I love when when people I admire on TV turn out to possess the same vibrant, joyous energy in real life as I’ve seen on my screen. That was the case last night with chef Susan Feniger, the special guest at LACO’s final Westside Connections concert of the season. I’ve watched Feniger on TV for years – I tuned into her Two Hot Tamales cooking show on Food Network during my college years, and watched her compete on Top Chef: Masters two years ago. It’s been a while since I’ve dined at one of her restaurants (I enjoyed a few meals at Cuidad before it was rebranded as the downtown location of Border Grill), but as a food lover (and a food TV fanatic), I’ve known who Susan Feniger was for well over a decade. Her enthusiasm and passion always stood out, and when she radiated those same qualities from the podium at the Broad Stage, I found myself beaming from ear to ear. Turns out she wasn’t the only one on the stage radiating those two qualities, and that too was no surprise.
The theme of this year’s Westside Connections concerts was an exploration of food and music, and Feniger spoke twice during the evening, recounting memories from childhood of specific musicians being played during her family’s dinners. Music has been a key component throughout her professional career, too – and her story about a 9-hour music-fueled effort to glaze a tandoori oven perfectly illustrated that point. Susan also drew an extended comparison between how chefs and composers work: from the tools they used to build their complex dishes or symphonies, to the careful, precise layering that has to happen for it to come together perfectly.
What was most wonderful about Feniger’s time on stage was that it was abundantly clear that she loved what she did, with every fiber of her being, and it truthfully seemed that this event challenged her to take a look at her passion in a new way.
The musical portion of the evening, executed by LACO’s equally passionate and enthusiastic musicians, was anchored by Ravel’s String Quartet in F major. It’s apparently one of the masterpieces of the quartet catalog, although this untrained ear was certain he had never heard it before. The second movement, though, sure seemed familiar… it was stuck in my head for the drive home, and I racked my brain trying to figure out where I had heard it before… and then, just blocks from my house, it all clicked into place: it’s currently being used in a huge series of commercials for a genealogy company! See for yourself by clicking here. I knew my endless hours of TV consumption (don’t judge) would come in handy.
The quartet was beautiful – one of those pieces I want to hear again and again (I’ve already downloaded a recording for my iPod) – as was the Saint-Saëns Fantaisie for Violin and Harp. I’ve been to LACO concerts featuring the harp before, but this was the first one where it (and JoAnn Turovsky, the harpist) were alone onstage with just one other instrument (a violin, played by Tereza Stanislav). A lot of harp music sounds ethereal to me, and the Fantaisie was no exception, so I really appreciated when the piece took a more mournful, somber turn, as I got to hear the harp in a more unfamiliar way.
The third selection in the program was Martinu‘s La Revue de Cuisine, which was labeled a jazz suite, although it didn’t sound very jazzy to me. I’m not saying it wasn’t an interesting and entertaining piece of music, because it was; it just seemed oddly named, although this is coming from a guy who admittedly knows jack squat about music. My favorite movement was the third, which was a lively Charleston – a dance I learned for a school concert in 6th grade. Ahhh, memories! From my vantage point, I could watch the trumpeter, Darren Mulder, most clearly, and I saw him use devices that I later learned were called mutes – inserts into his horn that alter (and, I suppose, mute) the sound that’s produced. Hardly a LACO event goes by without me learning something!
I don’t know why it’s taken me 6 paragraphs to mention another highlight of the evening: Susan Feniger brought her Border Grill food truck! I got to the concert early and ate two fantastic tacos (one was pork with pickled onion and orange salsa, the other citrus chicken with tomatillo) and some of the best ceviche I’ve ever had. Note to LACO: book more food trucks at your concerts. There’s certainly room for one in the Alex Theatre courtyard (although I’m not sure it would fit under the marquee).
The evening left me with one big question… What’s the theme of Westside Connections going to be next year? Because this untrained ear is already excited for more. You’ll find me in line at the food truck.
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