Curating and organizing food events is an art.
I've been threatened by an entitled food blogger with a superiority complex over the restaurants I work with because he claimed "he owned them" after he wrote about them. I've been almost punched by a drunk bartender who was working a bar for kicking him out after being unprofessional. And I've been cussed out by attendees who couldn't grasp the concept of a tasting event.
All for trying to curate and organize the best damn possible food event for you.
These are actually just some of the things I have dealt with after organizing 13 food and drink events in Los Angeles since I moved here five years ago. I got sucked into organizing food events after moving here from Portland, Oregon. I worked at Food Innovation Center there developing recipes, but I quickly realized that LA's food scene was a lot more cutthroat than Portland's.
People here want instant gratification when it comes to food, and they are willing to spend upwards of $100 just to stuff and drink themselves silly for a few hours. Combine this with sunny weather nearly every day of the year and voilà—you have the phenomena that are food events in LA. There are dozens of them that happen throughout the year here, and for the most part, they are usually packed with people seemingly having a good time.
Nonetheless, I've seen some things at these events that have made me question humanity at times.
I've seen people have absolutely no shame and bring huge vats of Tupperware to events. They stash them in their large tote bags, and some even bring backpacks to stuff with food to eat later. I've seen these people go up to vendors and ask, "I'm in a group of ten people, can I have enough for them all?" and then put the food in their containers and stash them in their bag. What the fuck? It should also be said that these are the type of people who only go to restaurants once, hype it up or trash it, then move on to the next big thing.
I try to only work with biodegradable plates and utensils, and I tell chefs that if they need a fork or a spoon for their one-bite sized tasting, then they're serving a portion that is too big. But I can only do so much. It boggles my mind just how much garbage humans can produce in a few hours.
LA is full of wonderful, chef-owned small restaurants with few or no investors, so a lot of restaurants simply can't afford to participate.
Working with chefs on logistical issues can also be a huge headache. Fortunately for me, I am an extremely organized, type-A person, so I don't mind being the left brain for chefs during these times—even if that means knowing that most email exchanges will happen after midnight and before noon, or else nothing gets done. After all, they are the talent at food events, and without them, food events and their success would not exist. I've worked in the food industry as well, so my passion for food always prevails above all.
However, a dark truth that no other food event person will dare tell you is how food events can take advantage of small restaurants. These type of events can be extremely lucrative affairs, so there is no excuse for the organizers to not reimburse participating restaurateurs for their food costs at the very least. It makes me cringe me when I hear of a food event not giving any money back to restaurateurs and trying to hide under the "you'll get exposure for your restaurant" excuse. This hurts me because I've gotten to know a lot of these chefs in LA at a really personal level and know how hard they work.
LA is also full of wonderful, chef-owned small restaurants with few or no investors, so a lot of restaurants simply can't afford to participate. For these reasons, I'm always telling all chefs to be careful and extremely selective on which food events to participate in and which ones to just skip.
Then again, these are all also reasons why you should ultimately come to food events. A food event is like the lavish party that you wish you could throw on your own. And if nothing else, it's a great way to try many restaurants at one time, especially in a city as big as LA, where it might take you a lifetime to try them all if you were to go to each one. You should still go try their food at their restaurants, because it is never a good idea to judge a vendor by the bite they offer at any food event. (Each restaurant is working tiny miracles by cooking for thousands with a limited outdoor kitchen setup.) At food events, you will most likely get to meet the chef behind the food, too, which is an invaluable experience as a diner these days.
Lastly, who doesn't like an excuse to be gluttonous and have no one judge you for it?
As told to Javier Cabral
Paola Briseño is the executive director for The Taste of Mexico Association, event producer with The International Association of Culinary Professionals, and for Hollywood Forever's Day of the Dead event. For more information on her ethical and proper ways of hosting food events, follow her here.