Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
September 16, 2009
Of course they send the Jewish girl to pick up a whole pig at the meat packaging plant, but that is only part of my L.A. story.
When Shanti told me she moved into a garage in Venice Beach, I guess I should have known she wasn’t lying. Still, that did not prepare me for what I see when we pull up at Zeno Place.
It’s a garage all right, a mechanic’s garage that’s been converted into two lofts, one in each bay. The space is ideal, really. It’s spacious and modern and the interior design is rather refined in its simplicity. Both have full kitchens and sizeable living rooms and full baths with a lofted bedroom upstairs. But what’s really remarkable are the enormous corrugated metal garage doors that are left open most of the time, creating an indoor-outdoor space that couldn’t exist anywhere but L.A. From the outside looking in, it reminds me of a dollhouse because of the way the furniture and the people are so exposed.
Venice is surreal that way. The whole time I’m there, I feel like I’m on the set of The Doors movie where Val Kilmer plays Jim Morrison and is tripping all the time, hanging on the beach with his eyes closed and his head cocked back, spontaneously composing the lyrics for “Moonlight Drive.” God, I love Jim Morrison.
The fact that there are shirtless men walking around everywhere and there is an outdoor shower and Shanti has no qualms about bounding around the place naked only adds to that ambiance.
The dollhouse garage is owned by a guy people call “Hot Shirtless Sven.” I’m guessing he never wears underwear either because his pants are always hanging off his hipbones proudly displaying his chiseled six-pack and his Greek God hip flexor muscles. He is the kind of guy who can get away with wearing his hear long and in a ponytail even though it’s sort of creepy. He drives an old muscle car and has a vintage motorcycle that he keeps parked in “the container,” a giant metal storage unit that’s housed in front of the garage loft thing.
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It’s definitely weird being around LA guys. They’re all very hip and dressed in skinny jeans with skate shoes, donning moustaches and sideburns and fedoras, which makes everyone kind of look like a gay clown from the ’20s. I’m not really feeling it. They avoid eye contact and somehow make me feel like I’m invisible, so I guess the feeling is mutual.
Anyhoo, the real star of the show is Chef Lee Anne Wong, the Culinary Producer from Bravo’s hit TV series “Top Chef” who was a contestant in Season 1 and stayed on for five more seasons as a producer. Apparently she’s a huge part of the show’s success.
She’s this little Chinese American girl who lives in Brooklyn and has that New York way, that tone that sort of says, “take it or leave it.” She is definitely a big person for such a little person. She’s adorable and giggles a lot, but at the same time, you wouldn’t want to cross her in a back alley when she is wielding her chef’s knives. Her business card says she is the “Queen of Porcine” which is sort of the opposite of an Aspen Princess if you think about it. I totally love her.
The concept for ZSC is to create a community based event that would bring musicians, artists, and friends together over food. It’s also a cooking show featuring Lee Anne doing demos for the special guests who then attend the massive dinner party that follows. Over the course of three nights there would be rock bands and pro snowboarders and fire dancers and stuntwomen in attendance, a cellist at the door, a photo booth, and of course, the infamous outdoor shower where I can tell you for a fact that deals were sealed.
As a departure from the constraints of producing a network show, ZSC will be broadcast in fairly short segments on YouTube, so it’s all very grassrootsy and underground. Also, no one on the project got paid.
Still, I think everyone got what we were looking for.
For me it was late one afternoon when Lee Anne called me into the kitchen and asked me if she could dictate a recipe to me. So I grabbed my laptop and pulled up a bar stool and listened and typed as she told me the story of Mexican mole. I watched as she chopped chilis and melted chocolate and sliced fresh oranges and roasted pumpkin seeds.
“A good mole will make you cry,” she said.
It was no different than watching a Broadway play or seeing your favorite band live in concert. It made me want to cry.
I met a slew of amazing, talented people who do all kinds of different things, from set design and makeup to writing screenplays to painting huge dildos with acrylics on canvas. I got to sit on the set and write about what was going on behind the scenes. I got to follow Lee Anne and her crew to the farmer’s market, to see how the food is made, and how the show is made. Then I got to eat that food, which was kind of like finally sleeping with that guy you’ve been flirting with for so long, but better. Food can’t hurt your feelings.
So a little trip to the meat packing plant wasn’t a big deal. It’s not like I’m kosher or anything and besides, I could have sworn the cute dead little pig had a smile on her face.
With all the magic that seemed to happen over the course of those few days, with all those magical people and food, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if our little Miss Piggy could spread her wings and fly.
Stay tuned next week for the Princess’s first trip to Minnesooota. For more on ZSC, go to http://www.zenosupperclub.com.
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