The 2022 Gold Award goes to Ethiopian bistro Meals by Genet

Injera, cool to the touch, softer than a tortilla and bursting with hundreds of fermenting bubbles on the spongy side, seems designed by a higher capacity to absorb the spicy, lush stews made by Genet Agonafer created at the Ethiopian bistro, Genet’s Meal. It is the plate, fork and spoon of Ethiopian cuisine.

Agonafer covered a large pile of rice paper rolls on a serving tray one recent afternoon at her Fairfax Avenue restaurant and spooned more than a dozen stews, salads and salads around the perimeter – a color wheel of beans red and green lentils, yellow and orange split peas, greens, carrots, beets, sautéed beef and tofu, and a generous amount of green, crunchy Ethiopian salad.

At the center is the show’s star, doro wat, a mahogany chicken stew that the newspaper’s late reviewer Jonathan Gold described as “complex as an Oaxacan mole, as rich as butter. , has a taste that seems to cut down the Ethiopian soul.” Agonafer’s special version of doro wat, he wrote in 2004, is “sticky and thick like any French chef’s potion, so solid that the chicken… just becomes another ingredient in the sauce.”

Sitting in the quiet of Agonafer’s empty dining room earlier this week with a bunch of her stews in front of me, I tore a piece of bread that had folded like a napkin on the side plate and headed straight for the doro wat. Memories of happy meals eaten in this room with Jonathan during our marriage came flooding back. Genet’s Meal has always been a place to gather friends around a communal party, gossiping, laughing, and scathingly debated politics or movies amid Agonafer’s dishes, served in the ever-busy tavern beat for years has drawn hungry eaters to Los Angeles’ Little Ethiopia.

The quality and ambition of the food at Meals by Genet, which helped make the central flavor of Ethiopian cooking one of the key pieces of the puzzle that defines Los Angeles cuisine, made me choose Agonafer as this year’s Gold Award honoree. Jonathan began the award in 2017 “with the idea,” as he wrote when announcing the first award to Wolfgang Puck, “to celebrate culinary excellence and broaden the concept of regional cooking.” Southern California.”

A female chef stands against the wall between the tables in her restaurant.

Genet Agonafer in Ethiopian Pub Genet Meal.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

In addition to his food, however, Agonafer demonstrates the spirit of resilience and adaptability that chefs and restaurateurs have had to master over the years since Jonathan’s death in July 2018. With the outbreak of the pandemic and its subsequent closure in March 2020, Agonafer, like countless others, was forced to switch to take out. The communal, communal nature of Genet’s Meal made it impossible to continue.

But when in-person dining returned, Agonafer reassessed her life and decided to make a change at the restaurant she’s been running since 2001. She will keep the dine-in operation Thursday-only through Sunday and accept catering jobs. With the exception of the occasional private dinner at the restaurant, you can no longer share the party with friends in the Meals by Genet dining room.

Unlike so many in the industry who considered the cost of the long hours and necessary stress of restaurant work and left their jobs or closed their businesses, Agonafer didn’t want to close. its entire activity. Yet she knew she couldn’t go on like before. Many people don’t realize that Genet’s Meal means a meal that Genet cooks, alone in the kitchen. Even though she has a prep chef, Oscar Canales, who’s been with her for four years, wouldn’t have had Genet’s Meal without Genet.

That’s a lot of stress to absorb.

Consider the process she describes to make doro wat. “It took days to prepare,” she said. “Onions take a day and a half on their own.”

For cooked onions, she adds spices and then has to simmer for “two days, in fact, all day until I close the door.” The next day, she came in, stirred the pot, then reduced everything to smaller portions. “And after that!” She said with an exasperated sigh, “once the chicken comes in, the butter comes in, and it only takes four hours. But the process is forever and I didn’t compromise that. Really, that’s why I always say, “Man has created the recipe for Ethiopian food,” she says, “because no woman cooks all these days for one dish. .”

By skipping direct meals and reducing working hours, Agonafer is making a lot less money. But the change gave her strength. Her clients have also adapted and are grateful that they can still get her to cook through takeout and recreate the communal party experience in their own homes.

“Everything was so peaceful and pleasant,” she said. “There is still tension when the rush happens or when we have events here, but things are going extremely well.”

Most of all, she remains dedicated to sharing the best of Ethiopian cuisine with Los Angeles. Genet’s Meal may not be the first Ethiopian restaurant located in the busy section of South Fairfax Avenue to be officially designated by the Los Angeles City Council in 2002 as Little Ethiopia – that’s often in the About Rosalind’s – but Agonafer is the most popular.

“I think we have six or seven restaurants on the block. All with tradition and style. From the beginning, I wanted to be like a little bistro,” says Agonafer, who is not a trained chef but learned to cook by watching at home. “I really focused on the food, making it as authentic as possible. My doro wat, my lentils, all those foods with high nutritional value will be the same as in Ethiopia.

“This is my 23rd year,” she said, “and I am still doing it.”

A plate with a variety of Ethiopian vegetarian dishes and dipping sauces is served on a piece of rice paper.

A vegetarian combo with doro wot from Genet Agonafer, chef and owner of Genet’s Meals.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Three boxes of vegetarian food opened.

Genet Agonafer of Meals prepares takeout orders after closing her dining room to the public, allowing only those who want to rent out her entire space to dine inside.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Portrait of a smiling gray haired woman looking to the right.

Genet Agonafer of Meals by Genet.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Gold Award Anniversary Dinner

Two nights of dining in the restaurant at the 2022 Gold winner Genet Meals. Rare opportunity to dine inside the restaurant, currently used only for private events and takeout. Family set meals including beer, wine and dessert.

Day: September 9 and 10
Time: 7 pm
Ticket: $140 per person
Ticket information and links: The 2022 Gold Award goes to Ethiopian bistro Meals by Genet

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