Masters of Taste 2017

Apr 25, 2017

Thank goodness, Rob and Leslie Levy, owners of The Raymond restaurant, thought, let’s do something different for a fundraiser. Not the same old gala cocktail hour or buffet as a fundraiser, but something different.

Perhaps they should’ve said, “go big or go home” because “Masters of Taste” is a fun idea with an ambitious concept, located in a helluva venue—on the field at Rose Bowl Stadium.

In the second year of this event, proceeds from Masters of Taste on May 7 benefits Union Station Homeless Services, of which Rob is on the board.

The press was invited to a taste of the Taste and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. As a football fan, just walking on the Rose Bowl field is a highlight. It’s one thing to sit in the stands as a spectator, it’s another to have the view as a player would, down on the field looking up. The Rose Bowl Stadium is not NFL big, but it’s still awesome.

Approximately a dozen eateries and houses of beverage set up their booths and offered samples. It was delightful and difficult to not eat too much (some of the samples were quite large), or get too tipsy.

To begin, we walked to the end of the line of table set-ups so we could work our way back. It was a perfect place to start as we got to chat with Bob Kaufman, CEO of Spireworks (with a location in Eagle Rock). The primary goal, he explained, was traveling the world to sample döner meat, then to experiment and create their own. The team offered half a sandwich with slices of Spireworks’ original recipe döner beef layered with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, sesame, something like saffron rice, and Zaataar Labneh (a condiment of mixed spices, usually including thyme, mixed with Middle Eastern strained yogurt). It was an interesting and delicious combination to have in a sandwich, the döner crisper than we usual experience in, say, a traditional gyro.




Spireworks’ series of yummy herb combinations (we were able to sample these, too):



Kaufman urged us to sample Spireworks’ unique spire cakes… in tiramisu, strawberry shortcake, dulce de leech, chocolate ganache, and banana cream pie. The cakes are the size of a silver dollar and sliced in ½-inch slices; the cake is moist, the flavors distinctive. Could be as addictive as popcorn shrimp; so small, you’re just not paying attention to how much is consumed.



We cleansed our palette by trying Indie Brewing Company‘s 7th Street Saison, a freshly crisp and clean beer, according to our amateur beer drinker taste buds, with notes of pepper, citrus and lemongrass (we were told, and could not have disagreed).



From carb to carb to carb: now it was time to sample Café Dulce‘s Fruity Pebble doughnut hole and bacon donut hole. Now, doughnut hole is inaccurate as these were no doughnut poppers, rather more the size of regular doughnuts but minus the hole. We’ll admit the dough was light and airy, and if one’s in the mood for mega sugar upon mega sugar and then a dose of salty bacon, these are your boys. It was a little too much for us in this early evening hour, though we could envision an indulgence on a Sunday morning with a large mug of rich coffee (and an ugly long distance run afterwards).

On the other hand, Café Dulce’s blueberry matcha latte was a flavor we readily enjoyed and could see partaking in regularly.




Birds and Bees and The Raymond 1886 created some beautiful, and delightfully different (and not too sweet) cocktails. Birds & Bees’ award-winning bartender Bethany Ham made good use of her specially blended tequila…


Bethany Ham (pouring) of Birds and Bees.



Bethany Ham (left) of Birds and Bees.


… and 1886 offered a gin concoction. Not being a gin fan, we were pleased to find our taste buds happily satisfied…





Avocado and grapefruit hors d’oeuvre from 188 Degrees, a raw and vegan restaurant in Tarzana.



Paul Shoemaker, former owner of the Savory Restaurant in Malibu has his crew put together salmon skin chicharron with roe and salmon and a half a dozen extra pops. It was the most original sample, for sure.





Below is a photograph of Chef Shoemaker’s “dime bags.” He explained it as foie gras in powdered form. He told us to put in our mouth and let it dissolve. “You’ll want to chew it,” he told us. “But don’t.”

The wrapping did dissolved quickly. If this was foie gras it was unlike any we’d ever had previously. What we tasted was sweet with a hint of salt, and we heard a soft crackling sound, then finally chewed on the pine nuts. A fascinating concept, even though the taste didn’t knock us over.



The night sky was too dark for us to take a picture by the time we came to our last stop at Bone Kettle. It was also one of our favorite samples: oxtail dumplings with mushrooms and San Bai Su sauce. Bone Kettle bases most of its dishes on bone broth that they simmer for 36 hours, which creates an infinite richness and depth.

From the Masters of Taste event, 100% of the proceeds will benefit Union Station. At the inaugural Masters of Taste in 2016, over $435,000 was raised. John Brauer, the new Chief Executive Officer of USHS, informed us that the number of people homeless in Pasadena dropped from 1,200 to 575 in 2016. The desire is to raise $100,000+ more this year, bring the number of homeless in Pasadena to zero, then span out and help other cities in San Gabriel Valley find permanent shelter for their homeless residents. A worthy goal.

So, if eating and drinking the evening away seems indulgent and decadent, with 100% of the proceeds going to help end homelessness, maybe you can reframe it from decadence to dedicated. And enjoy.



Masters of Taste 2017
Sunday, May 7th, 4-7 p.m.
Rose Bowl Stadium
Tickets: $105+
Purchase tickets here
For questions, email
Or call 1.626.791.6677






Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena