About a month or so ago one of our friends Oriana started to disappear on Friday nights. She was relatively new to the crew, so at first I didn’t think too much of it. But then I started to ask. Responses were vague – and all I really got was, “she started a catering job or something.” I am an inquisitive person, and this did not suffice for me (not to mention, if she was catering, I wanted to know the details – who was cooking, who were they cooking for? etc), so when I got the the opportunity to, I confronted her on it (previous link = greatest confrontation of all time). When she told me she had been asked by a friend to help bar tend at an underground supper club. I had heard all I needed to. When I found out that the supper club was headed by a 23 year old chef named Miles Thompson with experience at restaurants like Animal, Nobu, and Son of a Gun, I sent him an email straight away and got on the list of invitees for the next dinner.
Miles Thompson is a LA food talent. He has been working with food since he was 13 years old, and with ten or so years of experience, he has taken his skills out of the commercial kitchen and back into the home – his home – for now. There are two things that I go out of my way to support – people taking a risk to pursue passion; and quality. The Vagrancy Project, as Miles has dubbed his home supper club (a first step to eventually opening up his own restaurant), is both of those things.
The idea of Miles’ dinners appealed to me on many levels. I am a fan of supper clubs (mainly because I am fascinated with getting a bunch of different people together in a social situation to see what happens), and often put on my own. Now that I am reinserting myself into the LA food scene, I like to keep my finger on the pulse of any happenings. Underground supper clubs are the types of environments that incubate great food ideas, and aside from the chef, are a good way to meet other interesting people involved with food and drink (I spent Friday night seated next to Alie Ward who co-hosts a show on the Cooking Channel called Classy Ladies – classy indeed). And the last tasting dinner I’d been to prior to Vagrancy was over a year ago in Mexico City at Pujol (absolutely world class, for the record).
Miles Thompson’s Vagrancy Project is held in a Hollywood apartment – his Hollywood apartment. We pulled up to the given address on Beachwood (after finding parking – of course. In Miles’ instructional email he warns everyone of the “challenge” parking can be – as if we needed a reminder…), a street that looks straight up to the Hollywood sign, on a warm May Friday night. Being en route to an underground supper club beneath by those famed blocky white letters, I could not help but think, “how LA…”
After calling the number we were provided, a girl came down and let us into the apartment complex. She led us upstairs and immediately upon walking through the door we were offered something to drink. I surveyed the setting and noted nothing out of the ordinary – a modest Hollywood apartment with a long table down the middle, crates of fresh produce in various corners of the living room / makeshift dining room, and already an eager crew of would be eaters gathered around.
We engaged in what I have to imagine is standard conversation for such dinners – Where do you come from? How did you hear about this, etc. etc. You could probably swap out the first 15 minutes of conversation between each group of diners and it would fit seamlessly from one to the next. The group that was assembled was very normal and friendly (almost disappointingly so…I was hoping for at least one live-wire), and overly obnoxious foodie talk was actually quite curbed. I think everyone was most interested in when the first of the eleven courses would come out, and if it would signal that the remaining ten were going to warrant the suggested donation (not that Miles makes very clear that any money collected above operating costs is donated to the Aviva Center – a non-profit organization). The first dish came shortly…and it warranted.
The food for the night started with a little neck clam dish with yogurt and kumquats. The flavors were balanced, the produce was fresh, and the portions were dialed. Other dishes included salmon FedExed in from the Columbia river (one of the few ingredients sourced from greater than 150 miles away. Almost the entire dinner is sourced from the Santa Monica’s farmer’s market) with a lettuce soup and smoked trout roe; a spring vegetables plate; a black bass raviolo; and a goat with various berries (including fresh and sweet mulberries) and granola. Miles made two desserts, as well. Note that all told, the dinner will last at least four hours. So come with an appetite and leave your “this is LA and I’ve got four other places to be tonight” attitude at home. Enjoy the food Miles creates.
The food was top notch – there is no question about it. Everything was very well thought out and meticulously prepared. Miles’ attention to detail was evident in each dish, from flavors, to plating, to the way it was positioned in front of each eater. But more impressive was how orchestrated everything was. It’s not easy cooking for a crowd, and to be able to pull off eleven courses of that quality with a crew of 4 in a tiny home kitchen exemplifies skill. I enjoyed the food as it was very much in the style of Rooted – seasonally driven variations on dishes we eat every day, and purely creative innovations. Though the food at The Vagrancy Project is no doubt a few steps more evolved than any Rooted recipe, which makes for tasting menu-standard of presentation.
The one area I felt left a little to be desired was the drink pairing. For an additional suggested donation, Miles and his team will pour a drink (note this is not just wine, but also unique beers, as well) with almost every dish (a few drinks served for 2 dishes). In full disclosure, I am not a big drinker, and am far less knowledgeable about wine than I am food (I do appreciate beer). Miles had selected some interesting bottles on Friday – some of which were great, but others left me underwhelmed. He focused heavily on rosés, as if trying to prove the point that it is a legitimate wine for pairing. No need to convince me on this – I am a big rosé fan (yeah, I also take pictures of flowers in my yard and will spear sharks in the head – so what?). If the goal was to demonstrate variation and introduce new varietals, this was accomplished, but I try to rate drink pairings with a general pass / don’t pass and a “wow that’s good,” as opposed to, “wow that’s something I’ve never heard of.”
I am very optimistic with this project. Even with only a few minutes of interaction with Miles I can clearly see that he is driven by passion, knows exactly what he wants to accomplish, and will not stop until he does so. I understand and appreciate this sort of mentality. Chefs are often under appreciated as artists and maybe not even considered artists by many. This could be due to America’s reverence for the “celebrity chef.” Though talented in their own right, outwardly facing these personalities are generally not the type of person I would put in the “artist” category. Great chefs with amazing command of flavors embody many of the same characteristics that distinguish great artists- mainly a love for creating something sensorily pleasing. Maybe this lack of comparison to the artist is due to the temporary nature of food compared to visual art or music? Though with a creative talent like Miles, if he continues to channel his ability, his presence on the food scene will be anything but temporary.
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