Danielle Bell, the hostess half of LA’s de Porres Dinner Series, greeted us inside the big, black bus parked on a quiet hilltop side street in the historic West Adams neighborhood. She wore a tailored forest green dress and, as might any native Kentuckian, casually yet elegantly held a shot glass of Wild Turkey bourbon. This is something everyone would master by the end of the night. And what a night.
This series, sponsored by Wild Turkey, will profile the #Nevertamed people of the world: artists, adventurers, and entrepreneurs with an unrelenting passion for and commitment to what they do who never cut corners or sacrifice quality or vision. It’s this #Nevertamed spirit — fueled by tradition — that goes into every barrel of Wild Turkey.
Danielle immediately offered us a tour of the 1920s Spanish Revival home that would be the site of their latest dinner experience — to which I was one of 25 invited guests. She moved quickly and authoritatively, and spoke as such.
“When they come in, this is where guests can hang out and chat and enjoy some lemonade.” Danielle gestured to a charming side garden set up with a drink dispenser full of huacatay-infused lemonade — a Peruvian treat. “If they want.”
Throughout the house, windows were opened to mitigate the unusual humidity. The walls were decorated with original canvases, vintage mirrors, good luck charms, and other pieces that communicated the artistic bent of owners Joan Tucker and Paul Papanek. Their old dog Oscar licked my ankle as I passed him in the hall, a portent for the strange familiarity that was to be one of the night’s themes.
The other half of de Porres is Pablo Osorio, a Peruvian-born chef and Danielle’s partner. The first time I saw him he was in the kitchen hunched over his work, black hair peeking from under a kerchief. We moved past him, his sous chef, and a large wooden bowl of freshly sliced green tomatoes that sat in the sun by the sink, into the backyard.
“I’m not a tablescape person, but...” Danielle trailed off as she gestured to a softly dramatic display of custom ceramic vases (by A Question of Eagles) and candle holders holding local succulent blooms (Protea and Banksia, purchased at a local farmer’s market). If she didn’t identify as a tablescape person, but did as a dinner party host, I knew we were in for a treat.
Inside the bus, which featured seating for 14, a bar, and a wallscape depicting the Blue Ridge Mountains, Wild Turkey brand ambassador Matt Gandolfo walked a small group of us through three offerings: Kentucky Spirit, 112.8-proof Rare Breed, and 101 rye. In his charming Louisville accent, comfortable as a worn-in pair of jeans, Matt told us about the unique aging process developed by Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller: The spirits are poured, clear, into brand-new charred white oak barrels, and left there for 12 to 13 years, during which time they pick up their rich coloring.
Then he showed us how to properly “taste” neat bourbon and rye — first by inhaling through the nose, then through the mouth, in order to pick up different notes and to preview what’s about to happen to your palate. Cue the taste explosion — times three. Hints of vanilla and caramel made the “Kentucky chew” all that much more memorable. We were primed and ready for Danielle and Pablo’s culinary adventure.
Also on the bus was driver Sabrina, who told us she had been helming the traveling distillery for more than 20 weeks. “This is my home,” she drawled. (I privately wondered how many times Sabrina had heard Matt’s presentation of the spirits. For the record, she appeared as captivated as all of us.)
Flanked by bird-of-paradise plants, umbrellas threaded with twinkling lights, and owner Joan’s art studio, we claimed seats next to strangers who by the end of the evening would be Instagram followees (and followers) and maybe even friends.
Lucky us: Matt and Sabrina joined our table for the first course, a hearty Edna Louis-inspired she-crab soup that carried the right amount of heat and a heaping portion of crab (you know it’s good when you catch a bit of shell in your teeth). The sky ached toward darkness and talk turned to travels, cooking, pilot season, and reality TV (we were in LA, after all).
The second course was a delicious, hearty, citrus-y ceviche inspired by Peru and paired with a medallion of sweet potato.
Danielle joined our table for the exquisite lamb course, prepared by Pablo with a Wild Turkey bourbon and pomegranate glaze. She pointed out that she shucked all the lima beans and black-eyed peas by hand, and jokingly castigated a guest for not finishing his plate. “I worked hard for those!”
For dessert, we were treated to decadent black walnut bourbon ice cream over a slab of homemade pound cake. The inspiration? “My mother had a black walnut tree in her backyard.”
As if the evening hadn’t already been enough of a treat, Matt emerged from the bus clutching a rare gem: a bottle of limited-edition, 17-year-old Master’s Keep. We were encouraged to help make its California debut; we happily obliged. Matt regaled us with its special history: This was Eddie Russell’s debut since ascending to the title of Master Distiller along with his father Jimmy. Aged and stored in stone as well as a wooden distillery, the delicate bourbon retains the signature caramel and vanilla flavors, but it’s spicy on the tongue. It was the perfect topper to the perfect evening. I won’t soon forget either one.
The de Porres dinner was a wonderful way to celebrate Wild Turkey’s #Nevertamed spirit. Check out the other pieces from the series here.
Megan Gilbert is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tweets here.