A Posh Past, An Uncertain Future | KCET
A Posh Past, An Uncertain Future
I celebrated my 21st birthday at Campanile. I'll never get over the white beans I had there, or that the waiter apologized profusely for the three grounds at the bottom of my coffee cup. He seemed sincerely embarrassed, but I couldn't have cared less about the barely imperfect cup of coffee. I was on cloud nine after the experience of my meal and generally excited that I was of legal age to order wine with dinner and go to 21 and over concerts. I did both that night (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Liars and John Spencer Blues Explosion at The Palace--now The Avalon).
To celebrate graduating from college, I had an amazing AMAZING meal at L'Orangerie. This was during the last year that Ludovic Lefebvre was the chef and it was an entirely magical night. I spent the first three years after college in a bit of a fog, but my memories of that night are crystal clear. There was an amuse bouche served inside an egg shell--I'd never seen composition like that, it was exciting. My protein came adorned with tiny balloons made from paper-thin slices of potato. A cookie plate served on a looooong tray came after the dessert (TWO desserts? Sign me up!). At one point I had just begun to stretch my arm down to pick up my bag, when suddenly, there was the waiter at my side holding the bag for me. He clearly had previous training as a ninja. All night the service was refined and genteel without being patronizing or intimidating. I was just a kid hungry to taste what the city had to offer and L'Orangerie made me feel like I could do exactly that.
Nowadays the closest I get to Ludo is reading reviews of his pop-up restaurants. Do I mind? Not really. Back when I used to do it, I loved blow-drying my hair and putting on make-up and heels. I loved being seated on lush leather and peering at the plates placed in front of me trying to enjoy ever single aspect of what I was about to eat. I love the restaurant experience just like I love staying in hotels. But I wouldn't want to live in a hotel and the truth is I can't afford to eat like I used to. I didn't bankroll those past culinary adventures and if I was paying, I'd sniff out a guy selling bacon-wrapped hotdogs and dine standing up in a parking lot (and I loved it). I was a tourist, is what I'm saying... a posh restaurant tourist.
I read about other food writers' experiences eating out in LA and sometimes feel a twinge of longing. If someone offered to take me to one of a number of restaurants I've read about, I wouldn't say no. But one of the great charms of this city is how well you can eat on a public radio salary. I drove to Torrance a year or so ago for ramen. The restaurant was inside a small mall and it all felt delightfully exotic. I slurped up my ramen and bought some weird candies and what turned out to be pickled plums from an adjacent market. I realized we were near Pâtisserie Chantilly, a cream puff place my old pastry chef highly recommended. Once, she actually brought a Chantilly cream puff to me at work. I so wanted to enjoy its entire essence that I exercised an amazing amount of restraint and didn't shove it immediately into my mouth. I actually put it aside and took it home with me at the end of the day. My plan was to take a shower, put on clothes that weren't covered with flour and settle in to relish my cream puff. Tragically, MY ROOMMATE ATE IT while I was in the shower. Don't worry, I don't talk to that roommate anymore and my pastry chef taught me several Japanese curses for people who eat your food. Anyway, I was understandably excited to be within nomming distance of Chantilly. And I did go there and their pastries were stellar and as I was about to leave, my old pastry chef walked in. It was kismet. I bet the entire trip with food, gas, weird candies, etc cost one eighth of what my meal at L'Orangerie did and who's to say which was the better experience. I think they tie.
Another experience that has replaced fancy dining for me is THE HOLLYWOOD FARMERS' MARKET. The energy I use to channel into reading up on restaurants and making lists of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to order is now channeled into reading about what's in season and making lists of vendors I want to try and produce I want to look out for. At the market, I can buy the same produce that graces the tables of the posh restaurants I used to frequent. There's a lovely kind of symmetry to that.
The future of the market, and the reason for its potential displacement are still murky as I write this. I went last week and as I walked down the street, glancing from stall to stall, looking at the people there, I said (out loud), "if someone really knew what this was about, why would they ever threaten it?" I made the mistake of reading comments on an article about the market and many of the more infuriating ones fell into the "go to a grocery store, hippie" camp. As I said in my email to Councilman Eric Garcetti, the Hollywood Farmers' Market is not just for hippies, foodies and yuppies. It's for people who want to eat good stuff seasonally and who want to support the endangered species that is the small local farm.
Actually, with the success of farmers' markets and the locavore movement, maybe small local farms can be moved from the endangered list to the "threatened species" list, but that tide could easily turn. The farmers' market is not just about what we get out of it as consumers, it's also very much about the lifestyle we make possible by voting with our dollars for the sustainability of local farmers. And California is a big place, so "local" is a somewhat relative term.
Sure, the market could be a lot of things. It could be rejiggered or moved and maybe not lose anything (big maybe). It could be for another corner of Hollywood the force for revitalization that it has been in its current location. But I absolutely believe that what the market really is is a catalyst for a better life. I don't know any of my neighbors, but I see the same people at the market each week and someday I may even strike up a conversation with one of them. Maybe I am a bit of a hippie, a bit of a foodie and a bit of a yuppie. But in a lot of ways, I'm still just that kid hungry to taste what this city has to offer and I've thrown over L'Orangerie for my weekly trips to the market. I honestly don't know what I would do without the Hollywood Farmers' Market. I realize that sounds melodramatic, but it's true. And it scares me that I don't know what is going to happen to something I love so much.