Amid such riches as El Cholo's green tamales topped with mole, La Huasteca's chile en hogada and Porto's mango-glazed cake slices, over 1,500 attendees enjoyed the fare at this year's East Meets Napa and Beyond at Los Angeles Union Station February 19. The eighth annual event, which features exclusively Latino restaurants and wineries, raised $350,000 for AltaMed programs, which provide health and human services for Latino and multi-ethnic communities of Southern California.
Hungry attendees lined the food stations spread across two plazas in the vintage train portal, with over 30 restaurants including such banner names as Chich?®n Itza, La Parrilla, Loter?¡a Grill and El Tepeyac Caf?®.
"There's a lot of gourmet food and wine festivals," said Joel Lara of AltaMed. "But what makes this one special is that the actual owners and head chefs of the restaurants commit to being here."
Adding the "beyond Napa" sheen to the 30 wineries pouring at the event was the inclusion of 12 wineries from Mexico. Joaquin Prieto, who represents nine vintners from Baja, explained what sets their grapes apart. "It's the climate and soil of the Mexican valleys," Prieto said.
A common theme of the event was the relationships that AltaMed President and CEO C?ístulo de la Rocha developed over the years. Luna Restaurant Executive Chef Alfonso Ramirez recalled the two men started the event as a tiny penthouse affair with just 100 attendees. Restaurants were added along the way, many of which de la Rocha frequents, such as Hugo Molina's Set?í restaurant.
"This event is a wonderful way to give back to the community," said Molina, as he hovered over the small plate offerings of braised short ribs on sour cream mashed potatoes with a cabernet reduction.
Even the attendance of the Grammy-nominated band Mongorama tempting attendees to dance bore the touch of de la Rocha. "Our sons were in the same Little League team," said Jos?® Rizo, whose band featured such Grammy winners as pianist Oscar Hern?índez and flautist Danilo Lozano.
Altamed Chief Medical Officer Martin Serota summed up the evening as he toasted Chef John Rivera Sedlar nearby: "You meet chefs, have wonderful food and meet up with old friends, all for a good cause."
Teresa Gordon is a freelance writer whose articles have been published in Sabor, Latin Beat, and Hispanic Magazine and the Daily Breeze newspaper.