Perhaps I’m too young to say this…but I feel like life has come full circle at this week’s dinner party.
When I first met my friend Tracy, it was because I was interviewing her about her first start-up business for my school’s newspaper, The Daily Trojan. As we were exchanging emails on where to meet, Tracy noticed that I signed off my name with “burpingly yours” and asked if I was a foodie, because she was one too.
“Hell yes,” I replied. And suddenly, I couldn’t wait to meet this girl.
We met at our school’s Coffee Bean. What I had expected to be a 30-minute interview lengthened over an hour-and-a-half. While I sipped an iced coffee and she an iced Moroccan Mint tea latte, we chatted over our favorite places to eat, why we eat, how we eat…basically, we hit it off over our mutual passion for food.
As I hugged Tracy goodbye, we made a promise to each other that we’ll one day dine out together, but not just yet because I needed to write a disinterested feature article on her—not that I wasn’t already biased anyway.
Unfortunately, we didn’t hold true to our promise until about two years later. I got busy, she got super busy; I got sucked into my summer internship, she got engrossed in graduating and establishing a new business concept. We met a couple of times—once for Yogurtland on my birthday, the other for a brief tour around a gang-rehabilitation institution—but we didn’t truly sit down for a proper meal together until this 10-course, 5-hour meal at Yujean Kang’s.
And the rest is history.
Now, I’m actually working for her as a content manager at her start-up business, Chewse, an online one-stop catering service. If we weren’t such good friends, I would have once again written a feature article on her for The Daily Trojan. But now, instead of being a detached observer, I’m one of the participating members of her Chewse team. And so far, it’s been a blast.
One of the visions of Chewse is to highlight our love and enthusiasm for food. So we decided to throw frequent dinner parties celebrating our company culture and engaging the community.
This Saturday, April 28, we had our first Chewse dinner party through the generous funds of Foodbuzz. I’ve had the honor of holding Foodbuzz 24×24 events before, but this time, instead of just inviting close friends, I extended the invitation to our local community.
Chewse’s CTO, Jeff, is an avid coffee-lover.
At the Chewse office (really, Jeff’s home in Venice Beach), there’s never a short supply of excellent coffee. He’s even got all the nifty coffee equipments you’ll see at avant garde coffee shops.
As we brainstormed about which dinner party theme to pitch to Foodbuzz, we were both sipping Clever-brewed coffee. After suggesting and scratching several ideas, it finally hit us. Duh. Coffee!!!
After all, Tracy and I met at a coffee shop. I met Jeff at a coffee shop. Both Jeff and I are obsessed about coffee (though in varying degrees; I drink 7-Eleven coffee, Jeff thinks that’s heresy). Chewse, inevitably, was born out of many sleepless nights fueled by caffeine.
So. Coffee it was. We planned our menu so that it would be a multi-course meal inspired by traditional breakfast items. Every dish, however, had to have some kind of coffee in it.
One coffee inspiration led to another. We decided to invite only serious coffee-lovers. Our attendees that night, excluding Tracy, Jeff and I, were the owner of Cafe Demitasse, the LA Coffee Club guys and Jeff’s friend and fellow coffee-lover, Skot.
The whole gang, proudly pledging loyalty to good coffee. From left to right: Adam, Skot, Antone, Jeff, Tracy, Bobby.
Here’s our caffeine-inspired menu:
Foodbuzz 24×24 Caffeine-buzzed Dinner
Espresso raspberry jam muffins
Coffee-and-brown-sugar cranberry bread swirled thingy
Coffee-rubbed pork belly ssam
Coffee mole egg “bernaise”
Coffee shots (alcoholic)
Regular coffee shots (non-alcoholic)
This is Adam, co-founder of LA Coffee Club.
Just check out that beard and mustache. He actually entered a mustache competition and won fourth place. This guy is hi-freaking-larious. He’s like a Jack-in-the-box, constantly springing entertaining stories about his life. I’m trying to get him to sign a contract that states I have the right to write his biography. He’ll probably write it himself and make it twice as good.
This is Antone, the other mastermind behind LA Coffee Club.
I learned that Antone hates okra and that his mother works at a Jamaican restaurant called Naturaliart Jamaican Restaurant on W. Washington Boulevard. Again, full circle: I remembered that my driving instructor was Jamaican, and I remember him telling me to dine at Naturaliart if I wanted real Jamaican food. I’ve marked that restaurant down on my Burp List, because I don’t think I’ve ever tried Jamaican food before. Oh, and I probably shouldn’t have, but I totally did: I asked Antone if he watched Cool Runnings (he did). Hey, it is one of my favorite movies of all time and I used to watch it once every week back when I didn’t care about school. Anyway, Antone is a super cool and chill guy.
