Los Angeles, gluten-free.
Mere hours after I landed in Los Angeles to attend the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference, I walked down Sunset Boulevard toward one of my favorite California indulgences.
Behind me lay a short night after a long day of getting stuff done and spending time with the kids before I’d be gone for 5 days. Life moves too fast sometimes. Waking up at 3 am to shove my eyes awake, take myself to the car, and drive to the ferry in time for the 4:05 had left me exhausted. (oh, but the stars in the dark night sky and driving while singing to the Hamilton soundtrack when no one else was on the road.) Life has been particularly full the past month and I could feel myself taking deeper breaths as soon that airplane flew into the sky. Time to myself.
I knew there would be some incredible meals over the next few days. And the first one? A double-double protein style and a side of fries at In n Out Burger on Sunset.
Is In n Out really gluten-free? Nothing in life is certain but this place takes as many precautions as it can. Everything on the menu is naturally gluten-free — fries made in a dedicated gluten-free fryer; milkshakes free of any gluten ingredients — except for the hamburger buns. If you order your burger “protein style,” the employees make it the same as any burger, except it’s wrapped in a giant lettuce leaf. And if you let them know you have celiac, the employee at the the cash register presses the “allergy” button to let the staff know what to do. (Just like the writer of this piece says, I have a hard time not saying, “Actually, celiac is an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy.” I let it go.) When I put the photo of my protein-style burger and fries up on Instagram, people went happily bonkers. It’s always one of my favorite California stops.
Sometimes the best pleasures are pretty simple.
I love the IACP conference. It’s a gathering of hundreds of cookbook writers, cooking teachers, food writers, and food policy makers. The halls were packed full of people talking fast and loudly, slurping little plastic cups of green smoothies and hot coffee. There were panels on copywriting for food writers and the state of online video (YouTube is taking over the world), how to tackle Pinterest, and becoming your own publicity machine. I spoke on a panel about non-traditional cooking schools, along with Denise Mickelsen from Craftsy (we love the gluten-free baking class we did with them), Ken Rubin from Rouxbe, and Joseph Shuldiner of the Institute of Domestic Technology (that place is cool). It was a lively conversation. I walked around the room with a mic like Phil Donahue. I talked about Feeding Our People. All weekend long, people came up to me to say how much they loved that idea of a cooking club. It was a very good time.
Still, after lots of conversations and time with crowds of people, I need to find a corner. The first evening of the conference, I very briefly attended a party at the top of the hotel in Los Angeles. Everyone there was lovely, I’m sure, but it was so loud, and there were so many plates being passed around, and I felt totally overwhelmed within 3 minutes. So I casually walked to the back of the room to look out the window and survey all of Los Angeles out the window. Another woman walked up to me to say that she loves our work. We had a really lovely conversation. And then she said, “That was an introvert move, coming over here. Me too.” We laughed. Two introverts find each other at the back of the room.
My favorite moments of the weekend were mostly over meals. Over the table, it’s only 2 to 8 people. That’s my ideal setting.
And one of my favorite discoveries of this conference was the utterly wonderful Nicki Sizemore. We met the first evening at the launch party for EatLove, a great new meal planning service designed to make life easier for all of us. Nicki and I both have recipes in the EatLove database and we were asked to help celebrate. Since we’re both introverts, we found each other in the corner of the kitchen and started talking. We honestly didn’t stop talking the entire weekend. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you meet someone who is supposed to be your friend.
(Nicki has a great new cookbook out: The Food Processor Family Cookbook. We’ll be cooking out of it soon and sharing.)
We talked and laughed and couldn’t believe our luck to get the last ball of burrata from Puglia at Mozza. Oh, Mozza.
There are some meals that feel holy. This lunch at Jitlada was one of those meals.
Like nearly every great restaurant in Los Angeles, this southern Thai place is in a strip mall. Everything on the back pages of the menu — originally only in Thai, for the regulars who didn’t need the American dishes — was fiery, unexpected and so good that I could feel the inside of my skull buzzing for 20 minutes after.
I had the joy of meeting Krista Ruane and Stacy Basko at that lunch. (We shared a memorable, loud sushi meal the last night of the conference as well.) They have a great new project too: Door Step Dishes. Check them out.
I also loved meeting Amanda Feifer, the fermentation queen of Philadelphia. Her book, Ferment Your Vegetables, is next on my list.
If you like preserving and canning, and other DIY food projects, you need to know about Punk Domestics. Sean Timberlake, you rock.
And one of my very favorite people in the world is Irvin Lin, whose website is Eat the Love. The man is extraordinary. He’s an incredible designer, an innovative baker, funny as hell, kind, and endlessly patient with our long conversations. You can’t wait for his book, Marbled, Swirled, and Layered, coming out in November. Thank you, Irvin.
If you have the chance to go to Redbird in LA, go. Oh my, go. Look at this menu. The six of us who lingered around the dinner table under the sky (not kidding. there is an open ceiling and a wood-fired oven at Redbird.) sighed so happily so many times.
I was gobsmacked when the server brought me a little cloth bag filled with warm Parmesan rolls, gluten-free.
I won’t forget this meal soon.
I don’t know whose idea it was to go to Hungry Cat for lunch the last day of the conference. Somehow, a big pack of us just ended up in a Lyft van, heading down the street. Thanks, guys.
So the morning after we have lunch at Jitlada, Krista puts up a photo from Zankou Chicken on Instagram, reminding me that this is the place that inspired the Palestinian chicken episode from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Four hours later, I was there, with Nicki and Irvin, discussing all that is important in the world and also kind of losing our minds over the chicken platter, the shawerma, the lurid pickled turnips, and the garlic paste together. Whaaat?
I grew up outside of Los Angeles. It wasn’t the right place for me to call home, in the end. But my goodness, I love going back there now, as an adult, surrounded by friends and eating great meals without gluten.