y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: August 2012

Leif Hedendal Underground Dinner at KTCHN 105

Back in April, somebody forwarded me a message about a secret Chef Leif Hedenddal dinner happening in L.A., with the location divulged upon rsvp confirmation.

I was not too familiar with the chef at the time, but the seafood and vegetable intensive menu definitely caught my eye.

The email contained a short bio from the chef. independent chef work in San Francisco, California. He cooked as Executive Chef in Barcelona, Copenhagen and interned at the infamous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. He promotes the Slow Food movement.

That gave me a good idea of style. I particularly love that he stated he specializes in weird vegetables. There is nothing I enjoy more than getting introduced to new foods and discovering items I've not yet tasted.

The location of KTCHN 105, a studio kitchen in Downtown L.A. that is dedicated to the appreciation of food. They do private tastings, cooking classes and private dinner parties. The location was in a building, recessed from the street. Since the neighborhood was quite empty, I thought I might have been in the wrong place. Rest assured, a few stylish people who looked like foodies started streaming in, so I followed the crowd.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_b1 check in

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_b2 check in

The simple check-in process consisted of paying for the dinner and desired gratuity in advance, as well as leave any bottles of wine.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_c1 table settings

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_c2 table settings

The table settings looked very organic and clean.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_d kitchen

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_e kitchen

Several chefs cooked and prepared foods in the open kitchen. Many of them were women, which I don't see often, but enjoyed.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_g front door outside

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_i outside lights

The dinner guests spent what felt like close to 45 minutes in the very green and beautiful courtyard outside have drinks and mingling. Although I met a friend for the dinner, we both spent a fair amount of time meeting new people.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_k live sea urchin battered artichoke yuzo kosho

Servers passed trays of the first course, an appetizer of live sea urchin, battered artichoke, yuzu kosho, all beautifully stacked together. I've tasted and adore sea urchin, but never tried it with artichoke. The yuzu kosho, a Japanese sauce with citrus zest, chili and salt added to the delicate flavors. Because we enjoyed it so much, they passed a few extra our way, even upon being seated.

From those I met, I gathered that many guests know the chef personally already. Being someone who attends a lot of events in town, I often run into some of the same foodie types at most outings. In this event, I didn't recognize anybody I already new.

I met a fair amount of designers - graphic designers, food stylists, photographers; types to whom I've always gravitated. A couple of people came from the east coast too. Because the tables consisted of two long rows, we did not get a chance to speak with as many people during the meal. However, we sat amidst extremely interesting people.

A case in point, Adam Pearson, who had been recently featured on the Huffington Post's
Food Informants: A Week In The Life Of Food Stylist Adam Pearson, and his charming Photographer partner, Matt Armendariz, who also creates the food blog, Matt Bites. Since both food styling and photography have long been my fantasy careers, they kindly stayed a bit after dinner in the parking lot to indulge my many questions.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_l1 house bread and butter

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_l2 churned raw butter cured egg yolk

The second course, house bread, churned raw butter, cured egg yolk caught the eye like very few bread plates. The vivid orange yolk appeared to be jam at first, surprising many people upon biting into it. I'm guessing the yolk came from a duck egg. All elements very rich and silky, it presented and tasted elegant.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_m sel gris roasted Santa Barbara spot prawn crispy head favas Tokyo turnips brown butter cress

The third course of sel gris roasted Santa Barbara spot prawn, crispy head, favas, Tokyo turnips, brown butter, cress celebrated both the delicate prawn and fresh vegetables, with enough acidity to even freshen the dish up more. Sel gris is a French grey, granular sea salt. The Tokyo turnips come in tiny radish size. The edible flower petals added more color.

