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DIY foodies catering to L.A.'s indie scene

Crops and Rawbers and other caterers keep L.A.'s underground art and music scene fed with vegetarian, vegan, raw and other healthful dishes.

June 10, 2009|Jessica Gelt

Diva Dompe and Amanda Brown pad barefoot around Dompe's rickety house in the sun-soaked hills of Echo Park, preparing a "cheesy" vegan sauce of cashews, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice to mix with spiraled zucchini noodles. Once the concoction is topped with chopped walnuts and put in a dehydrator for 20 minutes, the women will cheekily refer to it as "baked macaroni and cheese." It's a popular dish among fans of their raw food and vegan catering company Crops and Rawbers.

Later, Dompe, 22, and Brown, 27, head to the studio in Brown's Eagle Rock home, where they play in the psych-art-rock band Pocahaunted with Brown's husband, Britt. The house is cluttered with hand-decorated cassette tapes that Amanda and Britt put out through a record label they run called Not Not Fun. In their spare time, Amanda is writing a vampire novel while Dompe studies biology and sings in the LA Ladies Choir. Both women also make "collage art."

Their catering side project, as they call it, operates largely off the grid -- popping up at art openings, rock shows and warehouse parties. It's part of a small but growing DIY foodie movement among those at the vanguard of L.A.'s underground art and music scene.

"People don't realize that just as there are all these professional people going to train at Le Cordon Bleu, there is a whole generation of chefs who are punks, and they're partying and they're hedonists and they're into food and sucking the nectar out of life," Brown says.

Starting a counterculture catering company is similar to starting a rock band, says Alex Brown, 27, of the food-blogging and vegetarian-catering team Hot Knives. "When you're getting into music, you want to be into the most obscure bands with the smallest-release records. With food, it's the same thing," he says.

"Explaining why somebody should be into a Momotaro tomato is not that different from an Amoeba employee telling you that you should listen to 'Forever Changes' by Love," adds his partner in Hot Knives, Evan George, 26.

Alex also plays in an experimental drone band with Britt called Robedoor and works for a gourmet food importer. George covers healthcare for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and moonlights as a chef at the popular Echo Park vegetarian cafe Elf, which is run by members of the former indie rock band Viva K.

The caterer who sells raw vegan desserts to Elf is Stephen Hauptfuhr, 35, of Mooi, who in the late '80s was largely responsible for jump-starting L.A.'s rave scene through a weekly downtown acid-house dance party called Alice's House. He also has put out more than half a dozen records, mostly electronica and dance music, under various names, including Mr. Kool-Aid.

Hauptfuhr's catering career grew out of weekly dinner parties he used to throw at his loft in the Brewery on the industrial outskirts of downtown L.A. These days, the thin, soft-spoken and intensely private Hauptfuhr mostly caters small private dinners and sells prepared food to Whole Foods, Naturewell and Elf.

The fact that this trio of newcomers to the catering world (all started operations within the last two years) is vegetarian, vegan or raw is, according to those involved, attributable to the nature of today's increasingly eco-conscious food landscape.

Still, none of the groups is militant about its dietary choices and all have a healthy sense of humor about how they are sometimes perceived.

"Just because Diva and I love to be in the sunshine and we love fresh food and we love to make music and walk around barefoot doesn't mean we're hippies," Amanda says. "I just always want to take things to the next level. One day, maybe I'll become a liquid-tarian and then a breath-arian, where all I'm eating is my breath."

And if you're a vegan and you want to take things to the next level, there aren't many places for you to practice your craft, George says. "That's why people are doing it underground."

Hot Knives came to be four years ago as a regular recipe column in the now defunct alt-weekly L.A. Alternative Press. In 2006, George and Alex pulled it onto their own blog, Hot Knives, publishing recipes they were working on along with liberal servings of the two -- George tall and serious, Alex bespectacled and zany -- goofing off with food and craft beer on video.

They also post musical pairings for the food they make. For example, "Walkin' With Jesus" by Spacemen 3 is suggested as a soundtrack for bean on bean noodle salad. Their catering gigs initially came about because fans of their blog approached them to do a wedding. And cooking for fans is still the Hot Knives ideal.

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