Ahead of our recent launch in Los Angeles, we spoke to our L.A. editorial advisor Hadley Tomicki and L.A. walk leader Ethan Brosowsky about their relationship with food in the city and their views on its culinary atmosphere.
Hadley is a Los Angeles-based critic and journalist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine and many other places. He is also one the co-founders of the site LA Taco. Ethan has been guiding people around Los Angeles for over two decades, first as a skipper on Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise, then later as a private guide. Ethan studied at University College London and received his bachelor of arts in politics and history of art from New York University. He is also a JEOPARDY! Champion.
We originally shared what they had to say in our L.A. launch newsletter. You can sign up for our newsletters on our main page to receive exclusive, behind-the-scenes content like this every week.
An edited version of our Q&A is below:
What do you think makes Los Angeles such an exciting culinary capital?
Hadley: L.A. has an incredible range of cuisines, from the ancient to the avant-garde. People from all over the world move to L.A. and we, as eaters, become the beneficiaries of their dreams and often arduous journeys. We’re a southwestern city on the Pacific, so our “neighbors,” so to speak, include some of the greatest food cultures and recipe creators on earth: Mexico, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, China, and Thailand among them. Immigration to L.A., past and present, endows us with personalities, knowledge, and recipes you rarely find together in one place. There’s also an incredible freedom here that allows ensuing generations, and even transplant chefs, to bring cultures, ideas, and ingredients together on a plate, or to strive for a vision of creating something we’ve never had before.
Compared to other cities you’ve been to, what sets L.A.’s food scene apart?
Ethan: The sheer size of the populations from around the world that have chosen to make Los Angeles their home, and the way the city’s food landscape is defined by them. A trip through Koreatown or Little Tokyo or Boyle Heights is not a diversion from Los Angeles’ food scene, rather it’s a journey right into the heart of it. I think also the lack of pretension is a defining characteristic of our food scene. It’s pretty widely understood and accepted in Los Angeles that the best food may well be on the side of the road or at the back of a bodega. Even the white glove Michelin starred restaurants in town are in constant dialogue with what’s being cooked on the street and in backyards. Add to that access to year-round availability of the freshest produce in America and you’ve got a food scene pretty set apart.
Hadley: This is a massive sprawl of a city that people experience completely differently based on which part they live in. Neighborhoods here can be insular and isolated, which leads to people cooking food intended more for their own communities than to, say, hook a mainstream audience passing by your block on the way to their Hollywood tour bus. L.A.’s best cooks and chefs don’t speak down to the eaters here or water things down.
Instead, you find a lot of people cooking like someone might have back at home or for a celebration in the town they came from, recreating meals and representing recipes with a lot of pride and precision. So you can get a legit doro wat or armful of sangak or asun or plate of pit-smoked barbacoa or cup of tejate in the style someone who grew up on them has come to expect. That’s only the beginning of a list that goes on forever. We also have very savvy, knowledgeable eaters here who are willing to go where the food goes and learn along the way.
Despite the diversity found in the city’s cooking, is there a thread that runs through it all?
Hadley: The kitchens, farms, restaurants, and very food scene itself in L.A. would simply not exist without the hard work, courage, and determination of immigrants to this country. As well as the daughters and sons who support, carry on, and expand on the work that came before them. It’s to them we owe everything.
What’s the story you hope to tell with the walk you developed for CB, Ethan?
Ethan: The City of Angels is vast and sprawling, to be sure … yet strolling through its dense core, where it all began hundreds of years ago alongside the L.A. River, Los Angeles still feels like a western outpost – forward looking, experimental and adventuresome. Marvelous moments abound in Los Angeles, hidden as a treasure, waiting to be unearthed by the curious, the adventurous, and the bold. I want people to walk with us and feel excited about truly discovering Los Angeles, which for the uninitiated requires some effort. I want them to see the reward is worth it.
How did Covid-19 impact the city’s food scene? Did something positive come out of the crisis?
Hadley: It changed it in innumerable ways. We lost a number of great restaurants old and new, and even some great chefs, while the damage to those who lost their jobs and their security continues. Restaurants are still really struggling to fill positions and turn a profit, which is concerning. At the same time, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting innumerable hustlers who lost their day jobs and pursued dreams of cooking, who set up their own direct-to-consumer businesses through social media and are making them successful.
“L.A.’s best cooks and chefs don’t speak down to the eaters here or water things down. Instead, you find a lot of people cooking like someone might have back at home.”
I’ve also seen so many people use what they do well to benefit others, people like Damian Diaz and Othon Nolasco from the non-profit No Us Without You, which is helping put food on the table for back-of-house restaurant workers. Or there is Sandy Wall of Pueblita, who raises funds and organizes for various causes through hand making tortillas, inspiring people who use their knowledge for good in hard times.
Weekend morning: What’s the first place in L.A. that you dream about going?
Hadley: I’ll most likely have birria de chivo and warm tortillas on my mind. And follow this craving to El Parian in Pico-Union or Hector Ramirez’s El Jaliscience in Boyle Heights for his whole goat birria tatemada.
Ethan: Don’t believe what you see on reality shows – Los Angeles is about more than just brunch on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, I like a proper mimosa or an early margarita as much as the next guy, but a real Angeleno would save brunch for a Tuesday when the crowds are gone! These days, if I can drag myself out of bed early enough on a Sunday morning, I’m heading to Baldwin Park for the best barbacoa in America – Barba Kush – before they are sold out (usually by 10am). They cook their lamb in a pit in the ground in the backyard of their house all Saturday night to be ready for the faithful to slurp consommé and devour their tender meat the next morning. It’s my perfect and favorite weekend breakfast in LA. [While we can’t guarantee their weekend backyard barbacoa operation is always taking place, their cooking can usually be found at Santa Monica’s Lanea.]
Of course, pre-pandemic, dim sum in Monterey Park – a neighborhood filled with Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants – was often my weekend morning reverie. Now that things are opening up, it’s high time I head back for some Sunday morning bao. And let’s not forget that the Hollywood Farmers’ Market is on Sunday mornings. Truth be told, on Sunday mornings I’m usually going straight there to do my shopping for the week, and dreaming of fresh-squeezed orange juice!
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