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Highlights from the LAT Festival of Books Cooking Stage

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The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books took place this past weekend at U.S.C. McDonald's showed up, random concession food was on offer, and a gigantic Ben & Jerry's bus dominated. And while this annual event is more about the authors than the food, Eater camped out at the Cooking Stage to catch glimpses of Kathy Freston and Tal Ronnen (vegans and authors of Veganist and The Conscious Cook), Sir Thomas Keller (promoting Ad Hoc at Home), the larger-than-life Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes, and local favorite, Fabio Viviani of Top Chef fame.

As the afternoon sun broke, LA Times dining editor Russ Parsons interviewed Chef Keller on the shaded stage while hundreds sat and stood during the hour plus discussion. There was career talk, and talk about what being a chef today means. Parsons pushed Keller to admit to being less of a chef and more of... what? A businessman? A restauranteur? Keller thought about this and seemed perplexed for a moment, "The better you get, the further you get from what you originally fell in love with... but then you're able to help that next generation achieve their goals."

Parsons asked Keller about success and what it means to him: "It's not about fame or fortune, fame is something other people give you and fortune, I don't need a lot of money, I'm fine... A couple came into my restaurant, The French Laundry, once and after their meal they told me that it reminded them of this experience they had at another [famously excellent] restaurant. It's my dream that when people dine at The French Laundry and then go abroad, overseas, they have that memory of the experience we gave them. Success is about memories, it's about creating memories for yourself, for others."

Before Duff took the stage, we grilled him on his forthcoming LA Bakery. It is indeed going to be in Santa Monica, "near MTV" and will not be a retail operation. Duff says that moving across the country and replicating something from the East Coast is tough enough, but then to also add a retail element would be risky. "I'm not a businessman, I'm just a baker. With a retail operation, there's waste, you have to anticipate what the public will want. Here's a cake that looks like a storm trooper and here's a cake that looks like a book, who's to say anyone will want them? We can change the model where we had cakes for sale, but that's not what we're doing here." On the new bakery, "we have a test kitchen space right now, so that we can fill orders." The Health Department has not yet permitted Charm City Cakes West, though Duff is still planning on being open by the beginning of June.

On why he moved to LA: "My mom lives here... and obviously there's a demand. It will be a great position for us to service everything West of the Rockies. We can drive up to San Francisco, Portland, Seattle." Randomly, Duff wants to make a TV show called "Guns and Butter," but for now, he's filming his new show, "Sugar High" ("I can't believe they let me get away with that name, knowing, well, you know, well, they've seen enough of my other show to know..."), this week. For six weeks he's driving a Harley across America in search of the desserts at diners, drive-ins, and dives. He admitted that "Sugar High" is a riff on Guy Fieri's hit show, but that he's focused only on the sweets. "Sugar High" should air this fall on Food Network. [EaterWire]
— Daniela Galarza

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