Photos by Dan Steinberg/Invision for Los Angeles Times Food Bowl/AP Images
It wasn’t the latest, hot band at the Wiltern Theater last Sunday night, but it may as well have been. Lines formed around the block and eventually packed the house to see a “A Chef’s Fable”, the star studded panel discussion and screening of the film “Chef”.
Jonathan Gold, the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic moderated the talk, which kicked off the LA Food Bowl with a bang. The topic (not lost on Angelino’s): How the hottest chefs have grown to share the stage with Hollywood’s biggest stars. It featured Jon Favreau (actor, producer and director of “Chef”), Niki Nakayama (n/naka), Magnus Nilsson (Faviken), Roy Choi (Kogi BBQ/Chego) and David Gelb (director of “Chef’s Table” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”) along with surprise guest Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), who had just jumped off his flight from New York.
Amy Scattergood, editor of the Food section at the Los Angeles Times, came on stage to give a brief introduction, welcomed the crowd to the LA Food Bowl and also mentioned a surprise from Roy Choi. That definitely captured the crowd’s interest. She smirked as she slipped behind the curtain and within an instant there was a giant blast of sound and the rappers “Year of the OX” hit the stage for an opening performance. For anyone expecting an earnest panel discussion right off the bat, this might have been a bit jarring, but this food and chef loving crowd roared for more, building on the excitement of the evening. It was a gift from Roy Choi, after all.
After the music and crowd quieted down the first part of the panel discussion started. For Chefs Table fans this was Manna from heaven. Gold introduced David Gelb, the director and the crowd cheered. And then they cheered some more for Magnus Nilsson and Niki Nakayama, chefs whose stories were told on episodes of Chefs Table. The row directly in front of me, filled with young chefs, all stood up cheering and clapping, encouraging a mini standing ovation around them. And then out came Massimo Bottura, fresh off a flight from New York, and the crowd went even more crazy.
For those fans who saw the episodes it gave insight into what goes on behind the scenes – the long hours of filming in the midst of running a restaurant, the large crew who takes over small spaces and literally as Bottura put it “becomes part of the family”. Point of view, perspective and the telling of stories – what ultimately becomes part of the film and what stays behind on the cutting room floor.
And just as people were beginning to wonder what happened to Roy Choi and Jon Favreau, they showed up on stage with more roars from the crowd. And the conversation turned to what it was like to film the movie Chef – how Roy Choi demanded that Jon Favreau go to cooking school to learn the proper techniques and way of doing things. “I didn’t have the time to teach him” Choi admitted. How the crew of the film never ate better, including a roasted pig that was part of the film. And ultimately the friendship that came out of making the film. John admitted he misses cooking with Roy Choi all the time. So much so, they have a venture together that will be announced soon.
Gold was masterful at drawing everyone into the conversation – each with their own style of telling their stories and giving insight into their lives. By the end of the panel discussion, the differences were made clear. What it takes to make a documentary and what it takes to make a feature film – both with their challenges and ultimately their successes. He announced there would a break before the movie “Chef” started to give people a chance to order cocktails and eat from some of the food provided by Kogi BBQ, Guerrilla Tacos, Pasta Sisters and more. And a message that stuck with many, after a passionate commentary of what life is like being a chef and the many aspects and challenges, Bottura reminded the crowd amidst cheers and more fanfare. “Umm…leave a little room for poetry.”