Amber Lipsey - Cupcakes for sale at the Taste of South Lake on Saturday, October 8, 2016.
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In one corner of the venue, a chef was doing a demo on making cheese. Two vendors down the demo, vegetable spring rolls were being served. Another corner had a stage of live musicians. Another few vendors down, there were four flavors of tea being served with boba. Pasadena’s largest culinary event, the Taste of South Lake sure had something to satisfy every Pasadena-based foodie.

The eighth annual Taste of South Lake, hosted by the South Lake Business Association outside the Corporate Center Pasadena from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Oct. 8 showcased goods from over 25 businesses along 25 Lake Avenue for the community. From vegan chicken, ahi tuna tacos, and cucumber-mint infused lemonade, the event promoted the variety of flavors, stories, and culture offered in just one street of Pasadena.

For a year and a half, Katie Kelly has been working at Nekter Juice Bar, and was thrilled to add this event to her experience with the team. The vendor had four types of drinks as samples, to satisfy the palates of everyone.

“We brought juice, lemonade, coffee, and cleanses, because we knew everyone has their own preferences of which they enjoy drinking the most,” Kelly said.

Vendors always have stories to tell about their history of the store, but for some people, that story started at this event, such as Kelly. Her biggest challenge at this event was keeping up with the fast pace and refilling samples, but the event matched the energy of the store.

“Our store is fast paced, because customers want to literally ‘grab-and-go’ with their drinks,” Kelly said. “But nonetheless, I enjoy the people I both work with and meet. My co-workers are so fun, and the interactions with customers both the store and this event keep me going.”

Pasadena’s upbeat camaraderie is always bound to build customer relationships at these events. For example, Teresa Baxter, was a former PCC student and stories manager at the PCC Courier in 2008, and one of her stories covered the vendor she volunteered for at the event, Ten Thousand Villages. It was a thrilling experience for Baxter to be on the other end as the source being interviewed.

“I started as a journalism major at PCC, but I switched interests to wanting to be involved with giving back to the world,” Baxter said. “As a volunteer, I take part in outreach activities that invite people to this store.”

Ten Thousand Villages is a trade store filled with hand-crafted products that took customers around the world, from bowls carved from Kenya, to spices grinded from Sri Lanka. Baxter’s favorite part of volunteering at this store is learning more about the world with each product and passing the product’s stories down to the customers.

“I remember reporting this store when I was a part of the Courier,” Baxter said. “It feels great to have a role in their mission statement now.”

Not only were vendors bringing the community together, but the live cooking demos were a crowd-pleasing asset at the event. Ronald “Ron” Russell, one of the owners and chefs of Sun Cafe in Studio City, presented demos on making walnut cheddar cheese and lemon balls.

“Our restaurant makes everything, and I literally mean everything,” Russell said with pride. “We don’t just make dishes, we make our own ingredients, such as cheese and mayonnaise. All of our ingredients are always made in the last 24 hours.”

Sun Cafe is a plant-based restaurant that focuses on homemade and organic ingredients, and Russell brought that mission statement to his demo as he shared his own experiences and answered audience questions regarding health and diet.

“I specifically chose these two dishes because I wanted to focus two things: being quick and enjoying food while staying healthy. It’s really hard for people to cut back on dairy and sugar on a diet, so these dishes prove otherwise,” Russell said. “Both of these just required throwing ingredients in a blender, and it took no more than 15 minutes.”

Throughout this 45-minute demo, he held conversations with the audience while cooking, and the lively energy allowed both Russell and the audience to learn more about each other. The audience was wowed by Russell’s cooking skills and expertise in quick, clean eating.

The Taste of South Lake includes complimentary parking and admission. Tune in next year to see which culinary gems make their debut and which ones return to the largest culinary celebration in Pasadena.

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