 2010

LA Street Food Fest 2010-Build it an They Will Come

The freshman effort of Shawna Dawson and Sonja Rasula came together this past weekend as possibly the largest food festival ever in Los Angeles.It was a smashing debut, not without its hiccups, but have no fear. These very intelligent and and savvy young ladies will be back, and have already digested the lessons of the 1st Annual LA Street Food Fest.

I was recruited by Shawna to bring some traditional street vendors to the festival. After an initial meeting to brainstorm possible vendors, we met up several weeks before the festival to scout street foods from Watts to Panorama City. In one day we had 10 or so, very solid commitments and credible stands.Former Wat Thai vendors now housed in King's Seafood market in Panorama City, the two titans of Breed St, Antojito's Carmen and Nina's, plus a few of their friends,newcomer Antojito's de la Abuelita, my favorite baianas from Sabor da Bahia, a tamale truck, the magical shrimp tacos of Mariscos Jalisco, and a few possible leads for other eats.

Combined with the highly mobilized and professional trucks from the new breed of LA street truck, and a Ludovic Lefebvre "urban assault vehicle" serving up his 3.0 fried chicken, this was looking like a little something for everyone.

It was another perfect day, as Randy Newman once said. I arrived around eight to greet 2 of the 3 vendors I was able to wrangle for this event. Many had dropped out beforehand, in a pattern that would rear its ugly head the morning of the event.

All these stands are traditional families with non-traditional kids handling their PR and translations. I would be handling the spanish and portuguese speakers, but we were reliant on a very shy youg man for the Wat Thai vendors.I made trips back and forth from the Valley to East LA tracking these stands down during the weeks leading up to the festival, as a result of a complete lack of follow through by the respective familes. The children of these families were unmotivated and unreliable for the most part, except for Abraham from Antojitos Carmen, who had come to the vendor meeting and had been the most professional of the street vendors.

Antojito's Carmen's Abraham, had stopped answering his phone the day before and was a no-show, leaving us with no Breed St. presence, Nina had dropped out the week before, and now Shawna had to send someone to Home Depot to get the canopies Carmen's son Abraham had volunteered to bring so the present street vendors could participate in the festival. Instead of a relaxed morning I was on the phone trying to reach Carmen, a friend of Shawna's ran to buy the canopies,and I was wondering how the hell this all happened.This all went down 30 minutes before the festival opened!

Outside the LA Center Studios, the first customers for the day's street food crawl had staked their claim. Little did they know how strategic their early arrival would be. The line at this time was only a couple of hundred of people, I thought, well, at least there will be some people here when it opens!

The only truck representing an LA Mexican lonchera, still the most common type of truck in the lonchera genre found parked in the streets of Los Angeles, Antojitos de la Abuelita had been on time and would later be just a mobbed as every other stand at the festival. I stopped by to see them the night before to make sure they knew where to be and they had read all their details. When the festival exploded later that day, la Abuelita looked at me like, "Are you trying to kill us?"

I was also happy Sabor da Bahia showed up, yes, we almost lost them too, but they really came through in flavor and spirit. Renni was out of town so Ilma had her sister from Bahia here to help that day.They had operated without power for most of the day due to an overtaxed circuit breaker, and I had to bring Ilma up to the VIP lounge with her blender so she could prepare some onions in order to keep cranking out the acaraje.

A gentleman from Uncle Lau's saw me trying to put together a canopy by myself and helped me put two together for Sabor da Bahia. There was a great spirit among all the trucks, and I definitely started to see the new trucks in a different light that day. I didn't get to try Uncle Lau's food, but those guys are down.Go visit them soon.

The dazzle of the new trucks was impressive on festival day. I even started to have a contest in my head of which truck had the most bling.The teamwork among everyone and professionalism made me realize how these businesses have gotten where they are today. Ludo was busy getting ready with his crack unit of fried chicken vendors, and team Komodo was cooly running the game plan in their heads.

Ludo's lonchera!

Inside Ludo's truck, Kristine, Ludo's wife, Matt Kang, and other team Ludo members prepared the 3.0 fried chicken that would become worth its weight in gold a few hours later. Thigh meat was brined for a couple of days,enveloped in a hearty and flavorful batter, and seasoned with a rosemary lean.

I wandered over to Kristine while anxious festival goers peered through the fence with envy. I squinted in the LA winter sun, grinned, and asked rather sheepishly, " uh, are you ready to serve?" Ludo gave the nod and I was served up the FIRST order of the day. I won't tell you what Jo of MyLastBite told me when she found out.

It was a luscious rosemary bomb, and the ready to bottle piquillo pepper sauce was suprisingly simple, in the most perfect way.A subtle complement to the chicken, direct enough to be inducted into the Hall of Dipping Sauces, along side honey-mustard, ranch and barbeque.

Kristine tweeted my response, unjaded by any 2 hour waits in the mid-day sun. It was delicious. I was glad to have grabbed it then, as I wouldn't be able to stand in any lines that day.

Besides our frenzied organizers trying to take care of all the last minute details, and my scrambling to make sure Mama Koh's, Dogzilla, Abuelita, and Sabor had everything they needed, all of the truck crews were relaxed and smiling,like this guy here from the Del's truck having his own tailgate party. Only hours later.....

All the trucks were slammed and you had to slalom through snaking lines. The line to get in was unending,and the attendees were splitting up to cover more ground.

The team Dogzilla stand was a fine tuned machine, from set up until close. Positive, and energetic throughout the day serving up their own brand of Japanese street dogs.

