Taste Talks & #LAFoodCulture With Smart Mouth Podcast Host Katherine Spiers

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Los Angeles is a hotbed for both foodies and restaurateurs of all kinds due to its sunny location, innovation and diverse collection of transplants from all over the world. Not a day goes by where food lovers don’t have an incredible new food truck to track down or a tasty event to attend to try new cuisines and meet great people.

One of the best festivals you can go to as a foodie is certainly Taste Talks, which takes place one weekend a year in Brooklyn, Chicago and LA. Part TED Talk and part food indulgence, Taste Talks also took over Miami in 2017 for the first time ever! It’s a wonderful festival that perfectly melds food and culture with forward-thinking conversation and exciting parties. There’s something for everybody, whether you prefer food and drink tastings or intimate dinners.

Food Tribe had the privilege of attending this year, where we were fortunate enough to meet up with Katherine Spiers, Food Editor with LA Weekly and host of the always entertaining Smart Mouth podcast. She had the honor of being a moderator on the hospitality panel at Taste Talks.

The event was a profound success filled with great food and valuable insight...but only after overcoming some early adversity!

“They had a huge hiccup behind the scenes and they actually had to change the venue about 8 hours before the event started, but they did absolutely the best they could!” said Spiers.

As for the food?

Bone Kettle was my favorite. They have these little skewers with a sort of sauerkraut on them. Food festival food can sometimes be a little iffy but they did a great job with it.”

Bone Kettle is one of the bright spots in Old Town Pasadena. Owned by Chef Erwin Tjahyadi, Bone Kettle provides the best family-style Indonesian-influenced dishes that the LA area has to offer, highlighted by unique seasonal small plates and slow-cooked bone broth.

Courtesy: Taste Talks LA

Courtesy: Taste Talks LA

One hot topic of conversation among the panels was that of restaurant reviews, a topic that Food Tribe knows plenty about. Attendees learned how to respond to bad Yelp reviews, how to serve guests properly and different secrets regarding taking notes on restaurant guests themselves.

“I liked hearing that guests are reviewed as well. If you come in every week and you prefer something as innocuous as Diet Coke and vodka, they are going to make a note of it in their system.”

Spiers noted how rare it is to hear about issues such as customer difficulty from a consumer point of view. It’s something we need to think about next time we go to a restaurant and make outlandish demands for our orders, which is frowned upon at many upscale restaurants (although renown celebrity chef and hopeful future Smart Mouth guest Tom Colicchio says otherwise!)

Festivals such as Taste Talks are one of many reasons why Los Angeles and its innovative, thriving food scene are at the forefront of a culinary revolution.

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“Angelinos have a really adventurous spirit. It’s just somehow gotten ingrained in the culture that it’s really cool to experience new things and try new things out.”

It wasn’t long ago when people would get made fun of for eating vegan food, acai smoothies or poke bowls. These foods seemingly became cool overnight and exemplify LA’s aspire to shake up the status quo.

Spiers spoke passionately about another major issue plaguing the restaurant industry - poor wages. Hunting for cheap eats might be beneficial to the wallet, but rarely does it satisfy your taste buds, your health or your craving. Diep Tran is the owner and chef of the spectacular Vietnamese restaurant Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park, and she is doing her part to challenge the food industry to address one of its biggest problems.

“She is very public about a living wage in the restaurant industry and how hard it is to attain that. She is being so transparent about how difficult the restaurant industry is and why we shouldn’t be looking to have cheap food, because when you’re looking for cheap food you need to be aware that it’s either bad ingredients or someone isn’t being paid well to bring you that cheap food.”

Angelinos have a really adventurous spirit. It’s just somehow gotten ingrained in the culture that it’s really cool to experience new things and try new things out.

We often get so fixated on making sure every mouth gets fed that it’s easy to forget about those who do the feeding. There are too many restaurant workers struggling financially who put other people’s appetites well before their own, and the generosity of those chefs, waiters and bartenders cannot be forgotten.

You know we had to dive deep for some foodie-to-foodie recommendations, so we had to ask Katherine what was the best thing she had eaten in the past month.

The only problem is we’ll all have to hop across the pond to get it...but it sounds like it might be worth it.

“I was in Berlin, and I went to a restaurant called Happies that just sells dumplings. The dough, and the shape and the size are more Chinese like hum bao, but the fillings are more European style. One had pesto, another was walnuts, goat cheese and dried cranberries and it’s all made in-house by one woman. It was such perfect comfort food!”

Major #FoodPorn alert.

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In response to one of our favorite questions, for Katherine’s theoretical last meal on Earth, she aimed high...because why not?

“The mashed potatoes that my mom makes, but everything else might be Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton’s cooking. I want pasta from Mario Batali’s kitchen, I want pizza from Nancy Silverton and I also want her butterscotch budino. As long as it’s cooked by my mom, Mario Batali or Nancy Silverton I’m good!”
We had a blast speaking with Katherine Spiers, and couldn’t urge you enough to check out her Smart Mouth podcast which features all your favorite people and their favorite food. You can find all her work at LA Weekly, and she would also be a welcome addition to your Twitter timeline.

Justin Hussong