It’s that time of year again: Masters of Taste 2023 is just around the corner! Masters of Taste has been one of the premiere, if not the premiere, food events in Los Angeles since its inception. But it’s not the event’s incredible array of stellar restaurants—hailing from Santa Monica to Orange County to everywhere in between—or even the incredible value of the tickets that makes Masters of Taste the best food event in LA. It’s the cause.
At the Masters of Taste preview, CEO of Union Station Homeless Services (USHS) Anne Miskey shared the story of Jose, a 74-year-old gentleman who was living out of his car when COVID-19 hit. He had lived in Puerto Rico most of his life until an acute heart condition coincided with a major hurricane hitting his home archipelago. Due to the infrastructural damage caused by the hurricane, Jose had to travel to LA to be able to undergo heart surgery—after which, the hospital informed him that they did not accept his insurance. Having traveled all that way to receive a surgery to save his life, Jose was saddled with medical debt that prevented him from living it. And like many of our unhoused neighbors, he had no home in which to stay and remain safe from the pandemic. Luckily, Union Station outreach workers found Jose and provided him with temporary shelter in a hotel room with three healthy meals a day through Project Roomkey. Eventually, they were able to provide Jose with his own apartment—in a push aligned with California-wide Project Homekey—in which he can build his life in LA anew.
Jose’s story highlights USHS’s dedication to the Housing First model for alleviating homelessness, a strategy that trials across the globe have found demonstrates high rates of effectiveness. And while the event is always a blast, at its heart, Masters of Taste has always been primarily an homage to the outreach, hard work, and dedication of USHS and its staff. There is no more fitting way to celebrate 50 years of that vital work than throwing USHS the biggest party we can—and raising money to continue that work at the same time.
Leading the charge are Masters of Taste 2023 host chefs: husband and wife duo, Chefs Kwini and Michael Reed. They are currently best known for their two restaurants, Downtown LA’s Poppy + Rose, as well as Poppy + Seed in the Anaheim Packing District. Long-time culinary masters at prior Masters of Taste events, these two are putting their passion, joy, and culinary experience into making this birthday bash a spectacular one!
And Chefs Reed and the rest of the culinary masters present had plenty of tantalizing offerings for us to preview the delights in store at the main event:
Braving the startlingly frigid winds outside the Rose Bowl locker room proved worthwhile for the samples of wagyu and BBQ pork sandwiches from the food truck of first-time culinary master West Side Banh Mi. Both banh mis were garnished with fresh cilantro and pickled radish to complement the savory meats loaded on the buttery and crisp baguettes. The BBQ pork featured nostalgic sweet and five-spice marinated pork, but the wagyu beef definitely blew me away. The perfectly tender, marinated wagyu had salty and sweet notes reminiscent of teriyaki.
Inside, the lines for bites from Pez Cantina were so long that we only managed to grab some spicy tuna tostadas. (For anyone hesitating to make the trek Downtown to eat at the coastal-inspired Mexican restaurant, you’re in luck: they’re set to open a location in Pasadena this summer.) The morsels of fresh tuna and crisp lime juice were tempered by the crispy tostada and nuttiness of its sesame garnish.
The first course of the meal was a pineapple-lover’s dream: salmon crudo submerged in a brown butter emulsion, pineapple ponzu, and aji amarillo, all topped with pineapple chips. The bright acidity and sweetness from the pineapple paired beautifully with the cured salmon, diced shallot, and a hint of jalapeño. It’s no wonder this tasty creation of Chef David Joyce is a favorite at his WeHo restaurant, Soulmate.
Next, Chef Isaias Peña of Hank’s in Pacific Palisades presented a sumptuous black truffle lobster risotto. The truffle risotto was lightened by lemon oil and butternut squash, a wonderful bed for the juicy, perfectly cooked lobster.
Masters of Taste 2023 welcomes Moraga Vineyards, a local winery, as a new Beverage Master. The first two courses were paired with their 2019 Bel Air Sauvignon Blanc. This lightly acidic but not dry white wine was a gentle companion to the seafood.
Host Chef Michael Reed featured a duck confit taco topped with pickled shallots, serrano chilis, microgreens, and apple relish. Every taste bud was firing as the toppings balanced the tender and savory duck, while the crispy rye taco provided an unexpected and delicious flavor twist.
For the fourth course, Alexander’s Steakhouse Chef Richard Archuleta brought us a taste of both the land and sea: a hamachi shooter and A5 Miyazaki wagyu nigiri. The hamachi shooters balanced tangy and umami perfectly, from the shredded radish in ponzu and dashi gelée down to the fresh slice of yellowtail and chili at the bottom. The wagyu nigiri was incredibly marbled and imparted a deep, smoky flavor.
The duck and wagyu were accompanied by a 26-month aged 2017 Cabernet, again from Moraga Vineyards. The sweet, fruity notes of this red wine complemented the richness of the meats of the later courses.
To finish the night off, Chef Vanessa Tilaka Kalb of Agnes Restaurant and Cheesery presented a chocolate cake with blue cheese ganache, salted caramel, and a cocoa nib crumble. I can only describe the effect of this dessert as a wildly euphoric flavor and texture journey for the senses—the initial burst of pungent blue cheese highlighting the salt in the caramel, slowly mellowing out to showcase the soft, moist, sweetness of the chocolate cake.
As a parting treat, we all took home a pistachio macaron, a delicate sweet note to end on. Vicky Escalante from Étoile Filante Pâtisserie sourced the nuts from the Greek island of Aegina, which is famed for its pistachios.
Every year, Masters of Taste delivers a serious party to your palate, and this year’s preview certainly whetted our appetites for the main event. There’s nothing not to love: it’s a fantastic event to support our unhoused neighbors and a delight to attend with loved ones. Masters of Taste 2023 takes place on the pitch of the Rose Bowl on Sunday, April 2. Get your tickets here before they’re gone, and use code HeySoCal to get $10 off your ticket price.