Dogzilla and Mama Koh's were both self-sufficient, and I really didn't have to do much for them, but the Mama Koh's ladies made me feel like a member of their family. I had a crack at their full flavored, garlicky Korean fried chicken just as the attendees were filtering into LA Center Studios.

Sabor da Bahia forged on without power the entire day, introducing Los Angeles foodies to a genuine street food from Salvador da Bahia, Brasil, acaraje. Acaraje is like Brazilian falafel, a black-eyed pea fritter fried in palm oil, and stuffed with shrimp paste.

The lines were unrelenting, but the mood inside was exciting. I saw so many of friends from the LA foodie universe, and it was a decidedly younger crowd which bodes well for the future. There were Yelpers, Chowhounders, bloggers, journalists,and reporters all scrambling to get as many bites in as possible. Blogger Djjewelz captured the truest sentiment of the day in a tweet," Lines aside, @lafoodfest was a fun place to eat some food, hang out with other Angelenos, enjoy DTLA and soak in the AWESOME weather."

I really had a blast meeting new people, hanging out with friends new and old, and my pal, Cathy Danh, stopped by with yutjangsah, Jonathan Gold, and Sarah Gim.

We started a food crawl from Sabor da Bahia to Antojitos de la Abuelita, the generous Mr. Gold treated us to a Mexican street feast. We also managed to get another hit of Ludo's chicken as we closed the festival down.

Baby's Badass Burger's.

The Buttermilk girls.

This was an incredible effort by Shawna and Sonja, a lead off home run that will even be bigger and better next time around. I can't wait to see everyone out in Downtown Los Angeles showing what a great eating city we are.

Cathy, Djjewelz, Jonathan Gold, and everyone else I saw came to have a great time, and they did.

This was a unique experience that hasn't happened here. Yes, you can catch these trucks anytime thoughout the city, and there's Artwalk, and there are clusters of trucks around town, but this was a celebration of LA culture. It's about the human interactions and the fun, not how fast you can get through a line, or any other pragmatics.

There's still much to do to bring the other street vendors into the mix, though. Talk to you favorite stands and encourage them to get involved.

Sr. Villaraigosa! We need some fair and simple regulation to legitimize our movement, our LA style of eating.Make street food legal, let us eat!

To my people: In Latin America, we often depart with these words,"Si dios quiere", which means, "if god wants it so." "See you at the festival, ok?" "Si dios quiere". If you've ever been left with these words from a latino, that means that if we flake, all is forgiven. There are no calls to explain, texts, voicemails, nada........just radio silence.

If you want the kind of business that the Grilled Cheese truck gets, you better tweet, get online,return phone calls and e-mails, and show up! "Si dios quiere?" No, see you tomorrow is the new business model. You are great cooks and I love you, but........por favor, no manches.

Let's do it again.See you at the next LA Street Food Festival.


MyLastBite said...

A friend of ours dubbed it "Woodstock for Foodies"... can't wait for next year!

oh and I'm still ******* **** that you GOT THE FIRST LUDO FRIED CHICKEN!!!!!

: )

Gastronomer said...

Bill, Thank you so much for your hard work recruiting vendors. I bet you that Abeulita's success will motivate the others to hustle next time around. It's just gonna get bigger and better!

streetgourmetla said...

That's great, Woodstock! It's so true.

And, I got the last. na-na-na-na-NAAAAA-na!

streetgourmetla said...

Hey gastronomer, thanks fro showing people how to have a good time. I think there will be few problems getting vendors for the next one, they all did so good that day.

I believe you're right, there's going to be a sequel, bigger and better.

Hey, let's start a truck!

JDobbs said...

Sounds fantastic. On the other hand, as a paying customer who didn't get in 3 hours before doors opened I got a total of 3 items in the 5 hours I was in line for trucks and two of those orders were vastly different from my orders as vendors ran out of product with hours remaining in the event. Without severe restructuring I'm unlikely to return as is the rest of the group I attended with.

Ravenous Couple said...

we missed it since we had out of town guest and a tennis tourney, but from the looks of things great job on the recruitment.

Matt said...

Good job on covering the festival. My experience was a little different, and I didn't even notice some of the vendors you pointed out. It was just too crowded for me to stick around and explore everything. Maybe next year they'll make it a 2 or 3 day event!

kevinEats said...

Best coverage I've seen so far.
BTW, it's Sarah Gim. ;)

streetgourmetla said...

Hey JDobbs, I'm going to go with J GOld on this one. Either you're a festival guy or you aren't. We all choose what we are willing to tolerate in a given setting. I don't wait in lines for clubs, but would have no problems waiting at this festival.

Ravenous Couple, thanks, I'm sure there'll be another one.

Matt, hey man, crowds are good, it builds character. Great seeing you in the lonchera de Ludo.

Thanks KevinEats, and I've made the correction, glad you pointed it out.

g said...

We came to the festival to eat, but just driving past the site we continued on and did not stop. It was 11:15 or so and the lines were huge.

But we read blogs and even Jonathan Gold's complimentary review, and it's obvious that the idea is good, but the execution needs to be worked on. I say brava for the two producers, and hope that they can figure out the "sweet spot" for this event.

I do agree how important it is to include LA's traditional street food vendors - it's not all about culinary school grads with trendy offerings!

streetgourmetla said...

g, I think they will absolutely hit that sweet spot on the next festival, and thanks for your support of authentic street food.