The Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival by Jacob Shelton

Everyone in the pork tent is dressed to the nines, or rather, their version of being dressed to the nines. From my vantage point near a slowly revolving al pastor cyclone I try to count the number of salmon bow ties, tweed suit jackets, and cool linen suits topped off with tennis shoes, but it’s a futile endeavor. Everyone is whispering about Alton Brown’s egg tutorial that’s taking place later in the evening. “He’s coming,” they say. When I was given a free ticket to cover the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival I assumed it would be an easy in and out gig where I could cobble together a free dinner made up of slightly upscale street cart food, get drunk, and walk home, but instead I’m standing by a spinning tower of meat, and trying to find the clearest path to an exit. I’ll make something up once I get home. It’s not like I didn’t try to cover the festival. This just isn’t the place for me, and I’ve already used up my two drink tickets. None of the other writers covering the event seem to know where the gratis tent for journalists is hidden, and there are rumors floating around about someone from the LA Times being sent out on a stretcher after they were tasered within an inch of their life for bringing in a flask.


I duck through the back of the pork tent and into a row of tents where chefs are correctly pronouncing the names of Italian meats and cheeses. Men and women in white smocks are shouting things like “pro-shoot,” and “motz-sa-rell-la” while they curl their hands and kiss the air. Some attendees faint at the authenticity, others try to argue with the chefs but demure once the meat cleavers make an appearance. I cut through the crowd, someone hands me a plastic cup full of some kind of red wine, saying that it pairs well with the events to come. I drink it down quickly and nod. That’s when Mario Batali steps out from one of the tents. A hush falls over the crowd. We’re in the presence of a man who designed his own Crocs, the proper respect must be paid. Batali removes a scimitar from the waistband of his striped sweatpants and swings it with abandon. The swish that it makes in the air is of a frequency unknown to man; it sings like a satellite passing over Earth. As if it the sound has been calling out to them all their life a trio of well dressed men and women in their early 30s drop their iPhones mid-instagram and kneel before Batali. In five short movements he carves into their heads, slicing off their tender meat, and flinging it into the open mouths of the adoring crowd. Someone behind me murmurs that this is only a Hellish preamble to the performance of Alton Brown.


As onlookers continue to offer themselves up to Batali I follow a swarm of foodies twisting and weaving through the crowd. I no longer care if I find the exit, for as long as I live I’ll never escape the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival. The gang of foodies I’m following glom on to other attendees moving in the same direction; I no longer feel like I’m moving my feet. I float above the concrete covered in errant food wrappers and stained with what I hope is cabernet sauvignon. The crowd ends its exodus in front of a fifteen-foot high stage; flanked with lights, and steel beams, its floor painted with symbols from long ago. The audience raises their hands and begins to chant in a language that’s never been spoken aloud. Robe clad figures on the side of the stage begin to fry eggs in skillets of every make and model. They crack their eggs directly into the pans, someone puts their eggs in a microwave, the crowd grows louder, channeling a being from across time and space.


Alton Brown stands atop a stainless steel kitchen island with a built-in oven that’s been placed at the edge of the fifteen-foot high stage. He kicks the burners on as high as they’ll go, heating up a frying pan emblazoned with the initials “AB” and slick with butter. He howls into his headset microphone, “THAT’S NOT HOW YOU COOK EGGS, THIS. IS. HOW. YOU. COOK EEEEEEEEEGGS!” From a clear glass bowl hovering only a few inches above the pan he drops in a pair of eggs, freshly cracked by a 12 year old boy, pale and taut from his childhood spent studying under Brown in his Cutthroat Kitchen, the translucent globs crisp and fry until they’re the most perfect pair of over easy eggs I’ve ever seen in my life. “DO YOU WANT ‘EM?!” Brown screams into his microphone. “EGGS. EGGS. EGGS.” The crowd chants, working themselves into a fever. “EGGS. EGGS. EGGS.” The other chefs have begun to bang their boning knives against their marble cutting boards. A sommelier douses the crowd in a pinot grigio blend that wasn’t selling well. “EGGS. EGGS. EGGS.” The noise of the crowd has overtaken that of the PA system, their cries feedback in on themselves, the chant is never ending. “WELL YOU GOT ‘EM!” Brown throws over easy eggs from his frying pan into the crowd, the yolks smashing against his most admiring of fans. They use their tongues to lick themselves clean as the rest of the audience descends upon them, their mouths agape, crying for a taste of Alton Brown’s perfect over easy eggs.


The crowd folds in on itself. Foodies are crying for a taste of sweat from the Food TV God Emperor. A man wearing suspenders and a bowler hat has stolen Mario Batali’s scimitar, he swings it over his head before shoving it into his belly and carving himself from waist to neck. The foodies don’t think, they only react. They begin to feast on his entrails while discussing which brand of top shelf bourbon would pair well with their meal. Someone suggests a merlot and his eyes are gouged out before being shoved down his throat. I cut through a series of cheese tents, not even stopping for a sample of unpasteurized goat cheese from a farm in Northern California. I don’t feel free until the Walt Disney Center is firmly out of my peripheral vision, the baying of the foodies still ringing in my ears. I have escaped for tonight, but I will never leave the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival.