Monday, December 31, 2012

Foodscaping in LA

A day filled with food, architecture, design and art make for a complete and soul satisfying day for me.  Had I had any idea all of this could be accomplished in L.A, I would have sought it our earlier.  I had no idea there was neighborhood gentrification going on just east of downtown L.A.  I had no idea my city had developed an Arts District in that neighborhood.  I had no idea this gentrified warehouse district, now known as the Arts District is the home of many new and old food based businesses. 

Biscuit Company Lofts, formerly The National Biscuit Company West Coast Headquarters
Then again, when you live in Los Angeles, one tends to stick within their 5 mile radius to avoid traffic. What a shame.

Burning off the last couple of vacation days of 2012, John and I opted for a staycation.  What to do so it feels like we actually took a vacation?  We took a chance on a random email invite from the Foodprint Project to take a foodscape mapping walk of downtown LA's new and old food related businesses.  What is the Foodprint Project you ask? 
Foodprint Project is an exploration of the ways food and cities give shape to one another. Founded by Nicola Twilley and Sarah Rich, the project is punctuated by a series of events in physical space.
We've done walking tours of other cities.  Why not do one our own town?   Even more intriguing, we could participate in mapping what we're seeing in real time with our cell phones.  How hipsterish!

This BID (Building Improvement District), aka Warehouse/Arts District has really been in transition for  decades.  What started out as citrus groves in the late 1800's, turning into rail yards for centralized warehouse goods distribution to abandoned old-school industrial spaces is now a burgeoning, thriving hub of artistic green living.

Old Rail Spur Turned to Strolling and Dining Charm
The zoning, existing building stock and the neighborhood had the right combination to encourage this urban center to become home to artists' live/work studios.

Food artisans naturally are attracted to the same environs creating a new wave of creative food-based businesses.

Remember our food mapping project?  Over 50 people participated on the walk.  For those who wanted to participate, we live texted pictures to a central website of what we were seeing along the way.  At the end of our journey we would be able to see our collective pictures documenting our experience.

Let's get started.  Our first stop, a caffeine artisan.  Handsome Coffee Roasters goals include being hospitable, accessible and giving uncompromising quality. Roasted on site, co-owner Tyler Wells graciously opened up their workroom to show off their antique beauty of a roaster to us. 

A coffee tidbit according to Tyler, you shouldn't have to doctor up coffee (i.e. sugar, cream, etc) to make it taste palatable. A good cup of coffee means the roasted beans haven't been burnt. You know who he's talking about if you've been to any top visited coffee chain.

Along the way to our next destination, the friendly neighborhood greeter...

A work in progress, the couple behind The Spirit Guild describe their vision of making craft liquor from California's own abundant source of sugar, fruit.  Standing in front of their newly acquired workspace, their description neatly fits the definition of the farm to table movement.  Their distillery is slated to open in 2013.  Yes, they will have a tasting room, pending permitting of course.

Site of the Future Spirit Guild

As in any gentrifying urban neighborhood can attest to,  groceries can be hard to come by.  Even though the district's residential population is growing leaps and bounds, there is no grocery store; a food desert.  For now, most residents are making weekly treks to Pasadena 12 miles away.  That will soon change.

Mural by Street Artist, Peter Roa

Local Arts District residents Keri Aivazis and Carolyn Paxton have made the steep investment of retrofitting the old warehouse above into a future food market.  The ginormous chipmunk mural painted as a Los Angeles Freewalls Project will be retained.   It will be known as the Urban Radish where most items will be locally sourced and finely curated.  Knowing their typical consumer, it will have a full range of pricing and small packaging for living in a small urban kitchen.

A Sneak Peek at the Plans

Metal Shed to Retrofitted Building Housing a Grocery Store
Not all food artisans are requiring a store front.  Instead of eating Fruit Loops, why not have your healthy cereal accompanied by Cow Wow organic milk tasting like Fruit Loops.  Best way to get the word out at the moment, be a street vendor.

Our food culture requires mass food warehousing before final distribution.  Imagine trying to feed over 12 million people in the LA metro area and beyond.  We visited one such cold storage business.

Up & Coming Chefs Ask this Warehouse for the Next Hot Item, Edible Herb Crystals

The end of our tour led us to the latest entree to the District, Beastia.  Less than 2 months old, head chef Ori Menashe makes everything from scratch including curing his own meats.  If only I could share with you the tremendous smells emanating from this restaurant. 

After our adventurous walk we ended at Villain's Tavern for happy hour, where we viewed (and you can too) our collective mapping activity led by civic media and gaming researcher, Benjamin Stokes.  Seeing what we had just witnessed through other people's lenses made the journey all the more interesting.

