Being Couth: Meeting Thomas Keller in Pasadena

In my almost three years of living in Pasadena, I’ve met some great people at various signings around the city. Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, Chef Curtis Stone are just some of the authors I have shook hands with in the Crown City (technically I met Martha in Glendale). The locations of the events have either been Vroman’s or Sur La Table but when I heard that Thomas Keller would be in town I was surprised to see that he’d be at Williams-Sonoma. I love the high-end kitchen store, my mom buys those $20 apples for everyone on her Hanukkah/Christmas list and I normally walk in for samples or sale items. I put the date in the calendar, but with Josie in Berkeley for the week I wasn’t sure, the night before I decided to head to the event solo. As my dinner was in the oven, I ran to the store 20 minutes before closing to get the book Ad Hoc at Home with the receipt, so that way the following day I just had to wait in line. I live a few blocks away so this morning I walked by the store maybe an hour before he event. The line didn’t look that intimidating so I decided to run to SBux for an Iced Venti Soy Chai Latte. I finally got in line and began to sip and twitter.

The line was filled with Le Cordon Bleu culinary students, housewives, and some of my foodie friends. Kung Food Panda and Limer35 were just behind me. The weather was beautiful and it felt fantastic to be outside on a Thursday before noon. The event was so well coordinated and executed. Thomas Keller arrived early and the event began early. We were given cupcakes and faux pomegranate martinis in line and a dog was served water in a beautiful glass bowl from the store. One person in line asked if they could have a photo signed and the staff was super kind even when saying no. They said they asked Mr. Keller and he wasn’t comfortable with that because he’s not a celebrity but that he would happily take photos.

As I was approaching the Williams-Sonoma door on my way to Keller, once again everything was beautifully handled. They were letting in people three at a time, the Post-Its with the correct name spelling were in the book, and we were instructed to have our cameras on and hand it to the woman in the blue shirt.

Within moments it was my turn. He got up, shook my hand, sat back down, signed the book, and then stood for a picture. He called me Carina and he was sweet and shy. I had no uncouth statements and I didn’t slip him a business card, as I have done with others. He’s not that kind of guy. He is classy and respectable. Sure meeting someone like Richard Simmons is fun because they are outrageous and kiss you without asking and Chef Curtis is a guy that is begging for you to flirt with him but Keller, well Keller, is a man to respect and act appropriately around. He shows up early and starts early and I left feeling pleased, not starstruck and giddy. Williams-Sonoma was a great venue for him as they are a proper store that delivers exactly what you would think: good service, products, and no surprises.

I am sure that it is his demeanor, properness, and attention to detail that has restaurants constantly rank some of the best in the world, whether it is Per Se or The French Laundry. I was impressed and I was on my good girl behavior. I thanked him and if I knew how I would have curtsied. The Williams-Sonoma staff took my book and dried it with their hands. It was the smoothest retail operation I have seen and I am sure it was up to the Keller standards.

I grabbed my book, asked my blogger/twitter friends to join me for lunch, and a had a lovely stroll through my neighborhood. It was the most couth I felt in a long time and I thank Keller for this feat. What’s next, drinking milk and reading the bible? I am lactose intolerant and a Jew so instead I went for jalapeno yellowtail sashimi from Japon Bistro and looked for the Anais Nin journal about incest at Cliff’s Books. I want to make a joke about Keller’s inscription and a book on incest but I will restrain…if only you could take the uncouth out of this girl for good.

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Chocolate, Richard Simmons, and Kosher Irish Food

Some nights are so awesomely random (I only use that word because my ex despised people saying, “That’s so random”) that they can not even be imagined. My Friday night was very much like that. Josie and I had been invited to an Industry Night at Madame Chocolat. It
doesn’t take expensive <ahref=”http://www.vistaprint.com/custom-banners.aspx“>banners</a> to tell us this was going to be a great night. I left the office early and Josie, well, took one for the team. She posted this on my FB wall, “Aw, I’m cursing your name as I’m sitting in traffic bc I left an hour after you did from the office. Your work ethic is inspiring. You would’ve made a good settler or pilgrim. 😉 See you in a bit, partner.” By the time I talked to her again, the traffic had beat her down and I decided to head to the event in Beverly Hills solo. We just wrote a post about the fun night we had in Beverly Hills and I was excited to return without all of the hype of Oscar Week. I have to say that I am SO impressed by the parking in Bev Hills at night. Why can’t WeHo be like this ample free parking and at most you are dropping $3, not bad for one of the most expensive zip codes. I parked and walked to the chocolate store and I saw Mastro’s was surrounded by paparazzi. I walked by, rolled my eyes, and then I spotted a man in a bright yellow blazer. I quickly turned around and it was the one and only Richard Simmons. The man that I have seen my late night favorite, David Letterman, spray with a fire extinguisher while he was in a chicken suit. It was also the man that my favorite shock jock, Howard Stern, offended until he walked out of the show crying. This man has seen a lot of abuse and yet he is the happiest and sweetest man I have ever encountered.

He asked if I wanted a picture. I said, “Yes please, Richard.” I took out my camera and he handed it to the paparazzi stating that, “Her mom just got out of prison and she needs this photo.” I laughed, we posed, and then he kissed me. I was thrilled. I walked in to the chocolate factory and store with that special glow. I saw EstarLA, ShopEatSleep, and Pleasure Palate and showed them all my camera before getting down to business. Of course, by business, I mean chocolate eating and wine drinking. Within seconds I had wine and bonbons.