I noticed at this point that most people were not taking food photos, which one often finds at L.A. events. It made me feel conspicuous, especially since it was so dark, I had to take some flash photos. If the attendees minded that, they remained very polite about it.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_n abalone dashi tide pool morels white asparagus leeks seaweed chickweed stinging nettles

The fourth course, abalone, dashi tide pool, morels, white asparagus, leeks, seaweed, chickweed, stinging nettles brought that element of tasting not one but several new items. The abalone came in very small portions, making the vegetables the star again. Dashi, a Japanese broth, covered the items half way in the bowl. It added a light earthiness. Visually I loved the spiral fiddlehead ferns on each side of the bowl. These nutritious fronds supplied some great crunch.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_o1 grilling squid

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_o2 kitchen prep

While we were outside, before the meal, one of the chefs started grilling squid on the grill outside. I didn't recall seeing squid on the menu. Later I looked back to find that the dungeness crab got replaced with the squid. The initial menu stated there may be changes due to market availability. Based on the care in choosing highest quality ingredients, evident in the meal, I trusted any changes to the menu.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_o3 squid green garlic fennel pomelo snow blood orange avocado chervil mache sorrel

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_o4 squid green garlic fennel pomelo snow blood orange avocado chervil mache sorrel

So the fifth course became grilled squid, green garlic, fennel, pomelo snow, blood orange, avocado, chervil, mache, sorrel. This salad also provided great acidity which complemented the greens and tender squid rings. The pomelo slices were on the extremely tart side.

At this point in the meal, I appreciated that the courses tapered off to a light salad. On many tasting menus, getting the heaviest protein at this point really pushes me over the edge of fullness.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_p Chef Hedendal

Periodically during the meal, Chef Hedendal came out and read off his list to explain what we were eating. His casual and humble manner really impressed me. He also stood by the door, greeting people and chatting as they left.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_q1 andante creamery etude cheese kumquats green almonds zahidi dates

Sixth came the cheese course. At this point I got up to walk around a bit, and take more photos. One of the chefs stopped what she was doing and staged some of the plates for me, which also was unexpected and nice. I usually try to quietly take photos without intruding, and it's always impressive to find a chef who can talk through their work at the same time.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_q2 andante creamery etude

The plate included Andante Creamery Etude, green almonds, zahidi dates.

Etude an extremely small production cheese from the Andante dairy in Petaluma, California. The cheesemaker uses musical names for the cheeses, influenced by cheeses of the Pyrenees region. She uses goat’s milk instead of the more traditional sheep’s milk. The aged cheese had a firm yet creamy texture.
Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_q3 andante creamery etude

The original menu listed white mulberries, but the green almonds blended in very well also. They were a bit past that gel stage inside in maturity, however, they added some freshness and greenery.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_r strawberry galette peas creme fraiche lemon thyme

In large meals like this, at the seventh course, I appreciate either a fruity dessert or something sweet and salty, not an overly sweet and heavy ending to the meal. The adorable, colorful and fresh dessert. Out came a strawberry galette, peas, creme fraiche, lemon thyme. On top the garnish of an edible sweet pea flower provided a charming play on the peas idea. I've never had peas in a dessert. The fresh, sweet and crunchy peas worked with everything.

This was not your childhood strawberry pie with thick red glaze. Everything tasted natural, with a tiny amount of sweetness.

Leif Hedendal KTCHN 105 Apr12_s coconut macaroon piment d esplette Amedei chocolate

It was hard to believe there was a second dessert. And I wouldn't have eaten it had it not been a wonderful bite. He most likely added this for those who wanted that decadent dessert. Eighth course was a coconut macaroon, piment d'espelette, Amedei chocolate. The piment is a French red chili powder made from a regional French pepper.

Amedei chocolate, an exclusive handmade Tuscan chocolate, arguably considered the world's best. And those suggesting this are world classs French pĆ¢tissiers and visionary Spanish chef Ferran AdriĆ . Food and Wine magazine declared it the best chocolate in the world. This brother and sister team bypass brokers and acquire their cacao directly from the Chuao plantations in Venezuela.

Even with dessert, the chef introduced several things I haven't tasted and didn't think I'd be able to taste. The mark of a great and memorable meal.

Wang Xing Ji Juicy Dumpling & Dessert at Ozero

Wang Xing Ji is the first American branch of a popular, almost a century old dumpling house near Shanghai.

Tucked away on the 2nd floor of the Focus Plaza in San Gabriel, it takes some diligence to find the fairly small store front.