Although Antone and Adam both have day-time jobs right now, their main passion (and soon-to-be main job) is coffee. Their business right now is like a coffee subscription service in which they mail what they believe is the best coffees to your home or office. They personally engage with all the best coffee roasters in town and select the best for their menu. In short, they are coffee curators.
This is Bobby.
He’s a lawyer-turned-dish-washer of Cafe Demitasse, or so his Google-Plus account says. He’s the brave soul who gave up a stable job for a risky, hectic entrepreneurship in the coffee business. I’ve already written about Cafe Demitasse as my favorite coffee shop in Los Angeles, and that statement still stands true. I’m not a coffee gourmand by any means, so I appreciate the balance Cafe Demitasse scales between educating and befriending their sometimes ignorant customers (me).
I just realized I didn’t get an individual picture of Skot, except for this misaligned picture of him showing of his multiple shots of empty coffee cups.
Sorry, Skot! Bur here’s another full circle thing with Skot: I actually first “met” Skot at Cafe Demitasse; we were both there for a barista competition (Cafe Demitasse routinely organizes cool events like that). So it was cool that we actually got to meet for real sipping coffee and eating coffee-ed (?) food next to the owner of Cafe Demitasse.
And then, of course, there’s Tracy and Jeff.
Jeff and I were the designed “cooks” of this event, while Tracy handled the alcoholic drinks and the LA Coffee Club took charge of the barista duties. They set up their own station and everything. Check out the whole gear they brought:
There’s more, but it wouldn’t fit into my camera frame.
Jeff and I made a few stuff the day before; I poofed the dough for the swirly bread thingy the night before, and Jeff baked the espresso-raspberry jam muffins:
This is just your basic sweet muffin recipe but with coffee and blobs of raspberry jam.
That Saturday afternoon, we got to work with the rest of the menu items.
I left the pork belly to Jeff because I’m not good at cooking meat, and he did a terrific job. We kinda, sorta followed Closet Cooking’s recipe for coffee-rubbed pork belly, but improvised the spice mixture a bit.
Here’s the rows of awesome belly chilling on the chopping board, waiting to be chopped into pieces.
Jeff also handled the coffee mole for our egg bernaise, while I poached the eggs minutes before serving. This is our assembled product:
The idea was to completely bastardize the traditional egg bernaise, so yeah, the only thing similar is that it has a (store-bought) English muffin and the poached egg.
We spread each muffin with some sour cream that we whipped with garlic powder and chopped scallions, then plopped a poached egg on top and slathered some of the coffee mole over. Because the coffee mole ended up looking like diarrhea, at the last minute I added a dollop more of sour cream and a torn up piece of lettuce on top. Well, we do the best we can.
Oh, and the coffee mole is obviously…not “authentic” either. We roughly followed this recipe but instead of chicken broth, we used coffee. A heck lot of coffee.
For the swirly bread, I basically followed The Kitchn’s recipe for cinnamon-raisin swirl bread, except instead of raisins I used dried cranberries. And instead of the cinnamon-sugar mixture, I mixed dark brown sugar with fresh-ground coffee beans.
It was a success. The bread was soft and fluffy with a nice bite of chew, studded sparsely with dried cranberries so as not to distract the attention from the coffee-dark brown sugar filling. I used the ratio 2:1 between brown sugar and ground coffee.
If you like coffee with carbs, you’ll love it. Especially when you spread it with the mocha-cinnamon butter.
For the butter, we bought a Costco-sized Kerrygold butter, let it sit to soften for half an hour, and then whipped it up with some cocoa, ground coffee, a dash of cinnamon and a sprinkle of brown sugar. If you’ve never had Kerrygold butter before, you need to drive to Costco—right now. A small bar won’t do, you’ll want a bucket of that milky, golden crack that feels like mascarpone and tastes like…gelato in heaven.
But! For me at least, the star of the show was the pork belly.
Jeff did a freaking amazing job on this! The edges was coated thick with coffee-scented seasoning; it was bitter in a smoky, savory way, almost like dark, dark chocolate with a bit of spice that lingers on your tongue. But the best part is when you sink your teeth into the top of the glistening fat, and it almost melts and oozes in your mouth, mixing with the layer of tender meat underneath…
I swear. Pork belly is the pig’s Valentines candy to us. We ate it wrapped around Korean sesame leaves, called Gaennip, with sour cream.
