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Share Our Strength Fights Childhood Hunger at Taste of Nation

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Taste of the Nation logo

Seventeen million children in the U.S. went to bed hungry last night! One in four kids can't count on getting enough nutritious food to grow and thrive, and now with summer upon us it means that school is out and they don't even get school meals. That astonishing fact was the impetus for this weekend's Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation benefit held in Culver City, which saw scores of L.A.'s top restaurants participating in a wonderful food-and-wine tasting event for about 1,500 people. And which is why I bought a ticket (yes, I did!) to share the excitement of this feeding frenzy with my Huffington readers.

Chef Sara Johannes of WP 24

Chef Sara Johannes of WP 24 serves me delicious dim sum.

Co-chair Michael Weisberg told me that last year well over 400,000 children living in Los Angeles received some kind of meal assistance from regional food banks, and Taste of the Nation here has raised over $1.5 million toward ending childhood hunger in the U.S. by 2015. I must applaud all of the amazing chefs and restaurants, wineries, bars and breweries who participated in the fabulous Sunday event, as well as the national sponsors (American Express, Sysco, Food Network, Brown-Forman and Pellegrino) who contribute to the effort. I arrived there early so I could photograph much of it, and I marveled at the work and expense it takes for a chef/restaurant to set up a booth and feed the hundreds of eager celebrants.

Judging chefs cookoff

Jonathan Gold. Mary Sue Milliken, and Kathy Griffith judge an amateur cooking competition.

A fun event was the Creekstone Farms Chef Showdown, where we watched two amateur chefs go head-to-head in a cookoff using the sponsor's premium homegrown beef, with judges Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill), Jonathan Gold (LA Weekly) and comedienne Kathy Griffith judging the results. I was amused by the antics of Randy and Jason Sklar in emceeing this fun event.

Chf JoeMiller withis Paella

Chef Joe Miller of Joe's with a wonderful paella; it was one of my favorite dishes.

Here are my rambling recollections about the food and drink which was served. One of my favorite bites were the dim sum prepared by Chef Sara Johannes of WP 24, Wolfgang Puck's stunning Chinese restaurant atop the downtown Ritz-Carleton. Sara had just returned last night from Shanghai, where she was preparing to open another Puck restaurant. She served a Chow Fueng Spring Roll, with a soft rice paper wrapper enclosing slivers of braised beef short rib, and -- when her steamer finally got working -- a spicy Alaskan King Crab Crystal
Chive Dumpling.

Jazz of Jitlada

Jazz of Thai restaurant Jitlada dishes out her spicy pork belly and green beans, with rice.

Ray's & Stark Bar Chef Kris Morningstar, still kvelling over the rave review this week from Ms. Irene at the L.A Times, knew of my love for his dish of beef tendon, and prepared a few servings of it. Joe Miller of Joe's Restaurant and Bar Pintxo, prepared a huge pan of paella with chorizo (sausage), mussels and chicken mixed with a savory saffron rice. Campanile's Chef Mark Peel actually served hundreds upon hundreds of olive oil fried eggs on grilled bread with black olive tapenade and tomato concasse, an enormous task and so delicious. Chef Victor Casanova of the Four Season's Culina dished up hundreds of tiny lamb chops, grilled perfectly. I teased Santa Monica Farmshop chef Jeffrey Cerciello (whom I had not previously met) about his serving house-made pastrami sandwiches with green tomato ketchup on rye brioche, blithely throwing out the name of the legendary Langer's, but actually the pastrami was quite good and I recanted. Miss Jazz from the famed Hollywood Thai restaurant, Jitlada, warned everyone that her Crying Tiger Pork Belly and Green Beans was spicy, but no one seemed to mind the heat when the flavor exploded upon your tongue. I shared a moment enjoying this dish with Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold, who told me he was leaving the next day for a week of eating in Spain, ending with a dinner at El Bulli, which is about to close. I envy him this.

