A Panel Where The Culinary Arts Meet Pop Culture Is A Recipe for Success at WonderCon

Author: Ariel Landrum

As the soft glow of late afternoon bathed WonderCon 2024 in a gentle light, attendees found themselves meandering towards Room 209 at the Anaheim Convention Center, their spirits lifted by the cozy patter of spring rain. It was the final day of March, an Easter Sunday that promised more than just the close of the convention but a unique gathering that blended the warmth of shared meals with the vibrancy of pop culture. “Culinary Quests: Iconic Pop Culture Eats” awaited them, not merely as a panel but as a comforting sanctuary, a place to savor the richness of fictional cuisines brought vividly to life.

The atmosphere of the panel was electric, filled with laughter, eager questions from the audience, and an overwhelming sense of community. Panelists and attendees shared a passion for the unique intersection of culinary arts and pop culture, creating a warm and welcoming space. The discussions flowed seamlessly, punctuated by nostalgia and shared excitement.

At the helm were Ariel Landrum, LMFT, a therapist with a talent for infusing sessions with mindfulness and fandom enthusiasm, and Stefanie Bautista, an educator who knew how to mix the zest of learning with the joy of culinary explorations. Together, these Happiest Pod On Earth podcast co-hosts brought their podcasting duo dynamic into their moderating style – ready and poised to serve a discussion that promised to be as satisfying as a cup of hot cocoa on a rainy day. This panel, nestled in the heart of a day brimming with anticipation and the promise of new beginnings, was an invitation to explore how food, in its myriad forms, both sustains and enriches our souls, feeding our bodies and our passion for the stories we hold dear.

Whipping Up a Panel of Culinary Wizards and Pop Culture Gourmets

Savoring the flavorful fusion of culinary arts and pop culture was a recipe for inspiration, much like a carefully curated tasting menu that blends unexpected ingredients to create something truly extraordinary. Each panelist brought unique seasoning, a mix of expertise, passion, and creativity, making the discussion a gourmet experience.

First was Earl Baylon, whose introduction garnered the crowd’s attention from the get-go. Much like a bold, spicy taco that surprises you with its depth and variety of flavors, Earl’s journey from East Hollywood to the mythical land of Long Beach and his escapades in voice acting was both vibrant and inspiring. Earl, the Artistic Director of ROOM TO IMPROV, brought an improvisational flair to the panel, like adding an unexpected twist to a classic recipe.

Chance Calloway, simmering with stories of advocacy through art, was like a complex curry, blending spices (talents) to create something more significant than the sum of its parts. His work developing and promoting stories for change was a testament to his belief in the power of media, similar to how a carefully crafted dish can convey a powerful message or evoke strong emotions.

Marco Lazo’s sous-chef expertise was the panel’s sous-vide technique, ensuring every topic was perfectly cooked, retaining all its flavors and nuances. Like a meticulously prepared French dish from Petit Trois (where he currently works), Marco’s insights into the influence of anime on his culinary creations added a layer of sophistication and global flair to the discussion.

Kathryn Rogers, our chakra chocolatier of Maya Moon, sprinkled the panel with sweetness, depth, and a touch of magic, much like her honey-sweetened truffles. Her dedication to connecting with nature’s ingredients and creating healthy, blissful chocolate experiences was akin to a chef’s commitment to sourcing the best, most sustainable ingredients for a Michelin-star dish. Kathryn’s journey from experimenting in her kitchen to running a 2,400-square-foot commercial bakery was a testament to the transformative power of passion, much like the alchemy she weaves when turning simple cacao into exquisite chocolate.

A Fusion Like No Other

The panel’s kickoff was nothing short of a culinary expedition into the realms of imagination. Baylon and Lazo explored how the fantastical worlds of films, shows, and anime inspire culinary creativity. Baylon’s cooking streams, such as the creation of Blue Banantha Milk with Bananacue (an inspired drink from Star Wars’ Blue Bantha milk), showed how fandoms could inspire feasts, bringing the virtual into the tangible, while Lazo shared how anime’s influence on his professional creations, illustrating the boundless potential for innovation at the intersection of culinary arts and cherished narratives. Rogers even shared her original product, chakra chocolates, each imbued with sweet flavors designed to help someone move through their chakras. Unexpectedly, this tasteful product mirrors an episode of the animated Avatar: The Last Airbender, in which Aang learns to move through the chakras as part of his spiritual training.

Calloway’s culinary adventures led the conversation into imagination and innovation. Calloway shared his ongoing quest to perfect a pizza inspired by an episode of Community, where the unconventional combination of ketchup and cream cheese sparked his interest. His journey, filled with trials and errors, aims to recreate this quirky dish and possibly feature the final recipe in his web series Pretty Dudes, highlighting the challenges and delights of bringing fictional culinary creations to reality.

This endeavor reflects the broader theme of the panel: the endless possibilities that emerge when the worlds of culinary arts and pop culture collide.

Lazo brought a tangible example of culinary creativity inspired by anime. He introduced the panel and attendees to a dish he developed after being inspired by “Delicious in Dungeon”: Scorpion and Mushroom Hot Pot with Slime Noodles. He cleverly substituted scorpion with lobster to adapt the fantasy dish for real-world palates. This creation, showcased through slides that complemented his talk, exemplified the innovative process of transforming imaginative dishes from anime into edible realities. Moreover, attendees who scanned a QR code for the slide deck could access these recipes, akin to a virtual cookbook stripped of the usual fluff, directly diving into the culinary treasures inspired by pop culture.