Wang Xing Ji May12_juicy pork and shrimp dumpling

L.A. Times Restaurant Critic Jonathan Gold reviewed this restaurant back in April this year, likening the extremely large xiao long bao, or juicy dumplings, to water balloons, or hand grenades!

After seeing photos of fellow foodies sipping the dumpling broth with straws, it became a high priority on the food trying list.

Wang Xing Ji May12_window to kitchen

Upon entering the very full dining room, the server hands you a menu much like a checklist sushi menu. Their specialties are indicated by a thumbs up logo.

The rest of the items we tried on the menu, which is known for its sweet flavored savory dishes, didn't 'wow' me. Not bad but not memorable. I enjoyed the crispy scallion pancake, which is hard to mess up, although it has been done.

Wang Xing Ji May12_juicy crab and pork bun_a

The main event, the crab and pork bun comes in its own steamer 
sticky broth, served with a colorful boba straw. As usual, Jonathan Gold was right on the money, saying you feel slightly vampiric puncturing the dumpling and sipping the hot crab broth out.

Wang Xing Ji May12_juicy crab and pork bun_b

Wang Xing Ji May12_juicy crab and pork bun_c

The very rich, deeply layered almost sticky broth packs quite a flavor punch. The wrapper feels a little thicker than other juicy dumplings I've had, such as the ones in the very popular Din Tai Fung.

Wang Xing Ji May12_juicy crab and pork bun_d

This makes total sense, as the first 1-2 minutes after being served the dumpling, you try to figure out how to lift it with the much smaller spoon. Chopsticks are too pointy. It's almost like working with a delicate souffle.

Experiencing this juicy dumpling is well worth the $5 or so you pay for it. I'd definitely enjoy trying it again.

After seeing and using the boba straw, I craved boba of course.

Ozero May12_boba milk tea carmelized brown sugar

After having such savory bites, we went to Ozero by Cofftea in Alhambra to enjoy some tasty beverages and share a dessert.

The mug contains a frothy boba milk tea with caramelized brown sugar. A bit sweet for my taste, the rich flavors work well with the chewy boba, one of the best in the area in my opinion.

And because that wasn't sweet or rich enough (kidding of course), we shared this condensed milk brick toast, charmingly adorned with chocolate sauce and sprinkles, spelling out the cafe's name.

Ozero May12_condensed milk brick toast_a

Ozero May12_condensed milk brick toast_b

The side view particularly does this toast justice as you can see the condensed milk pooling in the center. Lovely for the eyes and the tastebuds.

Wang Xing Ji on Urbanspoon
Ozero Tea & Desserts on Urbanspoon

The Shambala Wild Cat Preserve

While we are on the subject of animals with the peacocks, let me share another animal story.

A couple of months ago, my friend Robert invited me to join his group with a reservation for a safari visit at the Shambala Peserve in Soledad Canyon, Acton, CA. Shambala is a sanctuary where big cats can spend the rest of their lives without being bred or used for any commercial purposes.

Shambala Mar12_leopard

Over 50 abandoned felines, including lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, bobcats and servals, are rescued and taken care of. The Roar Foundation, led by conservationist and actress Tippi Hedren (best known for her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds), shares the mission of educating the public and advocate legislation to protect these exotic animals.

Shambala Mar12_Tippi Hedren Chris Gallucci 2

Shambala Mar12_Tippi Hedren

Shambala Director Chris Gallucii, Tippi Hedren and the docent/tour guide's love and passion for these animals is evident throughout the grounds. Even the name Shambala comes from a Sanskrit word meaning "a meeting place of peace and harmony for all beings". Ms. Hedren is so dedicated to her mission, that she lives right onsite in a humble home one would not expect from a Hollywood star.

While the cats are in enclosures for everyone's safety, they offered irresistible photo opportunities. As usual, I went rather camera crazy. So instead of too much more writing, let me share some of the shots from the day. Let me warn you, this will be a long post.


Shambala Mar12_tiger a 

Shambala Mar12_tiger b 

This tiger, who like many of them at Shambala, is underweight, was close to the entrance.

