Sunday, April 06, 2014

Roy Choi Book-Signing

Kogi food truck

Not only is Roy Choi one of L.A.’s most celebrated chefs, he is also the father of the current food truck craze that began with his highly recognizable Kogi truck. Although originally focused on a blend of Mexican and Korean flavors that reflect his geographical and cultural upbringing, Choi’s palette now incorporates a broad mix of tastes—and all of them are good. He also owns several well-known brick-and-mortar restaurants in town, including Culver City’s A-Frame, which we love. Roy had a book-signing event at the Williams Sonoma store in Beverly Hills yesterday and we were there.

The BH Williams Sonoma is one of our best-kept secrets. Several times a month, they offer affordable weeknight cooking classes that I attend on occasion. These 2-to-3-hour classes are usually seasonal (e.g., how to make a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner or Easter brunch) and are always fun. Plus you get to eat what the chef has just demonstrated. The weekend classes tend to be free and only an hour long, so you can blow into Beverly Hills, watch a cooking demo (with usually the same small group of foodies), grab a quick snack, and be on your way, all without spending a dime. Unfortunately, we never leave Williams Sonoma without buying at least one or two things, but that’s another story altogether . . .

Williams Sonoma demonstration kitchen

The place was pretty much packed when we arrived yesterday. The Kogi truck was outside, but everyone was inside jostling for a good view of the demonstration kitchen. Two Williams Sonoma chefs were busily frying something in a pot of oil. In front of them were two platters piled high with what looked like brown balls of dough. Tim immediately tried one.

“They’re donuts covered in cinnamon and sugar,” he exclaimed after one bite, so I grabbed one. Very yummy. Tim saved us a good spot right next to the kitchen counter, while I ran our books up to the car. Roy Choi was standing by the Kogi truck, but no one bothered him.

Roy Choi and daughter making "ghetto donuts"

The event started at 1PM. Roy emerged with his young daughter and talked briefly about his early life in L.A. and how it eventually shaped his culinary philosophy. The donut recipe, which he demonstrated, was created during a period of addiction when he wanted fast food that was cheap as well as filling. The recipe is way simple: Pillsbury biscuits fried in Crisco and then covered with cinnamon, sugar and sesame seeds. Choi’s daughter helped make them. Shoppers could watch the demo for free, but you had to pay if you wanted a book (L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food) and specially-prepared lunch from the Kogi truck outside.

Waiting for tacos


As soon as Roy finished, we ran outside to the truck while everyone else got books signed. Tacos were the only thing on the menu—two per person. Tim got short rib and spicy pork; I got all chicken. Though small, they were scrumptious. We then went back inside and had a couple more donuts for dessert. And, oh yeah, bought an oil thermometer, so we could make our own “ghetto donuts.” Homemade donuts and ice cream, anyone?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Neil Young, Solo

A much younger Neil: "Harvest Moon" video

I’ve been a Neil Young fan since the 1970s, when he released After the Gold Rush and Harvest, widely considered two of the greatest rock albums of all time. Tim and I have seen him perform many, many times with and without bandmates from Crosby, Stills and Nash and Buffalo Springfield. On Saturday, we saw him play at the Dolby theatre, home to last month’s Academy Awards ceremony. The stage was much smaller in person than it was on TV. We had “house seats—5th-row center—the best seats we’ve ever had for a large venue concert.

Neil was performing solo, a repeat of the already legendary concert he did at Carnegie Hall in January, though he is notorious for never playing the exact same set twice. When we arrived, the stage was dark, but we could clearly see a chair surrounded by about 10 acoustic guitars. To the right was a white baby grand and to the left a standup player piano. Neil’s pump organ was in the back on a slightly raised platform. A small spotlight shined on Woody, an old-time cigar-store Indian, who I believe has been part of every Neil Young concert we’ve ever seen.

Neil was amazing. Wearing an old black hat and rumpled clothes, he quietly walked on stage, picked up a guitar and started to sing. Known primarily for his poundingly loud electric guitar riffs, this performance was so restrained and intimate that I felt like we were inside a tiny coffeehouse with 3300 other fans. Between songs, Neil rambled around the stage, as if deciding which song to play next. He sang many of his hits—including my favorite love song, “Harvest Moon—but seemed to focus mostly on obscure material, like fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s “If I Could Read Your Mind,” a wonderful and sweet surprise.

