Follow Me To The Deep End!!

May 31, 2014

Willy Wonka & the Chicken Factory. Introducing ChocoChicken. Could This Be the Next Food Frenzy?

chocochicken drumet
ChocoChicken "drum-et." Such a choco tease.

According to Sean Robins, a Hollywood producer and guy who ate at every restaurant in the Los Angeles Zagat guide, the inspiration for chocolate fried chicken came to him when he pondered chicken mole. Really, it was deciding between eating chicken mole or fried chicken. Then, like many an idea is hatched, he mixed the two in his head, and thus ChocoChicken was conceived. (Which makes sense since "mole" is derived from the Nahuatl word for mix.)

Robins immediately contacted his food expert buddy Keith Previte. A ChocoChicken prototype was concocted, then brought to Adam Fleischman (Umami Burger, 800 Degrees) and Lee Weinberg of AdVantage Restaurant Partners. Fleischman helped tweak the recipe until the results were to their liking, however the tweaking continues at these early stages, according to Fleischman.

chocochicken platter
Step aside, Roscoe's. Finally, really great fried chicken in L.A.

ChocoChicken is certainly not a fried chicken that is slapped together. The raw ingredient chicken itself is a premium Jidori that is free range and organic, also never frozen. The freshly dispatched fowl is locally sourced near Downtown Los Angeles.

Upon receiving the chicken, a 36 hour brine in secret ChocoChicken ingredients takes place. The meat is then coated with a cocoa batter that includes spicy and savory seasonings. The boneless breast and thigh go on the ChocoChicken platter. The ChocoChicken drum-ets are bone-in.

ChocoChicken has been pre-hyped since January for a multi-month build-up of anticipation. It's finally here. As an ambassador and embracer of the odd edible, I was immediately attracted to the idea of ChocoChicken. But as the months passed, a bit of skepticism and food mash-up weariness developed. However, I still hoped for the best while maintaining some reservation.

chocochicken platter 2
Chicken and chocolate, everything old is new again.

Well, I've tasted ChocoChicken and am truly happy to report that Willy Wonka and Colonel Sanders themselves would be proud and quite envious of the result. The all-critical crust was satisfyingly crispy yet sturdy, staying intact with each bite. The texture of the deep mocha-brown crust was as pleasurable as fried chicken crust can get. Flavor-wise, a tricky balancing act of cocoa-sweet, spicy, and savory converged to create a sapor symphony that was both fun and logical with a suggestion of maple syrup. Not one flavor component overwhelmed or took center stage, they all delicately harmonized in a way I had hoped. (Read: not too sweet!) The taste precisely met how I imagined ChocoChicken would be like.

But the element that really shattered my expectations was the moistness of the chicken. Biting into the breast, I saw liquid eek out of the white flesh like tears—this is chicken so juicy, it'll make you cry or slap yo' mama and make her cry. Fried chicken in L.A. has been a sad state of affairs for too long (with the exception of a few places like Plan Check), ChocoChicken possesses that out-of-the-chicken-box creativity, quality, and craziness that can propel it to food superstardom much like the Cronut and even staying power of classic fish n' chips.

chocochicken duck fat fries
There's duck at ChocoChicken too! Duck fat fries with Choco Ketchup.

The sauce options available for ChocoChicken were as interesting as the chicken: ChocoKetchup, Bee Sting, and Miso Ranch. I much preferred the ChocoKetchup which initially greets the tongue as chocolate syrup then immediately follows with a ketchup finish. This sauce was ideal with the chicken and also great with the duck fat fries. The other well-paired sauce was the Bee Sting, essentially a habanero pepper-infused honey by Gindo's Spice of Life artisanal hot sauce—definitely sweet as honey but stung like a bee.

chocochicken smores
More chocolate! S'mores slash whoopie pie.

Other items like the white chocolate mashed potatoes and Electric Chocolate S'mores, a version of whoopie pie, were intriguing but didn't quite pay off like the chicken. Also, I enjoyed the cup of raw veggie sticks that included watermelon radish, jicama, celery, and others—really good dipped in the miso ranch.

There's a full bar too. The featured cocktail I had was very summery and refreshing. Of course, PBR is also an option.

ChocoChicken is located in Downtown L.A. but will be seeing quick expansion soon enough with a Santa Monica location coming.