Once again life proves taking a chance on doing something out of the ordinary can deliver its greatest rewards.  That very statement has given me a moment of clarity and an idea about the future of this blog.   Stay tuned .....

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

26 Acts of Food Related Kindness

I've been struggling to write anything meaningful in this last week.  Like everyone else in the country, the events of Sandy Hook never stray far from my thoughts.  Writing about food right now seems a bit trivial, that is until today.

Have you heard about Ann Curry's 26 Acts of Kindness?  It started after she reflected on having to cover the atrocity for NBC News.  Replacing her feelings of being frightened, angry and helpless she tweeted:

What a gift she gave us to suggest we can create a new paradigm.  I'm in.  And so are many others.  Spying my twitter feed, here are 26 examples of food related acts of kindness since food and life lessons are what I write about.  This is not to the exclusion of the masses of other good deeds which have gone on in the past week.    I'm really hoping this is the tipping point.

Jeff Simmons@JeffSimmons2050
Participating in ? RT this and we’ll donate $0.50 on your behalf to to help solve .

kellyn elizabeth@ms_mellyn
Picked up the person's tab behind me at McDonald's. Act number 1/26

3 Paid for elderly couples meal at restaurant. Best part, when waiter said, “oh somebody just did this!” It’s spreading!
Lindsay George@lindsaymgeorge
I was the recipient of this was taped on the wall @ the Nashville airport! Excited 2 pay it forward!
I tried to impress this in my HS student. Go up to the quiet kid at lunch. Be the loners lab partner. Offer a kind word.
Taylor Smith@ctaylor_smith
Got a giftcard at Taco Cabana after eating. Left it at the counter for the next family with a young child.
Lesley Young@lesleyryoung
I am a teacher in ct and I was the recipient of a today from one of my 7th graders
 Gigi Poveromo@gigipov
today I helped load food for backpack activity next wed. Backpacks stuffed w food for kids w no food at home. Act 15
Michelle T@mishl20901
Act 9 of 26 gift card so the Salvation Army volunteer can go have lunch in memory of Chase Kowalski 💚
Ruby Pratka@mllemarguerite
went around grocery store looking for owner of dropped pair of gloves. Found him.
Brendan Schaller@brendanschaller
A woman doing 26 Acts of Kindness today bought the next two orders. I've been giving out candy canes. The world isn't so bad sometimes.

Server at Franklin,TN Chop House gets a special Christmas tip.

In a season known for giving, it is hard to know an entire community is grieving. Let's lift them up and honor them.

2nite I paid 4 an elderly mans few groceries. He thanked me over & over, lives on Social security w/a very tight budget❤❤ 

, out to dinner tonight with the family, saw an elderly women eating alone. My 10 year old asked the waitress for her bill. Act#2 

4th Act in honor of Little Daniel. Kids Daniel, Gabby, Addy gv 26 cupcakes to firemen#26Acts

- gave hot baked chicken, Christmas cookies & $26 cash to couple living in car. Their surprise was my thanks!!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Another Iconic American Restaurant Goes Extinct

Our generation has sadly witnessed L.A.'s famous Brown Derby falling into disrepair to just this last week the closing of the 75 year old Stage Delicatessen in NYC.  Vanishing legends such as these strike a melancholy chord within me.

Vintage Postcard of L.A.'s Brown Derby.  Famous for inventing Cobb Salads

Circa 2011
With this latest closing, I oddly feel I've lost a piece of me. My first visit to this Deli was with my mom.  We were celebrating my high school graduation during my first trip to NYC.  I remember those glorious very crisp pickles and of course the massively stuffed sandwiches.  Just last year, I introduced this place to a friend who was for the first time enjoying the New York experience himself.

Does my sadness make me that person who reminisces for the way things used to be?   Alternatively, does this really speak to Michael Pollan's assessment that America's food heritage has been dwindling because of decades of food policies to stimulate business in under served areas resulting in loans to grow fast food franchises and supermarkets?

Imagine if Solvang lost this classic.  It's possible.  We were there in the last month and the place was less than half full.  What would a stop in Solvang be without Aebleskivers?

These noteworthy restaurants define what makes these locations special whether it is New York's large Jewish community, Solvang's Danish influence or P-Town's access to some of the finest Lobster around.

P-Town's Lobster Pot
I've been asked by those who haven't done much traveling why I like to travel so much.  My answer is I want to see how other people on this planet live.  Food is so much a part of that experience as it defines much of what culture is about.

Santa Fe has some of the most classic old school restaurants around.  Check out Tecolote Cafe.

Atole Pinon Pine Hotcakes....who else would make these?
Never more have I been enthused about the new farm to table restaurants, but I appreciate them because of these predecessors.  Sorry Red Lobster, you just can't compete with the Lobster Pot and Applebees you just don't make hotcakes the way Tecolote lovingly does.
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