On Sunday, my friend James and I made the long trek down the 405 to attend this year’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA. While Christine has worked the festival for the last several years — manning her rocking Library Store booth — neither James nor myself had ever actually been to the Festival of Books.
I guess it’s one of those L.A. things you always say you’ll do and never end up doing — kind of like the L.A. County Fair, which Christine and I did memorably attend two years ago…rock on, deep fried snickers! — so this year, when we learned that the smoking hot “Top Chef” host, Padma Lakshmi was going to be spicing up the festival’s culinary stage, we knew we had to go.
And not only was Ms. Lakshmi going to be signing copies of her best-selling cookbook “Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet: A World of Recipes For Everyday”, but she was also going to be cooking as well…so, wow…how could we lose?
And even though we left the valley way later than we should have — if there had been traffic, we would have been so screwed — James and I ended up arriving just in time to see the fetching Ms. Lakshmi take the stage.
Taller and way funnier — not to mention hotter! — than she is on TV, Lakshmi started with some questions from the crowd. Our favorite was the query posed by an adorable little red-haired girl who asked: “What was your favorite thing you ever ate on the show?”
Smiling, Lakshmi admitted that, hands down, her favorite dish was the Fideos with Clams and Saffron prepared by Season 2’s eventual winner, Ilan Hall on the Santa Barbara episode. Ironically, Lakshmi joked, Ilan was also responsible for creating her least favorite dish of all time, the stomach-turning Fried Chicken Liver with Chocolate Ganache.
Another amusing moment came when a fan asked Lakshmi the name of her favorite place to eat in Los Angeles. Not missing a beat, Lakshmi smiled and answered: “My Mom’s house!” Wow, not only is this woman smart and beautiful, but she loves her Mom too…perfection.
Lakshmi then read some hilarious non-cooking passages from her book before firing up the burners onstage and launching into a cooking demonstration with a delighted fan from the audience.
And though we couldn’t sample the Mushroom and Goat Cheese Flautas or the Fresh Mint and Date Dipping Sauce she paired with them — probably due to some other new ordinance passed by anti-foodie Gloria Molina — they looked and smelled amazing.
Then, while Padma took a couple more questions from the crowd, James and I joined the already daunting line at the book signing tent nearby.
Despite the sweltering heat earlier in the day, things had begun to cool down at this point, so the wait wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. And quicker than you can say: “Please pack your knifes and go” we were having our pictures taken with Ms. Lakshmi while she signed our books.
But the best part came later when we noticed a sweet-faced, Indian-American woman hanging out in the signing tent next to Padma’s. She seemed to know Ms. Lakshmi very well, so, putting two and two together, I asked her if she was Padma Lakshmi’s mother…and guess what? She was.
My inner geek surging to life, I then asked this poor, unsuspecting woman if she’d mind signing her picture in Padma’s book for both James and myself. I know, stalker much? I’m surprised she didn’t call security on our fat asses.
Blushing wildly, Padma’s mother agreed to sign our books. And though she didn’t like the picture of herself I chose for her to sign, she found a better one on the same page and not only signed her name, but also posed for the picture with James below. Whoa…two Lakshmi’s in one day? Awesome!
By the time we were finished, the sun had begun to set on the Festival of Books and it was time to meet Christine and her co-worker “Santa Fe” Sarah at their booth up near Royce Hall.
So, after powering through some of the more interesting booths — many of which were offering incredible “end of the festival” markdowns — and scoring a free Koran from a super friendly young woman at the “Facts about Islam” booth, we headed back to the car for the long drive home.
Books, food, brainy-hot cooking show hosts/cookbook writers and their mothers…hmm, not a bad way to spend a Sunday.