Shambala Mar12_sign tiger crossing

I'm a big fan of signs and product labels, and there were lots of fun signs everywhere on the grounds.

Shambala Mar12_tiger i

Shambala Mar12_tiger j

This tiger named Precious, was one of my favorites. She seemed to really want attention and was quite playful.

Shambala Mar12_tiger k

Shambala Mar12_tiger l

Shambala Mar12_tiger m

This last stare above the shoulder is very Hollywood starlet/pinup girl.

Before leaving we were given a survey to offer our knowledge when arriving and what we learned. They also asked who our favorite cat was and why. I picked this little darling, Precious.

Shambala Mar12_tiger g

Shambala Mar12_tiger f

A lot of yawning and sleeping goes on. Since they are not in the wild and don't have to worry about hunting food, there is lots or rest and relaxation time.

Shambala Mar12_tiger h

Shambala Mar12_tiger r

Shambala Mar12_tiger s

This is the one tiger that really looked like he wanted to eat me! Fierce eye contact. This photo gives me the chills whenever I see it.

Shambala Mar12_warning sign b

Shambala Mar12_tiger e

Like the name Thriller suggests, this tiger came from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Sadly she died of lung cancer in June of this year at the wildlife preserve.

Shambala Mar12_tiger n

Shambala Mar12_tiger o

Shambala Mar12_tiger p

Shambala Mar12_tiger q

This one is also adorable, with the paws, stripes and dots behind the ears. A pleasure to photograph.


Shambala Mar12_lion a

This lion put on a great sequence of events. Sleeping first.

Shambala Mar12_lion c


Shambala Mar12_lion e

Looking at us.

Shambala Mar12_lion f

More yawning.

Shambala Mar12_lion g

Standing up, reluctantly

Shambala Mar12_lion h

More eye contact

Shambala Mar12_lion i

Walking up to the 'house'

Shambala Mar12_lion j


Shambala Mar12_lion k

And back to sleepy time. It was like four seasons in one day.

Shambala Mar12_sign unpredictable disposition

Shambala Mar12_lion m

Most of the other lions were napping on their sides. They are cats after all.

Panther (Black Leopard)

Shambala Mar12_panther a

Shambala Mar12_sign black leopard

Shambala Mar12_panther d

This striking feline is named Boo. She had a giant pickle toy to play with in her enclosure .

Shambala Mar12_panther f

In the sun you can see her gorgeous dark spots. The guide told us what we call panthers are really black leopards. The spots are on their skin, not on the fur.

Arrival Grounds and Picnic 

Shambala Mar12_storing lunch

When we arrived, we were given a cart to put our picnic lunch food into, and the contents stay in a cage so the cats can't get to them.

Shambala Mar12_restrooms

The grounds are dotted with the cutes port-a-potties I've ever seen, complete with beaded wood curtains. They were really clean too. The house for overnight stays had an outdoor shower with similar enclosure.

Shambala Mar12_warning sign a

Shambala Mar12_colorful shoes

Shambala Mar12_leopard skirt flip flops 

Some people decided to get into the spirit with bright colors and animal prints. I felt underdressed in black, cream and grey. It's not exactly the kind of place where one wants to wear red.

Shambala Mar12_statue c

The grounds are full of all types of statues.

Shambala Mar12_statues crab and lobster

The crabs and lobster statues in the very dry area were amusing.

Shambala Mar12_statues deer 2

Shambala Mar12_gift shop bird

The tour ended in the gift shop. There were kitschy tributes to Ms. Hedren's movies, especially The Birds. I loved this lone bird hanging in a walkway.

Shambala Mar12_duck

After our tour this duck came to hang out in the picnic area.

Shambala Mar12_tree with lanterns

We chose some picnic tables under this tree with hanging lanterns.

Shambala Mar12_picnic plate

The picnic spread was extremely tasty, since this was a foodie crowd.

Towards the end we were greeted by the whole team at Shambala and learned more about the legislation, programs at the preserve and other information. 

All in all it was a very exciting afternoon.

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