I've been around long enough to see many food trends come and go. I'm not a betting man, but I'd make an exception for ChocoChicken. The ChocoChicken partners aggressively strove for that elusive "crack factor." Assuming that crack cocaine is not actually one of the ingredients, I think they achieved it. I, for one, am now a ChocoChicken junkie.

chocochicken formula

ChocoChicken
403 W. 12th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
213.403.1786
chocochicken.com

May 14, 2014

Deep End Decade: Chef the Movie Serves Up L.A.’s Food Journey in a Road Trip/Buddy Flick

chef lin favreau choi
Eddie Lin, Jon Favreau, and Roy Choi.

(WARNING: SPOILER ALERT)

In life, if you stick around long enough, you'll get to see the most unlikely things happen. And in L.A.’s food scene, you'll see it occur more often than in other places. For example, you'll witness a celebrated, local food writer win the first and only (to date) Pulitzer Prize for food criticism. You'll see the rise and rise of a fine dining French chef turn the restaurant world on its ear by creating pop-up dinners, with feverish anticipation from fans rivaling that of rock concerts, while breaking the back of an online restaurant reservation system. You'll watch familiar L.A. chefs become familiar faces on television on a predictable basis, across all networks. Then, of course, you'll experience a humble, beat-up, borrowed taco truck spawn a food revolution and go on a journey that only the wildest dreamers could envision.

chef dga stage
Chef star & director Jon Favreau with co-producer Roy Choi on DGA stage.

Last week, while attending a screening of the film Chef directed by and starring Jon Favreau, at a theater located inside the Director’s Guild of America, I never felt so proud to be a food blogger from Los Angeles. Sure, the movie Chef was not perfect. (What movie, besides Blade Runner, is?) Laughably, there were outlandish versions of reality like AOL forking over (in Dr. Evil voice with pinky in mouth) $10 million for a food blog (not mine, that’s fer sure), and sending a tweet to invite L.A.’s top restaurant critic to come in to try a new menu at a moment’s notice and he actually showing up! Ridic.

But, I saw this movie beyond its plot. I decoded this film via the lens of my decade-long life as an L.A. food blogger and could see the characters behind the characters, the events that affected plot development, the real stories that flowed in the veins of the screen version.

No, this won’t be a film review—as much as I enjoyed the movie and, overall, felt it captured the local food world in the past few years quite nicely. Instead, I’m choosing to notice those aspects in L.A. food/restaurant life that has now become validated on the big screen and therefore become part of the fabric of the country and, to some extent, the world.

chef vince lin favreau
Vince, Eddie, and Jon plotting Swingers 2: Electric Gigolo! (I wish.)

When I started food blogging in 2004, L.A. wasn’t the world renown food city that it is today, far from it. Only last October, Ruth Reichl declared that “L.A. is the most important place to eat in America right now.” So, the City of Angels has seriously come a long way.

In the movie Chef, farm-to-table was gloriously represented with Carl Casper's (Favreau), the main character, visit to the Santa Monica Farmers Market. This is hands down the best farmers market in the country, and it deserved the featured spot it got in the picture. Now, if Laura Avery, the S.M. Farmers Market supervisor, made a cameo that would've been a pretty cool inside baseball appearance.

The Heavy: My theory is that the antagonist food blogger/restaurant critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) is, at least in part, based on Jonathan Gold. The giveaway for me was his glaring usage of a Jonathan Gold signature word cloying. Of course, Gold isn't the adversarial type in real life as was with the critic character in the film, but Gold did get a special thanks in the end credits. I wonder for what? Perhaps as a Twitter feud consultant.

Anyone who was around for the dawn of L.A.'s food truck revolution, or who has followed it, knows that the Kogi truck was the inspiration for this film. Roy Choi (co-founder of Kogi) is even a producer of Chef. There are subtle and obvious nods to Kogi's real life events and players in the movie.

For example, the boy in the film, Percy, played by Emjay Anthony, he's the social media wiz kid who helps his dad let everyone know where their El Jefe Cuban sandwich truck will be landing resulting in massive crowds where ever they go. Well, in the real world, this kid was actually Alice Shin of Kogi, who is the social media soul of Kogi running its Twitter, blog, Facebook, and anything else she can apply her unique voice, lending a solid personality to Kogi—always signing off with "Aliiiiiice."

As far as the actual truck is concerned, in the movie, a sleazy business man and Capser's ex-wife's ex-husband, amusingly embodied by Robert Downey Jr., hooks up Carl with a beat-up, grimy, old food truck complete with decomposing vermin. Carl, Percy, and his buddy Martin (John Leguizamo) do a total make-over on the rolling disaster, transforming it into a shiny, sparkling modern food truck with the de rigueur flashy logo emblazoned on all sides. This is similar to how Roy Choi and Mark Manguera (Kogi's other co-founder) acquired their initial truck. But the guy who was the liaison for this arrangement was none other than Jaleel White, most famous for his Steve Urkel character on the Family Matters sitcom.

chef kogi truck
Life imitating art imitating life. Food trucks after the screening.

