How has Los Angeles cuisine evolved over the last century? One way to answer that question is to look at Grand Central Market, a food market in downtown Los Angeles that founded in 1917. For the authors of The Grand Central Market Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, Oct.), the varied treats you can find at the market offer a picture of L.A.'s food scene.
The book is written by Adele Yellin, the president of the real estate company that owns and operates Grand Central Market, and Kevin West, who served as creative director of the market from 2012-2016. Featuring contributions from each of its 38 food vendors, the book’s recipes—for such things as fried chicken, beet soda, and avocado tacos—speak to the diversity of the market’s offerings, which, according to the authors, reflect's the increasingly diverse nature of L.A.’s culinary landscape.
According to Yellin, Grand Central Market started as a kind of grocery store with roughly 100 vendors selling items like pork, fish, and produce. “Over time, it started to become more prepared foods,” she said. Yellin’s late husband began developing Grand Central Square, of which the market is the focus, in the 1980s. (She took over day-to-day operations of the market after her husband passed away.)
After the 2008 recession, the market, which had already been struggling, began to lose vendors. At one point, 40% of the market's stalls were vacant. In 2011, Yellin hired West and Joseph Shuldiner, of the consulting firm Headspace, to revitalize the market. (West was previously an editor at W magazine; Shuldiner is the founder of the Institute of Domestic Technology, a culinary school in Southern California, and the author of Pure Vegan, a 2012 book from Chronicle.)
Yellin said she wanted to attract “entrepreneurial young, chef-y chefs” without making the market too commercial. “Historically, the place had always been mom-and-pop, with authentic food.”
The first vendor West and Shuldiner brought on was David Tewasart, who sells street-stall-style Thai sticky rice at the market. West said Tewasart’s food exemplified their vision: “David is tuned in to contemporary food priorities,” he said. “His sourcing is very careful, he has a lot of organic ingredients.” It's also delicious, according to Yellin: “You go into these Thai restaurants, and, it’s nice food, but it doesn’t have that special-ness. There’s something in David’s food that feels almost made-at-home.”
Other vendors that West and Shuldiner brought on, and that are featured in the book, include Belcampo Meat Co., which sells meats raised on a ranch in Northern California and butchered in-house, and Madcapra, an upmarket falafel shop operated by chefs Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, who also own Kismet, a Mediterranean restaurant in Los Angeles.
West said that Grand Central Market is a “microcosm” of the culinary scene in Los Angeles, especially because it reflects the city's multiculturalism. “There’s this incredible diversity of offerings, from pupusas to ramen to Texas barbecue," he explained. He added: "The cookbook becomes not just an experience of Grand Central Market, but also a peephole into the Los Angeles food scene at large.”