Artisanal LA was not just a demonstration of local and sustainable food businesses in Los Angeles. What unfolded was nothing short of a massive tea party — a celebration featuring unique story tales told over drinks, sweet munchies and crafts.
More than 75 local artisan vendors convened at the top floor of the Cooper Design Space in Downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 23 and 24. drawing continuous streams of curious and hungry Angelenos.
“Local” and “sustainable” are buzzwords tossed around in the world of food movements, but LA Street Food Festival co-founder and USC alumna Shawna Dawson launched the two-day event to bring these concepts closer to home.
Only a handful of the vendors at Artisanal LA were nationally known; the rest were smaller private businesses, catering mainly to local communities. The majority of them operate online, relying on word of mouth to promote their services and products.
The event benefited all parties: Vendors got some publicity, while attendees could freely browse, sample and shop from stall after stall of home-baked, hand-sewn and homebrewed edibles and collectibles. To top it all off, part of the $15 entry ticket went toward local charitable organizations.
Throughout the day, attendees could also participate in workshops and view demonstrations by various chefs and food connoisseurs.
The event was an intimate gathering that brought the Los Angeles community together to mingle, eat and celebrate a common passion and enthusiasm that marks each skill and experience — be it sewing cupcake-lined aprons, spicing up popcorn with Bhut Jolokia Ghost pepper or canning turkey-bacon jam.
Each vendor at Artisanal LA had an intimate history with cooking and a reason for getting into their craft.
The Welsh Baker’s Denise Carbone was born in the United Kingdom, and has fond memories of watching her mother cook round, flat cakes from an old family recipe. After moving to America in her 20s, she continued the tradition with her own family, but didn’t initially find the incentive to turn it into a business.
When Denise’s husband Joe lost his job in the recession, they decided to sell these traditional cakes together, coming up with a way to griddle the cakes in large batches and creating fun variations such as chocolate chip and pumpkin.
Yet another notable family enterprise is the Villebois Kitchen, a team consisting of a mother and two daughters, who served up traditional family recipes from Villebois, France, such as rich pork rillete pate, home-whipped specialty Port and Fig butter and several different savory tarts.
My Delight Cupcakery is another mother-daughter team founded by Melinda and Naomi Moreno, but they were represented by two employees who enthusiastically heaped praises on their employers for their wildly innovative creations, such as their breakfast cake, which is a buttermilk cupcake loaded with bacon bits, topped with a butter-maple frosting, and sprinkled with more bacon crumbles.
One employee said his birthday present from his boss Naomi was cupcakes inspired by his favorite liquor — a Jack Daniels cupcake, complete with whiskey-spiked frosting.
Meanwhile, Collisionware’s shy owner Angie Diersman works solo — a photo editor by day, brilliant kitchenware crafter by night.
She recalled forcing her family to “buy” the random scraps she sewed together as a child. But now, people are actually buying her artworks willingly. At the present she is operating part-time primarily through Etsy.com, but she says she hopes to be a full-time crafter one day.
Each stall seemed to present another story. Ococoa’s owner and chocolatier Diana Malouf, who’d always had a fascination with baking, fell in love with confectionery during college and then leapt into a daring enterprise despite not having had formal training. She mixes her Middle-Eastern heritage with her sweet confections, churning out distinctive flavors such as pistachio date and sesame fig.
Sweet Détente’s owner Robin Schwartz loves to travel — but for now, she jetsets vicariously through gastronomy by bringing sweet regional favorites from different countries in individually sized dessert bites including English bakewell tartlettes, mini French macarons and Lebanese ma’amoul.
It took five years of research, she said, and Schwartz plans to live and breathe sweet goods for as long as she can.
Meanwhile, Patricia Tsi, owner of Chocovino, did some traveling of her own. She kissed the corporate world goodbye and flew to Mexico to learn the most basic and ancient chocolate-making techniques used by the Mayans and Aztecs 2,000 years ago.
There is no tempering, couching or refining and no addition of artificial flavors or soy lecithin — just pure stone-ground cacao beans over lava stone to produce gritty, earthy dark chocolate. Truly as artisan as chocolate can get.
Artisanal LA is the first event to celebrate a modern local and sustainable movement, but it was still in every way old and timeless: making pure artisanal craft. Keeping traditions and cultures. Sharing good food and good stories.
In fact, the words “local” and “sustainable” were no longer just lofty, preachy terms that day. They came with a definite picture: the stories and faces of each individual vendor and shopper.