I got the idea from the Korean way of eating pork belly—the ssam way. There’s no complicated trick to it—just slap a piece of pork candy onto a leaf (or two), wrap, dab a bit of sour cream, and devour. Antone does it so well.
And looks like Bobby is enjoying his too. Haha.
While we were dining, Adam constantly brewed coffee for us, using different contraptions.
The first one he used was the Siphon, because it’s just so damn cool.
How can anything with a flame not be cool, right? Well, except the Bunsen burner experiments we were forced to do in high school science class.
Using the Siphon is a little more complicated. I’ve explained the science behind it on this post, but basically, its the basic science of evaporation and condensation of gases and liquids.
Using the Chemex and the Clever, however, is more straightforward. All you need to do is measure accurately and have a bit of patience. This is what a Chemex looks like:
Pretty simple and unimpressive, right? Antone told me he likes Chemex-brewed coffee the most though. He calls Chemex the “poor man’s” coffee brewer because you don’t need any fancy schmancy equipment to brew a great cup of coffee with it, though it takes a bit more steps and work. It is very decently priced, and will keep forever unless you smash it or something.
The “science” behind the Chemex is just the hour-shaped glass and the filter that uses a precise paper formulation to keep sediments away while passing through all the desired aromatics of the coffee into the finished brew.
Adam kindly demonstrated in this 4-minute video on how to make coffee at home with a Chemex—and have fun with it.
Coffee. It’s what’s for dinner—literally in our case.
Towards the end of our dinner, Tracy got up to whip up some drinks for us.
The ingredients were Bailey’s, Whiskey, heavy cream and brewed coffee.
The coffee she used, I think, was a cold brew from Secret Squirrel.
The first shot she made was obviously for her—heavy on the Whiskey. She later wimped down her recipe for me: heavy on the cream. Basically, she made me the kid’s version, the Starbucks’ Frappuccino to Sumptown’s drip coffee.
Once we were all full and happy, Jeff and I got to work on the tiramisu crepes, because we haven’t done our jobs if our guests went home merely full. They needed to be waddling!
I had blended a batch of crepe batter (using Alton Brown’s recipe because I trust him on everything food-related). To be honest I got a bit lazy and decided the coffee component of this dish would be to add a tablespoon-ish of ground coffee into the batter.
While I cooked the crepe, Jeff melted down some bittersweet chocolate on a double-boiler. I jacked it up with a shot of rum and a drizzle of heavy cream. It turned out amazing, like the dark cousin of Cadbury’s fruit and nut chocolate.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the right pan for the crepe so we had a tough time flipping the crepe over and sliding it onto the plate without folding over and breaking apart.
We only got it right on the third try. The secret weapon? Chopsticks. From then on I used it for everything, even to scoop mascarpone onto the crepe.
“Keep in mind, it’s only two pieces of sticks,” Jeff reminded me as I gloated about the brilliant minds of Asians. Well yes, two sticks of awesomeness!
Anyway, as you can see, the filling for the crepe was our rum-infused chocolate, scoops of mascarpone and sliced almonds. It was slightly heavy, but irresistible. Rum + coffee + mascarpone + chocolate = four demitasses of WIN.
Our guests trickled in around 6 p.m., and they slowly dispersed past 11 p.m. You know you have great guests when all you need to do is serve the food, sit back and listen to their engaging conversation. It was fascinating to listen into the discussion about the “coffee revolution” in Los Angeles, who has been a late boomer compared to San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. It gave me an idea to write something about that the business and cultural aspects of coffee in the future.
I know I want to be a journalist, so my work at Chewse is temporary. I’m really thankful to Tracy and Jeff for inviting me to be part of their team. I’m excited to keep track and play a small role in Chewse’s progress, and I’m also excited to see Cafe Demitasse and LA Coffee Club’s influence in bridging the gap between coffee-sniffers and coffee-chuggers. I really admire their chutzpah in this business, and I wish them the very best.
After our last guest hugged goodbye, Jeff, Tracy and I totally high-fived to our first Chewse dinner party success. It was a great end to hopefully the first of our many, many dinner parties to come.
A giant, bubbling heartfelt thank you to Antone, Adam, Bobby and Skot for making history with Chewse. May we all have many more wonderful stories to which we can clink glasses and coffee mugs together.
Question of the Day: The classic question of…If you could invite anyone, who would you invite to your dinner party?