Say Giada and people come running. Or at least walking very quickly. That was the lesson of Giada’s Festa Italiana, the first big event of the 2012 Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival. Even before the general admission gate was open, Giada’s booth commanded the biggest line and that continued all through the night as she posed for pictures with fan after fan after fan. The whole event had a Hollywood gleam to it, with camera crews following around various reality show cast members and enough neon to make Times Square jealous.
Standing in the shadow of Staples Center (home to the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and pretty much every stadium show to come to the West Coast), the Festa Italiana was just like your typical Italian street fair, except everything was much, much more LA. Instead of zeppole and calzones, there was caprese with burrata from Osteria Mozza’s Matt Molina and truffle pizza from 800 Degrees’ mobile Neopolitan pizza oven. Instead of old Italian godfathers patrolling their neighborhood, it was Wolfgang Puck helping LA Italian legend Gino Angelini plate his spinach lasagna while François Payard in a polo shirt and Nikes stood in line for a Stella. Napa’s Michael Chiarello had the bite of the night: crispy gnocchi with corn fonduta and tomato jam. It took a lot of willpower not to go back for seconds and thirds. We also spotted Spice Table chef Bryant Ng scouting out the space, where he will serve a skate wing sambal at night’s Asian night market.
After a few miscues last year, the LAFW team has stepped up their game and achieved that rare tone of calm excitement where there’s a palpable pulse in the air. The space was full but not packed and you never had to battle too many people to grab a glass of wine. Even the announcement of Dwight Howard becoming a Laker – immediately the biggest LA sports development in the past five years – had the crowd buzzing but not whooping it up.
The rest of the weekend is jam-packed with more food events, like today’s master lunch series (the Voltaggio brothers at ink.; Scott Conant teaming up with Chiarello at Scarpetta) followed by decadent dinners, huge tastings and cooking demonstrations (Andrew Zimmern, Richard Blais, Ming Tsai) taking place all over town.
We’ll be here taking it all in and Instagramming/Tweeting like the mad men that we are, so follow along and see what happens when Angelenos stop caring about their waistlines and tell their trainers to shove it for the next three days.
Additional reporting from Richard Martin and Matt Rodbard.