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Masters of Taste returns April 3 to help Union Station Homeless Services

While, like many events, Masters of Taste was delayed due to the pandemic, it has happily returned for its momentous fifth year. And the event’s cause—raising money to support Union Station Homeless Services—is more relevant than ever. As 2022’s host chef, Vanda Asapahu, eloquently stated, “The symptoms and solutions to homelessness may be complex, but the message is simple: ‘Housing is a human right.’ And for that reason, I’m so happy that Union Station advocates for housing first.” If you’d like to read more about Union Station’s work over the pandemic, you can read more here.

This year’s Masters of Taste will also feature Chef Vanda’s vision of a Songkran-inspired endzone, as Thai New Year happens to fall in April. Several booths will be transformed into street food stalls and traditional Thai sundry shops. Three other Thai restaurants and friends of Chef Vanda have been invited to the event and challenged to make a dish featuring traditional Saamkler paste (made of coriander root, white peppercorn, and garlic)—including Chef Vanda’s own sister, Chef Cathy, who specializes in desserts. 

If you’re still considering whether or not to buy your tickets for Masters of Taste’s fifth annual event at the Rose Bowl coming up Sunday, April 3, let me whet your appetite by sharing the delicious offerings we were lucky to have previewed! 

Savory cornbread eclairs from Agnes Pasadena. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

We were welcomed in with a gorgeous charcuterie spread and some savory bites from Chef Thomas and Vanessa Tilaka Kalb from Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery. Alongside an incredible array of cheeses selected by Chef Vanessa, Chef Thomas offered us samplings of cheesy grits with cheddarwurst, delightful and bright bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes, and a savory cornbread eclair, piped with a ‘frosting’ of chicken liver pâté, and topped with a cherry for a tiny dash of tartness and sweetness.

Knox and Dobson featured their cocktails in a bottle and 14 Cannons Brewing Company showcased their beers. Platinum sponsor House of Suntory Whisky offered us a simple but elegant highball cocktail of Suntory Whisky, seltzer, and grapefruit.

The albondiga chimayo from Gabi James. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Our tasting menu kicked off in earnest with an albondiga (meatball) chimayo from Chefs Sara Bagriele and Adam Aro of Gabi James. The large turkey meatball was topped with an ancho chile sauce so lovely, I wished there was more! Rebecca Gilbert from Cru Winery presented us with a very sweet and very drinkable 2018 pinot noir, and for non-alcoholic refreshment, we enjoyed a lemon-lime ‘soda’ kombucha from Humm Kombucha’s zero sugar and zero calorie probiotic line.

Soul food: Gretchen’s jambalaya from Georgia’s Restaurant | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Next, we were treated to some Creole-inspired soul food from Chef Nika Shoemaker-Machado of Georgia’s Restaurant: Gretchen’s jambalaya. Made with a tomato sauce roux, this jambalaya was comforting and full of incredible smoky flavors from the sauce and andouille sausage. The slight tang of the tomato in the roux complemented the gentle warming heat of the dish. Chef Nika mentioned that the recipe was her mom’s, and you can tell: it’s real, sticks-to-your-bones, comfort food. This dish’s Cru Winery pairing was their light, bright, and citrusy 2020 Albariño from Edna Valley, a Spanish variety gaining popularity. I was astonished by how fragrant the accompanying peach kombucha was, as well.

The astonishing parm pastor taco from Gracias Madre. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Chef Justin Haefler of Gracias Madre served us a mind-blowing “parm pastor” taco, centrally featuring a parmesan crisp, which is usually used as garnish. However, he decided to make it the star of the show, combining it with meaty oyster mushrooms ‘al pastor,’ a basil pesto, what tasted like pickled red onion, and micro cilantro in a corn tortilla. This was an incredibly nuanced taco, generously filled to the brim, with a new flavor jumping out with each bite. The cheesy, umami goodness from the parmesan and the mushrooms was balanced with the perfect amount of acid from the pickles and lime wedge served on the side. Gracias Madre’s beverage director, Maxwell Reis, served a clarified margarita made with their zesty, house-made zero waste lime cordial alongside the taco. From Cru Winery, there was a bright and fruity unoaked 2020 Chardonnay from the Arroyo Seco region in Monterey County. To cleanse the palate, we enjoyed some of the light raspberry lime kombucha.

Transported to Thailand with this deep, flavorful beef noodle soup from Ayara Thai. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

Chef Vanda of Ayara Thai came around to offer every single one of us some homemade CBD chili vinegar to accompany her boat noodle dish, named for its traditional serving location, made and served from a boat traveling the canals of central Thailand. This rich, intricately spiced beef noodle soup was served with slim rice noodles to soak up all that delicious flavor from the soup, with pork rinds and the CBD chili vinegar on the side. This dish was thick, unctuous, and utterly packed full of flavor—you could absolutely tell that it had been cooking for 48 hours. I savored every last drop of the noodles and its incredible soup. It was paired with a 2017 Vineyard Montage pinot noir from Cru Winery, and an uncannily accurate berries and cream flavored kombucha.

Ending the night sweetly with the wonderful pandan coconut custard cip from Ayara Thai. | Photo by Brianna Chu / Hey SoCal

To cap off the night, Chef Cathy delighted our taste buds with a gorgeous pandan coconut custard cup. Themed in complement to Chef Vanda’s boat noodle, Chef Cathy chose this particular dessert because it was also traditionally served from a canal boat. Updated with some crème brûlée elements—notably, the crisp sugar top—the delicate coconut custard gave way to the bright sweetness of the pandan underneath. 

The Masters at the event will be supported by student apprentices from CCAP, Careers Through Culinary Arts Program. Without their support, some restaurants would not have been able to attend at all. Throughout the pandemic, CCAP managed to continue to give out scholarships, and provide skills and training to young adults across the country.

Save $10 with promotional code Brianna22!
Save $10 with promotional code Brianna22!

You can enjoy amazing food and beverages from over a hundred local restaurants and brewers while helping raise money to help Union Station’s mission to end homelessness. Buy General Admission tickets for Masters of Taste here while they still last! Use code BRIANNA22 to save $10 off your ticket. Finally, learn more about the history of this fantastic event and much more here.

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