Goosebumps peppered my arms when one of the big scenes of Abbot Kinney's First Friday filled the screen. A breathtaking crane shot down Abbot Kinney, revealed an all-star cast of L.A. food trucks from Baby's Badass Burgers to Grilled Cheese Truck, with, needless to say, the OG Kogi BBQ truck taking center stage. In my personal Chef movie headspace, this moment in the film was a victorious culmination of the wild west, rebellious, risk-taking, Los Angeles, band-of-brothers-and-sisters spirit that flowed so thick you could pour it on french fries. This scene—no matter how sentimental or precisely because it was sentimental—made me love my town and what I do like never before.

In the film, Favreau's character emphasizes the importance and power of food bloggers in L.A. I felt this part was glamorized out of proportion, but I do understand that many high profile food bloggers, myself included, do wield a certain amount of influence that may affect a business for good or ill. Ironically, Roy Choi and Mark Manguera regularly credit me with helping Kogi become what it is today, though I feel they give me too much credit. (Yes, that was what the kids today call a humble brag.)

chef cake
Favreau, co-star Emjay Anthony, and Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes having their cake and eating it too.

Hearing Favreau’s character give L.A. food bloggers a Hollywood shout out really meant a lot. From the handful of us in the primordial beginning to the massive, social media-driven family we have now become, boorishly hashtagging at the dinner table, this is the new reality. We are in the club, legitimized, and not just some curiosity like years before when old media wasn’t sure what to make of us so they patted us on the head and threw us a few bones.

The new reality is the director of Iron Man made a movie about us, all of us who love food in L.A.—the ones who make it, eat it, take pictures of it, promote it, write about it, live it, and risk it all.

However, Chef is also a road trip movie, but what the viewer should understand is that the "road" and the "trip" is really our collective journey in Los Angeles as passionate food lovers. It's about where we're from, where we are, and where we're headed. And, it’s not over. More tasty excitement is coming our way. There may or may not be a sequel to Chef, but there absolutely will be second helpings for us all. To borrow a quote from Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” Because that's when delicious things happen.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have another galbi taco.

Chef movie is currently playing in theaters.

May 6, 2014

Deep End Decade: The Definition of Crazy is to Eat What I Eat. The Flavor of Crazy. Your Newest Taste Sensation.


El Flavo Loco!!

Yes, absolutely, crazy is a flavor. Since umami has joined the ranks of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter as basic flavors, I'm adding a new one — crazy. Sure, you can use insane, loony, psycho, demented, or even, batty as alternates, but just know that crazy is now a flavor.

All I'm saying is that after 10 whole years of blogging about crazy food, I've developed a taste for crazy flavors. Pedestrian type flavors, like mac n' cheese, spaghetti and meat sauce, orange chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, pork dumplings, and so on, don't do it for me anymore. I suppose it's normal. Adrenaline junkies diving off skyscrapers with wingsuits probably used to simply hang glide for kicks. Now floating in the air by the power of a hang glider seems like standing still when once upon a time, it was a rush. I'd even include chili heads, those hooked on capsaicin in any and all forms, among the clan of crazy flavor lovers. It's the excitement, the high, the rousing.

You can say that I'm experiencing the same thing. From pigging out on pig brain when I was six to consuming human placenta about seven years ago, my food predilections have only become more extreme. I get bored. But not in the "Oh, yawn, chicken again" kind of way. It's deeper than that. Sometimes insanely deeper.

Once in a while I'll look at something and wonder what it tastes like. But that something isn't what normal, sane people would consider food or even edible. I look at strange bugs crawling in the dirt and wonder. An unidentified sea plant washes up on shore and the question of its flavor bounces around my skull. I ask myself if a car fire would make a good smoker for brisket. Occasionally, I ponder the excruciating sapor of Aboriginal Taiwanese maggot boar — its dangling, rotting wild carcass swelling with frenzied maggots as they cascade into a pot of roiling hot oil just below, concluding their brief existence as a nightmarish "popcorn." And sometimes after I've downed half a bottle of Scotch, I think about crazier things to devour. That's when I'm really beastly.

My gastronomic gamut sweeps wide. I suppose my preferences can span anywhere from Dominique Ansel's Cronut to human placenta tartare (grass fed, of course). I'll let your imagination take you where it will as far as guessing what those crazy things I crave might be. But for now, I really love the taste of crazy.

And the crazier, the tastier.