So much more food to report... The new kosher restaurant, La Seine, on La Cienega, where Chef Alex Reznikis is dishing out delectable dollops; here he served some enticing jalapeño-stimulated yellowtail, albacore and salmon morsels, as well as a square of braised short rib, while the yamulke-wearing owner proudly oversaw the servings. Must try this restaurant soon. I had never heard of the Lexington Social House, but after tasting Chef Mette William's wonderful fried chicken and cornbread, with braised kale and rhubarb-filled donuts, I knew that I would be darkening their Hollywood and Vine St. door shortly. Jimmy Shaw's Loteria Grill, in the Farmer's Market and now in Hollywood, was busy serving up some stunning Mexican offerings: chicken mole topped with toasted sesame seeds, cochinita pibal -- pork slowly braised in banana leaf -- and I actually began my culinary journey this day with a lingua (tongue) taco they made for me before officially opening. The Foundry's Eric Greenspan has made a career of serving grilled cheese sandwiches at these events, and he didn't fail me here. Embraced Chef Kerry Simon, who had flown in this morning from Las Vegas to assist at his SimonLA booth with Marius Blin. Visited with Chef Laurent Quenioux, now cooking downtown at Starry Kitchen after closing his BistroLQ. Other delights: Mary Sue Milliken's fritters of crab-and-quinoa, City Tavern's spicy meatballs, Craft's carnaroli rice pudding with apricots and pistachios, Fig's Ray Garcia serving torta de lengua, GO Burger's lamb burger with minted goat cheese; Hatfield's served Spanish octopus salad and Tres Leche cake. I ran into Chef Walter Manske, now doing some duty at Le Saint Amour in Culver City, which served torta de lengua also. Mozza's Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina with BBQ'ed Creekstone Farms short ribs, and Peruvian Chef Ricardo Zarate of the upcoming Picca telling me that he hopes to open on Pico in the next week or two. Bill Chait was overseeing their Short Order booth, explaining Nancy Silverton and Amy Pessman would open in the Farmer's Market hopefully in late summer as he served me a sloppy bolognese slider. The delightful Kajsa Alger, partnered with Susan Feniger in Street, made me their signature Kaya Toast, toasted bread spread thick with coconut jam, served with a soft fried egg drizzled in dark soy and white pepper. Exquisite. And Chef Tony DiSalvo, new at Whist, was dishing out his fourth-generation recipe meatballs, made with pork, veal, prosciutto and pancetta.

Master Chocolatiers Jacques and Hasty Torres

Master chocolatiers Jacques and Hasty Torres dished out sweet truffles all afternoon.

My sweet tooth was satiated by the end of the afternoon. I zeroed in on the gorgeous Hasty Torres at her Madame Chocolat booth, and discussed her Canon Drive store in Beverly Hills with husband Jacques Torres, the legendary chocolatier from New York, here to assist. Candace Nelson served up Sprinkles cupcakes in abundance. Matthew Kang and Tai Kim fed me salty chocolate ice cream from their Overland Avenue Scoop store. Top Chef star and ink Chef Michael Voltaggio wielded a liquid nitrogen mixing machine to make bacon and olive oil ice creams served in micro-cones.

Top Chef Michael Voltagggio makes ice cream

Top Chef Michael Voltaggio makes ice cream with a liquid nitrogen machine.

I don't like to drink too much at these food events, but I could not resist Josh Goldman's Pimm's Cup from ink Restaurant, made with gin, sweet vermouth, Triple Sec, orange bitters and Peychaud's bitters; he combined it with fresh lemonade and garnished it with cucumber, mnt, borage, freeze-dried apples and strawberries.

I again must pay tribute to the hundreds of chefs and others, as well as all the volunteers, who make this event an annual winner... and hopefully a day will come when no children will go hungry in our country and this event will not be a necessity. Until then, support it mightily.

To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues), email him at jayweston@sbcglobal.net.