Occasionally, Neil would slyly respond to the cacophony of yells from the audience. For the most part, though, he told brief stories either about songwriters he admires or his guitars—one that had belonged to Hank Williams and two that were gifts from Stephen Stills. At one point, he mentioned that “music used to mean something” and then immediately launched into “Ohio,” his heartbreaking anthem about the 1970 Kent State massacre—one of several songs that made me cry.


The concert ended almost as abruptly as it began. After a long and boisterous standing ovation, Neil returned to the stage for a much-too-short encore that concluded with everyone quietly singing along to “Long May You Run,” my other favorite Neil Young song about loss and moving on (more tears!). 

We love you, Neil, and always will . . .

Carnegie Hall encore

For more info about the concert, please read the excellent L.A. Times review here

Monday, March 17, 2014

Walt Disney Family Museum

The Museum, located in San Francisco's Presidio

Despite my love for all things Disney, I still hadn’t visited the Walt Disney Family Museum, though highly recommended by friends as well as other Disney fans. So I finally went this past weekend, while in San Francisco on other business.

Now I’m not one for what I call “the cult of Walt Disney,” but my friends were right: I had a wonderful time reading about his early life and listening to oral histories about the ups—and, interestingly—the many downs of his career. Arranged chronologically, the exhibits feature sketches, storyboards, film clips, sound recording technology, and fascinating historical context, along with “Family Story” transcripts of interviews with Walt’s daughter Diane and brother Roy. Everything is here: Walt’s early childhood drawings, his first Hollywood studio, Oswald the rabbit (who pre-dates Mickey), Steamboat Willie (Mickey’s first major cartoon), the Silly Symphonies, Disney's first full-length motion picture Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the brilliant but unpopular Fantasia, the little-known “good will” trip to South America in 1941, Smoke Tree Ranch, the real-life nature documentaries we watched when we were kids, the Mickey Mouse Club and The Wonderful World of Color, the 1964 World’s Fair (where Walt premiered audio-animatronics), and the beginnings of EPCOT. 

Sprinkled throughout were touching Disney family home movies, showing how much Walt loved his wife Lillian and two daughters. But the real highlight for me happened about three hours into my visit: 1955 and the opening of Disneyland. There, in a dark room, surrounded by copies of the original ride posters, is an enormous—and quite glorious—diorama of the park in all its various incarnations (see below). I would fly to San Francisco just to see it again and marvel at all the miniature representations of my favorite attractions.

Sadly, [spoiler alert!] Walt dies by the end of the exhibits, leaving behind a room filled with tributes and tearful depictions of a grieving Mickey. After spending almost five hours following the great man’s story, I didn’t have the heart to stop and read the eulogies, so instead ran for the exit before I started sobbing. Walt’s legacy obviously still lives on, but what a shame that he died so young (only 65 years old).

Here’s just a fraction of the fascinating artifacts I saw (click on images to enlarge):

 When Walt was a teenager, he drew
cartoons for his hometown newspaper in Kansas

Early self-promotion

Quote about his first real job

Early Mickey merchandise:
watches and clocks

And tricycles: Mickey's feet are the pedals
(I want one!)

Paints used to make color cartoons

Snow White, the first feature-length
cartoon—a major risk, but Walt
prevailed, permanently launching Disney
studios into animation history

Disneyland grand opening

 The fabulous Disneyland diorama

Matterhorn/submarines/Monsanto house of the Future

Tomorrowland detail

In addition to the museum, I also visited the annex, which was showing an exhibit on Mary Blair, the artist who famously designed the characters for and bright palette of the “It’s a Small World” attraction. Mary and her husband accompanied Walt on the 1941 South American tour, where she developed her flair for color. She also designed the concept art for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South, and Cinderella movies.

Post-South America

The view from the museum: Golden Gate Bridge

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Spring Training

It’s baseball spring training time again, so we got up early Tuesday morning and drove to Arizona to watch the Angels play. We spent three days in Tempe. The Angels weren't in top form yet—it isafter all, still very early in the season—but the weather was perfect and we had a great time. One of the highlights was getting to go upstairs at the stadium to briefly tour the broadcast booths. Always nice to have friends in high places!

Checking the sound in the remote broadcast booth

Tim and coworkers

Angels broadcast booth

Visitors TV broadcast booth: Dodgers announcer
Orel Hershiser (center)

Angels spring training home