31 Dec 2016 The Bitten LA Food Conversation made its West Coast debut

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 Mixwell truck greeted us as we arrived.
Photo by Nevin Kumar

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.

Breakfast prepared by Plant Food and Wine
Photo by Sara Guarnieri

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.

Dragonfruit.
Photo by Nevin Kumar

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.

Communal lunch table.
Photo by Sara Guarnieri

 

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!

Critter Bitters.
Photo by Nevin Kumar

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.

Jonathan Gold speaking.
Photo by Nevin Kumar

BittenLA is more than a lecture series. Like food, it is an experience. Maude Standish led her talk with “Every innovation is an answer to “what if?” and urged us to ask ourselves “What is my What If?” Naz asked herself this at some point when creating Bitten and not only did it succeed in NYC, and get invited to the White House, but now there will be a new tradition in LA to further bind our food community.

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Sara and The Somm

Sara Guarnieri is an actress by day, foodie by night. Originally an east coast girl from New York, she earned her BFA from Ohio University. Her love of food was inspired by her Italian upbringing which included love filled homemade meals and frequent (often unsolicited) cooking lessons. Nevin Kumar is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. He is a Military BRAT with a Fine Arts degree from The University of Maryland at College Park, and has a passion for history, food culture, and people. Together they started Sara and The Somm, an instagram devoted to highlighting the best of the culinary and beverage pairing world. They reside in Los Angeles, California.

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