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Home / Life! / Dining / Championing compassion at the Masters of Taste 2024 preview

Championing compassion at the Masters of Taste 2024 preview

Culinary masters for the Masters of Taste 2024 preview night share a few words with the crowd.
by Brianna Chu
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As the Masters of Taste 2024 preview night gears up for the event’s seventh year, the event already boasts an impressive benchmark of funds raised thus far: $3 million raised for Union Station Homeless Services (USHS). Year after year, the consistently sold-out event manages to bring hundreds of Los Angeles’s best restaurants together at the Rose Bowl to host an incredible food event…which just happens to be a fundraiser for a great organization helping to alleviate homelessness and provide housing to those who need it most. 

The restaurants and vendors attending the event are just as passionate and enthusiastic for the cause as the Union Station team are. The press preview this year was a night to challenge commonly held misconceptions and often-repeated fallacies and phrases regarding homelessness. 

Benjamin Turkle of Boomtown Brewery adroitly countered the oft-parroted phrase “pick yourself up by your bootstraps”: “We’ve always been told that we need to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps,” he began. “But that’s very challenging when we don’t have bootstraps to pick ourselves up by. It takes a community…to lend threads to others so they can make their own bootstraps; to lend hands so others can pick themselves up as well. We’re all in it together: and our rising tide will raise all ships.”

Shawn Morrissey, USHS’s vice president of Advocacy and Community Engagement, has seen programs for homelessness change for the better over the nearly 21 years he’s been associated with USHS. “We used to make homeless individuals jump through hoops and blame them for the situation they’re in, make them earn their way into housing or their way out of the streets.” He shared his own story of addiction and trauma, noting that we are now better-informed and have better practices, including housing first models for alleviating homelessness, trauma reduction, and post-trauma care. 

Morrissey clearly articulated: “[P]eople are not broken; systems are. One of the things we hear a lot is that drug addiction drives people to homelessness, but what we really know is that it’s a symptom of larger systemic and structural issues. In the 16 years that I’ve worked on the streets with people, I have yet to meet someone who chose not being sober over getting housing.”

Morrissey himself had been homeless, and came to Union Station for help. “And for the first time in my life,” he said, “I was met with unconditional regard and I was nurtured. I was brought into a community where people wanted an authentic relationship with me. These were the things that made a difference.”

So, what are your plans for the first weekend of April? Because if you love food, and you want to have a great time while contributing meaningfully to a good cause, I’d recommend you plan to attend Masters of Taste: https://mastersoftastela.com/tickets/.

Sponsors, event organizers, and of course, culinary masters pose for photos at the Masters of Taste 2024 preview night.
Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Preview night never fails to whet the taste buds for the actual event. This year’s hosts, Chef Bret Thompson and Lucy Thompson-Ramirez, represented in full force at the Masters of Taste 2024 preview night, with dishes from both their Pez Cantina and their new concept, Pez Coastal Kitchen.

Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

The evening started off with a bright albacore tuna tostada. The albacore was seared on the outside and coated with “Pez Powder,” the restaurant’s own version of the popular Tajín seasoning, for a delightful pop of added flavor. Chipotle aioli and avocado provided some smokiness and creaminess, while fried onion strings provided a more delicate crunch than the tostada. Mezcal 33 provided the alcoholic pairing to the dish, their strong and earthy Joven mezcal. 

Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Chef Joel Hammond from Uchi West Hollywood served a hotate no tataki—a barely cooked, sweet scallop served in the shell, nestled in a pool of vermouth butter and topped with finger lime, Thai basil, strawberry XO, and garnished with a few dainty drops of chili oil. Each mouthful was complex and nuanced: pop of the finger lime at the front of the bite; the thick, savory XO sauce made a touch sweet with strawberry; the rich vermouth butter bringing out the sweetness of the scallop meat. Each component built beautifully atop the last, collaborating as flavors while maintaining their own distinct, discrete identities. Crū Winery returned this year, pairing their crisp, bright, and fruity SLH Chardonnay with the scallop.

Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

A decadent sfoglia di ravioli was Chef Luca Maita’s contribution to the meal. Lavo Ristorante’s executive chef did not disappoint: a classic spinach and ricotta ravioli elevated by a filling with ricotta de pecorino, a coating of luxurious and nutty browned butter, high-quality aged balsamic that was more sweet and rich than it was sour, fried sage, and Parmesan cheese. Full of deep, earthy flavors, the ravioli were easy to eat despite their richness: a cozy, comforting course that complemented a lighter, seafood-focused menu. Crū Winery’s SLH Pinot Noir was a rich, fruity companion to the dish.

Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Showcasing their recently opened Pez Coastal Kitchen’s American seafood house concept, hosts Chef Bret and Lucy served a crispy Pacific sea bass and seafood bolognese on a bed of Meyer lemon risotto for the final savory course. The char and chew of the skin was still a good contrast to the juicy, succulent sea bass meat. The Meyer lemon made the risotto easy, not heavy, to eat, paired with the light, almost fruity, “bolognese,” which was seemingly made of a white fish mixture. With some fried basil on top, I could see why even only a couple of weeks into their opening, this dish has fast become a customer favorite at Pez Coastal Kitchen.

Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Alcohol-free beverage company NON provided a stewed cherry and coffee non-wine to accompany the final course. NON7, as the drink is called, featured strong flavors of garam masala with notes of date. They create their non-alcoholic drinks to have the same main four components that alcoholic beverages do: fruit, tannin, acidity, and salinity. To finish off the meal, Atti Rezaee of Joy & Sweets served up trays of assorted sweets: macarons and cake pops of different flavors, and thick, chewy chocolate chip cookies. I have to agree with her belief that “one of the visceral ways to feel love is through the stomach”—and what a night of love and joy from this culinary crowd at the Masters of Taste 2024 preview night.

Please don’t wait to buy your tickets to the year’s (in my opinion) best food event: mastersoftastela.com/tickets/! Masters of Taste consistently sells out, and even had to add 60 more tickets to last year’s event due to high demand. VIP tickets allow you to enter at 3 p.m., while General Admission begins at 4 p.m.. This year, there is also a Masters of Taste app that will allow you to see a map of all the vendors on your phone so you can make your way deftly amongst all the hundreds of incredible stations, and you can also add favorites so you know exactly where you want to return to!

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