I didn’t stick that strictly to the pairings because I was late and decided to eat and drink whatever was in front of me. I am a fruity girl so it was no surprise that the raspberry, passion fruit, and lime with white chocolate were my favorites. What I was surprised by was the chocolatier, Hasty Torres, who was tiny, gorgeous, and super accommodating. She made sure my chocolate and wine consuming was all caught up and Roaming Belly, another late arrival, and I got a private tour and sampling.

The store portion was charming and everything a little french girl can dream of in her Willy Wonka-esque fantasies. There were chocolate covered cheerios, marshmallows, display cases of goodness, and fresh chocolate chip cookies.

We were gathered in the back in the factory portion of the store. We saw the machines that chocolate coat everything from Nutter Butter’s to Oreos. The molds were all out and we wwere even being kept company by edible bunnies.

Over the course of the night with the wine and the chocolate, I saw a perfect Uncouth Gourmand Moment. A man spilled his wine all over a tray of chocolate. To be honest, I was jealous it wasn’t me. Not only because that action stands for everything I believe in but also because he got them all wrapped up and got to take them to go.

The night was so much fun but I have to say that I was most charmed by the fact that this chocolate shop, in the middle of the most hoity-toity block, was truly a family affair. Hasty’s mom decorated the store, her dad does the numbers, her brother does the web, and her hubby, well, he is Mr. Chocolate. She is married to the famous chocolatier Jacques Torres. It was a story of love and chocolate and it is the stuff romantic movies are made of. I talked to Hasty about the chocolate trends and she explained to me that while she may experiment at home and she likes Vosges and the other trendy chocolatiers, she intends to keep it classic in her store. I respect that and it was inspiring to see chocolate in it’s tried and true classic form. Hasty will be doing a chocolate workshop this Sunday that is open to the public. You may purchase tickets to the event here, if you are unable to attend stop by the shop and try some delicious chocolat.

I had already been kissed by Richard Simmons, eaten amazing chocolate, what was next for my Friday night? I was so touched by the Madame Chocolat family story that I hung out with my Downtown Jew Crew. It was now around 11 o’clock and that is just about the time my friends begin eating Shabbat Dinner. For this Shabbos they had an Irish theme. For the fish course there was Murphy’s steamed fish and for the meat course it was Kosher corned beef with braised cabbage, celery, and carrots in Guinness.

It was a fantastic Friday night that may seem like an odd mix but it all went beautifully together. What will this Friday bring? Oh yes, Gays & Dolls. The life of a UG is many things but boring it is not.

Neighborhood Profile: Beverly Hills

Josie and I have a bad habit of not liking to go west of La Cienga unless we are going straight to Santa Monica/Venice. We try and venture into West LA but we are Eastside Girls at heart. We were invited last night to the 25 Year Anniversary Party of Bombay Palace and that was our catalyst for a full night in Beverly Hills. Josie, always uncouth, invited our friend who happens to be Indian to the party in BH’s premier Indian restaurant and he in turn invited us to another swinging BH party. The event was the exhibit opening of Andreas Gurskey at the Gagosian Gallery. The plan was to meet at the exhibit at 6:30 and then head to the Bombay Palace for the celebration. Josie was uncharacteristically early, I was a little late from an out of character coffee date (I normally demand a full dinner), and our friend Arun who is always early was late after hours in traffic. Josie warned me that Diane Von Furstenberg, Michael Moore, and Adrian Brody were already there. Arun got a spotting of Jeremy Piven eating his food outside Mr. Chow’s with the valet. It became clear that on this week, prior to the Oscar’s, Beverly Hills was more celebrity infested than ever. I love going to art galleries and these giant photographs were striking but it became clear that at this “sceney” event the only thing on display was everyone there. I found myself admiring the red soled Louboutins that graced everyone’s feet at the event. It was nice but not for me.

We headed over to the Bombay Palace and were joined by Arun and his friend Roni. Over the course of the night we learned that Roni was from Tel Aviv and is the force behind The Band From, which is “probably the best surreal indie pop band to come from Beverly Hills.” The party was only a couple of hours in and the dance floor was already being hit hard. The sitar was being strummed and those Indian women had hips that wouldn’t lie. Josie was stalking the caterers holding platters and it was one of the most welcoming events we ever attended. The owners were placing food out for us and asking us to eat more. We felt more like we were at a private Indian wedding than a restaurant on Wilshire Blvd.

One person we were surprised to run into was Bill from Street Gourmet LA. Arun is an avid blog reader and was ecstatic to meet the Street Gourmet LA himself. He was quoting him and his most recent posts. Josie and I were a little jealous as we credit Arun as our first fan. The event was fantastic and in the invitation it said the party would be going until 10p. At around 9:30 I was stuffed from all of the platters endlessly being passed but leave it to Josie at that minute to see a buffet line being formed and grab Street Gourmet to grab a full plate of food with her. They were the food ballers of the night as Arun and I both made the “Oh, Josie” face.

During a night in Beverly Hills it is more than common to have a celebrity run-in. I had a very uncouth but fortunate version of this. I was in line for the bathroom and I heard a speech from the owners and then  I saw a young boy brought up on the stage. I remembered The Minty telling me that the last time she was at Bombay Palace her waiter was a cute young boy. When I returned to the dining room, I saw the boy and tapped him on the shoulder asking if he worked at the restaurant. He laughed and his friend said that he was brought up to the stage because he is the lead actor in a movie that was nominated for an Oscar. I looked up the film when I got home and it turns out this boy is a HUGE deal. His name is Sagar Salunke and he plays Kavi in a short film called Kavi, which is nominated as the Best Short Film, Live Action. I felt foolish but this kid was 100% the coolest actor I have ever met. Yes, Beverly Hills is hoity-toity but it is also a neighborhood with restaurants and people kind enough to invite you and make you feel like family.