Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lexus Culinary Masters Dinner @ Animal

Until recently, upon hearing the words "automobile PR", my mind would instantly jump to test drives, car shows, and demo races with scandily-clad women waving checkerboard flags. Plus a good mix of testosterone-fueled grunting alongside a near-obsessive geekout over the vehicles' technical specs & features.
Intro by Lexus
And that was a notion that was disproven when I was invited to their Culinary Masters Dinner last month at Animal, when its chefs & co-owners Vinny Dotolo & Jon Shook (who are also behind Son of a Gun & Trois Mec) are inducted as their latest culinary masters and will be doing food-related outreach on the brand's behalf alongside other masters including Daniel Boulud, Masumaru Morimoto and Michael Symon.

At this particular dinner, they partnered with Michelle Bernstein (from Michy's and Crumb on Parchment in Miami & also a recent Culinary Masters inductee) for an eight-course, wine-paired dinner benefiting Common Threads, a charity dedicated to educating kids & their families to cook wholesome, nutritious and delicious meals at home.
Lexus Exterior
Since this was an event hosted by Lexus, there's bound to be some encounter with one of its vehicles. For me, that entailed being chauffeured from my home to Animal in its 2013 LS460.
Lexus Interior
I was very thankful that I didn't have to keep my eyes on the road for the 45 minutes trip there (and better yet, the tipsy trip back.) I am even more grateful that I wasn't assaulted with a bunch of car questions & sales pitch along the way. After a full day at work, I'd much rather rest my eyes & catch up on my e-mail backlog than go into depths about cabin space, fuel economy, horsepower and resale value. That being said, the ride was enjoyable and smooth throughout even in the throes of LA's stop-and-go rush hour, with comfortable seating (which has seat warmers AND coolers) and lots of room.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with passed hors d'oeuvres & glasses of bubbly and left to mix & mingle until Lexus' brand representative made his announcement of its newest culinary masters; we then took our seat and were treated to a delightful multi-course feast.

While I think all dishes were a delight and provocative in one way or another with combinations I would've never put together, there were definitely a few highlight dishes, including:
Beets, Yogurt, Blackberry
Yogurt with red beets, blackberries, hibiscus and shiso - this starter course tasted as vibrant as it looked, with the red beets' sugary sweetness balanced by the tang of the berries and hibiscus, the refreshing aroma of shiso & melded together by the creamy yogurt. It's like a fancy parfait!
Squash Blossom, Shrimp, Cheese Grits
Shrimp-stuffed squash blossom with cheese grits - fried squash blossom is always a delight, but I loved that instead of the usual cheese, this one was filled with shrimp - a playful take that reminded me of tempura with a blossomy shell. The cheese wasn't completely out of the picture tho, and was mixed into the grits here for a comforting accompaniment to the squash & shrimp.
Egg, Bouillion, Sausage, Garlic Bread
Bouillon with egg, Italian sausage, fried broccoli and garlic bread - a delightful mingling of different flavors and textures; I loved how the rich sous-vide'd egg gives way to the light, luscious broth with hits of spice & "greeness" from the sausage and broccoli. And the toasts were great for eating alongside the soup or dunking in to mop up the last bits.
Dry Aged Beef, Creamed Corn, Chanterelles
Dry aged beef, chanterelles, scallions, balsamic, creamed corn - artfully presented and a pleasure to eat, especially as I kept mixing and matching different components to see what combinations work (in short, they all do!) And it was beautifully paired with a 2010 Rhone that is smooth on the palate but robust enough to hold its own (and bring out) the bold flavors on the plate.

After this experience, if people asked for my opinions on Lexus, I'd say it was delicious. Sure, I'll probably get strange looks from 99 percent of the crowd, but I'll keep an eye out for that 1 percent who'll give me a nod and a wink because they too, have had encounters with their culinary events.

Other reports on this event:
Eating LA
(Beverly Hills Restaurant) Examiner


  1. Smart move on Lexus' part! Sounds like quite the meal...hopefully they gave you a ride home too. ;)

    1. I did get a ride home, and I noticed that lately more luxury car brands have been doing these type of events too -- to help convey the lifestyle behind their brands.