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It begins with the bull testicle, cooked sous-vide, sliced into medallions and served on slivers of rye bread. Then come the chicken gizzards, followed by pig-ear shoestrings and foie gras mousse — a decadent, post-prohibition parfait layered over fig jam and sprinkled with Cocoa Krispies. Each is executed with panache by celebrity chef Neal Fraser, but all are just opening acts to the evening’s marquee draw: 500 pounds of filet mignon – street value $35,000 – grilled to a mouth-watering medium-rare and served on silver trays in half-inch slices. No plates, utensils or napkins are provided. If you want to feast, you’ll have to use your fingers, which you can then wipe clean on the apron handed to you upon entry.
The event is Beefsteak, an annual beef bacchanalia that caters to Hollywood’s TV comedy elite. The fourth raucous edition — replete with aerialists in cow costumes and a “wine rave” tent — was held Saturday, Jan. 24, at Vibiana, a cathedral-turned-banquet hall in downtown’s Historic Core. (The space and its adjoining restaurant, Redbird, serve as headquarters to Fraser’s culinary empire, which he co-runs with his wife, Amy Knoll Fraser.) The brainchild of three friends — The Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman, Eric Wareheim (taller half of surrealist sketch comedy duo Tim & Eric) and ABC Studios development exec Cort Cass — Beefsteak takes its inspiration from similarly gluttonous historic soirees thrown by the privileged political boys’ clubs of old-world New York.
This latter-day version throws its doors open to everyone — women and vegans included — with proceeds from the formal (in dress, anyway) evening benefiting the L.A. Food Bank. It all began four years ago as a small gathering of comedy writers, mostly Harvard Lampoon alumni, held in the party room of a local restaurant. But word spread quickly about its top-notch food and circus-like atmospherics, and it wasn’t long before Beefsteak had grown into one of the most anticipated evenings on the Hollywood social calendar. All 600 tickets to this year’s soiree, priced at $150 each, sold out within a few hours of being made available online. “There’s nothing I love more than telling my friends that they can’t come,” says Wareheim, decked out in a fire-engine-red tuxedo and matching frilly shirt. (“I wanted to celebrate the beefness, the blood.”)
Networking at Beefsteak is relegated to the back-burner, and that’s a key ingredient to its success. “There’s no obligation to go,” explains Selman, an investor in Fraser’s Redbird. “There’s no screening right before it where you have to find the guy and go, ‘Oh man that was great!’” Cass adds that the goal is to get people out of their comfort zones. “The idea of eating with your hands immediately disarms people a little bit. It really sets us apart from a lot of other … charity galas? I don’t even know what this is. It’s some nonsense thing.”
Strange surprises lurked at every turn. On the patio, guests queued up to be appraised by the Bumbees, a pair of Brooklynites hidden behind sunglasses and bandannas who tap out their impressions of you on electric typewriters. Then there was the aforementioned “wine rave,” a black-lit teepee in which a shirtless young man in dayglo body paint hands you a glass of Riesling while delivering a strange invocation. (Confused? So were we.) Mount a staircase and you stumbled into a satellite kitchen, where Craig Thornton, the culinary wunderkind behind the Wolvesmouth phenomenon, was hard at work plating chicken-poblano tamales and lime-tart desserts.
Meanwhile, in the main hall, guests gorged themselves senseless on slabs of filet, dipping occasionally into bowls of parsnip, broccoli rabe,
Among those in attendance was Glee star Jayma Mays, FX Networks COO Chuck Saftler and geek-comedy messiah Mike Judge, whose Beavis and Butt-Head would likely have felt right at home in this etiquette no-go zone. This was Judge’s third Beefsteak, but the first at which the Silicon Valley creator had actually sampled the meat. (“I always used to get here late, and was afraid it might have some e-coli on it. But it was really good!”) As for the foie gras, a previously banned substance cleared on Jan. 7 for legal consumption, Judge hadn’t yet sampled the wares — but had no moral qualms about it. “I actually really hate geese,” he admits. “I was attacked by a goose in Arkansas. I find them really obnoxious. I remember when I first heard [that the ban had been overturned,] I thought, ‘You know what? Fuck ’em.'”
For Saftler, a Beefsteak virgin, it all made for an extremely favorable first impression. “It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in Los Angeles in my 30 years living here,” he said with a smile as he surveyed the festivities. “It had the greatest spirit about it — the spirit of community, spirit of gluttony, spirit of comedy. What could be better than that?”
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