Rogers shared the impact of brand storytelling on culinary creativity, using Coca-Cola as a prime example. Her fascination with Coca-Cola’s global brand presence, even in the most remote locations, underscored the power of storytelling in connecting people around the world. She shared a story about visiting a remote village to source cocoa, and a shaman there had an elixir he created that was being kept safe in a plastic Coca-Cola bottle.

This far-reaching brand has even had standout moments in recent pop culture history, with various integrations in Stranger Things. The show, set in the summer of 1985, cleverly included New Coke, a significant but controversial product launch by Coca-Cola that year. This inclusion added authenticity to the show’s 1980s setting and rekindled interest in their products, demonstrating the enduring power of Coca-Cola’s brand storytelling by blending the lines between fiction and reality and showcasing the beverage’s iconic status in American culture.

Rogers’ insights shed light on a different facet of culinary creativity: the capacity to weave a narrative that resonates on a universal scale, much like our favorite stories from films and shows.

Insights of universal connection transitioned the panel to discuss the communal spirit that food inherently fosters. Landrum and Bautista highlighted how shared culinary curiosities and tales around the dining table unite people, underscoring food’s power to unite fans and creators alike. Baylon and Lazo’s discussions on the diversity of their culinary experiences celebrated the importance of embracing various culinary traditions and innovations, painting the dining table as a melting pot of cultures and stories.

In a reflective turn, Landrum’s insights into the relationship between food, mindfulness, and mental health wove depth into the discussion. Inspired by Roger’s tale of her hot chocolate creations, Landrum was reminded of the mindfulness exercises she would have her clients engage in, with the recreation of the hot chocolate from The Santa Clause as one of the treats to savor. This conversation elevated eating beyond mere consumption to a mindful engagement, emphasizing that food is a journey for the soul as much as for the palate, bridging our experiences and connections with stories and each other.

The Audience’s Feast

Perhaps the most vibrant part of the panel was the interaction with the audience, who shared their culinary curiosities and personal stories. This exchange underscored the event’s warm and inclusive atmosphere, making it feel like a gathering of friends rather than a formal panel.

One attendee inquired about the panelists’ favorite cookbooks inspired by anime, cartoons, or comics. The question prompted a delicious array of answers, revealing personal favorites and highlighting the panelists’ diverse tastes in culinary literature. Landrum and Bautista let the audience know that in the slide deck, they had access to, via a QR code, a list of fandom cookbooks that current and past panelists have suggested. This moment showcased the audience’s eagerness to merge their love for pop culture with their culinary explorations, embodying the panel’s spirit of creative fusion.

Another engaging moment arose when an audience member asked about the panelists’ guilty pleasure foods. The answers provided a delightful peek into the panelists’ off-duty indulgences, from secret snacks to unexpected concoctions, reminding everyone that even culinary professionals have their comfort foods. This would be the second time during the panel that Baylon would shout out the serendipitous discovery of Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Yogurt Blueberry, which he discovered at a random gas station.

This conversation bridged the gap between the experts and the audience, sparking laughter and shared confessions of their own food guilty pleasures.

Finally, an inquiry about the panelists’ top food travel destinations offered a global perspective on culinary exploration. Landrum joked that she simply goes to Bautista’s house to eat her mom’s food, while Rodgers emphasized the magic that is the food in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Final Reflections

As the panel wrapped up, with selfies taken and laughter shared, it was clear that “Culinary Quests: Iconic Pop Culture Eats” accomplished its quest of celebrating the magic that happens when food meets story.

As we reminisce about the flavors and stories shared at this panel, we must express our gratitude to the sponsors who added an extra layer of delight to this event.

The Los Angeles Ghostbusters – Not just your average cosplay group, the Los Angeles Ghostbusters bring the authentic Ghostbusters experience to life, all while supporting philanthropic causes. A special shout-out for their generous donation of two bags of Flamin Hot Cheetos “Smoky Ghost Pepper Puffs” flavor added a spicy kick to our giveaways. To learn more about their adventures and causes, visit losangelesgb.com.

Grandiloquent Productions – This production powerhouse, known for its collaboration with a myriad of entertainment entities across Hollywood, not only provided 150 Nature Valley Almond Butter Biscuit bars to ensure all attendees got a taste of their generosity but also donated three Funko Minion keychains (matching the theme of food and fandom due to the famous “Banana” line) for our giveaway. Moreover, their videography services captured the essence of our panel, preserving the memories and discussions for posterity. For inquiries or to hire their services, contact JW Arrington at jwinproduction@gmail.com.

Thanks to the support of these incredible sponsors, our panel was not just a discussion but a full-blown experience, complete with treats and treasures that underscored the unity of culinary delights and pop culture. Their contributions helped make this event a remarkable success; we are profoundly thankful for that.

To all who joined us in Room 209 and to our readers now, we extend the invitation to embark on your own culinary quests. Revisit the stories you love, experiment with flavors they highlight, and, most importantly, share your creations and experiences with us in our Facebook group, Discord, or Instagram. Who knows what delicious adventures await?

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