Within minutes of parking atop Barnsdall Park, I encountered the boys of Mixwell craft soda, and their mind-blowing “reseal-able can” that holds carbonation for 48 hours and is a solution to the waste nightmare for bartenders. It had begun. A day packed with inspirational talks, shared innovations, and of course, food.
The creation of Naz Riahi, Bitten LA is a “TED talks” on food culture, technology and trends in LA, with a panel of pioneers passionately sharing their failures and success as they found their roles in our great food community. To share all that inspired me would take as long as the event lasted.
Here’s a list of 5 highlights of Bitten LA that will have me returning year after year:
1) The Food
Scott Winegard and his crew from Plant Food and Wine in Venice, showed up in full effect for this event providing healthy, organic plant based breakfast and lunch that I’m pretty sure is the reason the whole event ran smoothly. It’s always the quality of the fuel that matters and this is as good as it gets. I was a sucker for the agave candied pistachios in my morning cereal and even snuck some in to munch on during the lectures.
2) The Pioneering Speakers
Back to back inspirational talks began with Karen Caplan, CEO and president of Frieda’s Inc., who shared how her family was responsible for the Kiwi hitting our shelves in 1962, dragonfruit in 94′ and many others. Karen’s mom connected the farms to the retail world, one conversation at a time. Only sixty something fruits and vegetables existed in most stores and there were no stickers with codes at the time. Now there are over 600 varieties and the stickers were in part due to her family’s contribution.
Another inspiration was Ben Simon, Co-Founder of the Food Recovery Network, who was appalled by the waste at his university’s dining hall and decided to do something about it. He utilized the Good Samaritan act of 1996 to package up leftover food properly and donate it. There are now 60 establishments in 24 states including corporate campuses of Paypal, Adidas, Nordstrom and Starbucks. Last year FRN turned 388,840 pounds food into 300,000 meals for those in need. Around 40% of our nations food is wasted. 169,000 lbs. a day, and 1 in 6 go hungry.
3) A Focus on Community
Itay Zach and Hyejin Cho of Foodshop moved me with their talk on the “power of a shared meal” and how they’ve been holding a consistent, underground, multi-course dining event for all those interested in having fresh conversation with strangers over awesome food, “family style.” This talk was backed up by our lunch of sandwiches, salad and fresh guacamole being enjoyed on long communal tables, beautifully set under trees. Thanks again Plant Food and Wine.
4) Trends and Technology Talks
Freya Estreller, Co-Founder of Ludlows Cocktail Co. & Coolhaus blew my mind as she talked on Consumer Packaged Goods and how she got her famous, all natural, delicious ice cream sandwiches onto the shelves of Wholefoods and then decided to corner the adult, all natural, pre-packaged Jell-O shot market!
Julia Plevin and Luis Knops from Trouble Makers, Inc. introduced us to “Critter Bitter” bitters made with crickets for innovative mixologists interested in a natural nutty flavor. Cocktails are the MacGuffin to get folks interested in eating insects, a sustainable frontier waiting to be embraced in our culture!
We even got a bold new look at “The Science of Flavor and Ingredients” from Sean Raspet, Flavor artist that broke down food and flavors, molecularly, to dispel some myths on what is natural and artificial. He then challenged how much we really have even tasted when it comes to the possibilities and combinations in flavor that really exist! He now works with flavoring algae with hopes of developing the next big flavor like “Coca Cola.”
5) Personal Stories
Top Chef alum and owner of Leona in Venice, Nyesha Arrington, was a delight to hear speak. I’m a fan and loved hearing one of her first food memory’s being a banana flavored Now and Later.
Jonathan Gold admitted to forgetting his notes after having a “Hollywood” meeting that left him a bit out of it. He than managed of course to enthrall us with his stroll through the streets of L.A. from the first Haas avocado tree in the US, found in watts, to a provocative reading on a multi course spam infused meal that pretty much summed up our town’s fusion food scene.