Celebrating Food As Art

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Laguna Beach a la Carte: A Food & Wine Experience highlights the culinary side of the town’s art scene.

By Karlee Prazak

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Laguna is, historically, a vibrant arts community—but it’s often hard to pinpoint all the different types of art, to think outside of the canvas. This is where the third annual Laguna Beach a la Carte: A Food & Wine Experience, comes in, says event co-chair Heinz Hofmann.

“[The event] gives the city of Laguna an opportunity to display its culinary art as well as all the other art mediums that have been known to be part of Laguna for many, many years,” Heinz explains. “Oftentimes, we just forget that the culinary art is also an art.”

The four-day epicurean event, held March 7 – 10, features nearly a dozen official events full of foodie fun that ranges from chef demonstrations to events with prix fixe menus paired with internationally made winesto daily restaurant specials.

Hosted by the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau (LBVCB), Laguna Beach a la Carte exposes visitors to what residents have been experiencing for some time—“great beach front, great food, great wine,” LBVCB President and CEO Judy Bijlani says. What makes it unique and exciting for all is the commitment to sharing food and drink knowledge through winemaker and chef dinners, demonstrations and tastings.

“It’s all about education,” Judy says. “So, for example, you’ve got the person right from the winery there at the table with you and explaining how their wines are grown and what you can pair them with. It’s really a great opportunity to learn more about wine and food.”

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Last year, the capstone educational tasting experience as well as philanthropic event, Laguna Beach Uncorked!—An International Wine & Food Fest, saw more than 20 participating restaurants and 30 wineries organized by international affiliations.  The result was more than $20,000 in proceeds for donation to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), and Judy hopes this 2013 event will surpass, or at least match, last year’s. Held at the Festival of Arts grounds, Uncorked! opens March 9, with a morning wine seminar by Master Sommelier Michael Jordan. And for the first time, this year restaurants will turn in their menus prior to the event as to avoid an abundance of overlapping dishes.

ARMENTA-110823-0176The following day, Sustain Local Art & Cuisine—a partnership between Sawdust Art Festival and 370 Common owner Ryan Adams—will make its debut. This event features a three-course, sustainable meal created by Nirvana Grille owner and Executive Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales and served on dining sets handcrafted by Sawdust Art Festival artists.

Both events allow attendees to experience the festivals’ grounds and participating chefs in a new way, explains Karyn Philippsen, Laguna Beach a la Carte co-chair and chairman of the LBVCB. Karyn says Laguna Beach a la Carte as a whole encourages chefs to share their oftentimes sustainable manners with anything from cooking and shopping techniques to choices in dinnerware.

“This is all part of how we’re trying to understand the sustainability of food and wine [in our community],” Karyn says.

Bringing sustainability to the table along with great dishes is exactly what Craig Strong, executive chef of Studio at Montage Laguna Beach is planning for his March 10 event. He began planting spring-inspired veggies and edible flowers—like morel mushrooms, English peas and asparagus—in Studio’s own on-site sustainable garden in January to be ready for harvesting and serving in March.

“This is how I write my menus,” he explains. “It begins with what’s coming in season or what’s going to be growing in the garden.”

Much like Karyn, Craig says Laguna Beach a la Carte events are a unique, increasingly popular way for guests, both local and visiting, to experience restaurants. And in order for those visiting to enjoy more than just one day of events, the LBVCB put a special emphasis on teaming up with local hotels this year.

“Hotel bookings are our reason for being, so we hope to extend people’s stay who previously came for just one day [of a Laguna Beach la Carte],” says Ashley Johnson, marketing director at the LBVCB.

Hotel Laguna and Inn at Laguna Beach are two hotels that will both offer Laguna Beach a la Carte-inspired packages, which include tickets to Uncorked! and other events.

Heinz sums up the benefits of this event: “It is just a great opportunity for our community, our restaurant and hotel community, to reach out to our customers with a common goal of attracting people to the city of
Laguna, rather than just a particular restaurant.” LBM

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