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SO SOCAL: The Best...The Beautiful...And The Bizarre

Is That in The Zone

March 12, 2000|Leslee Komaiko

In a Tuesday afternoon at the Culver City farmers market, wearing his trademark starched white chef's jacket, Simon Johns wages his one-man sticky toffee pudding crusade. Among the salmon hawkers and Fuji apple purveyors, you can hear him preaching.

"It's a light, moist date cake with a rich, sticky toffee sauce," he pitches. "Would you like to try some?"

Johns, a 33-year-old Englishman, is taking the first steps toward popularizing his mother's secret recipe to an American public that, by and large, considers pudding something you purchase in a plastic container to slip into a child's lunch box.

"I've never heard of such a thing," another customer says.

"Then here I am to initiate you," Johns replies, handing over a bite-size sample that's been freshly zapped in the microwave. "It's not like pudding," offers the youthful employee from nearby Sony, his ID badge hanging above his belly.

"Well, in England, we call all desserts pudding," Johns explains. "There's no Jell-O in that."

So how do you market a dangerously caloric sweet--as for just how dangerous, Johns says, "We shy away from that"--that contains not an ounce of chocolate but loads of dates, an item that doesn't exactly cause a Pavlovian response? You could try calling it "the tiramisu of the new millennium." (He's tried that.) Or you could push that quaint "My mother makes it in an English village shop 80 miles north of Manchester and sells to Fortnum & Mason" angle. Or you could microwave more than a thousand morsels at one Westwood farmers market, as he did once.

There are dangers, however, in such wide dissemination. Some people stop by his booth week after week, feigning ignorance. "They're shameless," Johns says. "They walk up and say, 'What is sticky toffee pudding?' How stupid do they think I am?"

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