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The Lexus Culinary Cinema Gave Us the Perfect Relaxing Weekend

For three days in LA, the classic drive-in got a luxury upgrade.

A pizza, chocolate cookie, and salad sit next to a black tote bag that reads “Lexus Culinary Cinema.”
Courtesy of Lexus
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As of last fall, there were just 549 screens at 305 drive-in theaters left in America, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association — down from a 1958 peak of more than 4,000 outdoor movie spaces. But with movie theaters in Southern California still closed due to COVID-19, indoor viewing isn’t an option these days. And amid a still-raging pandemic and after a stressful election season, it feels like everyone could use something relaxing: like a night out at the movies.

That’s why Lexus took over the LA Live Event Deck this November 13-15 to create the Lexus Culinary Cinema, combining the film, car, and chef cultures of Los Angeles into three nights of stress-free fun for the family. In a year when the road trip has been the preferred vacation (AAA estimated that a whopping 97 percent of travel plans this summer involved trips by car), it felt fitting to drive to downtown Los Angeles, stay in a vehicle, and watch stories of roaming unfold across the screen: the cross-city exploration of 1968 Los Angeles in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on Friday; the California wine-country road trip in Sideways on Saturday; and the Southwestern, cross-generational jaunt of Little Miss Sunshine on Sunday.

Cars parked in front of a drive-in movie screen at the Lexus Culinary Cinema in Los Angeles. The movie Little Miss Sunshine is playing on the screen, at night.
Courtesy of Lexus

What Lexus created was no ordinary drive-in: though viewers could provide their own popcorn and candy, there was no traditional “concession stand.” Instead, the menu was filled with chef-curated fare, from some of the city’s Lexus Culinary Masters delivered directly to vehicles, carhop-style. Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Jon & Vinny’s took diners on a trip to Italy with dinners like The Rick Dalton, featuring a tomato caprese salad, chicken cutlet, and tiramisu to match the spaghetti western vibes in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s menu took inspiration from Sideways’s wineries, leading to dinners like the Frass Canyon Feast, with endive salad, coq au vin, and Tahitian vanilla rice pudding with caramel. And chef Carlo Mirarchi presented three versions of that classic road trip staple — pizza — to accompany Little Miss Sunshine. (The Sunshine Special was a Bee Sting pie with tomato, soppressata, mozzarella, chili, honey, and basil.)

A chef checks on pizzas in a woodfire oven at night three of the Lexus Culinary Cinema in LA.
Courtesy of Lexus

“Just about every food event for 2020 was cancelled, but Lexus figured out how to bring Lexus Culinary Cinema to life,” Lefebvre says. “Lexus has safely provided an opportunity for people to attend a fun and unique experience — something we all have been missing for the past few months.”

A select group of VIPs got another form of upgrade, enjoying the show from the interior of the new 2021 Lexus IS, in the front row. Each evening, the movie unfolded on a custom-built, 40-foot-by-70-foot LED video wall on one end of the LA Live Event Deck, with audio coming through crisp and clear on car stereos.

To get Angelenos to relax in cars that close to the often-packed 110 Freeway is an accomplishment, but what happened at the end of Sunday’s screening of Little Miss Sunshine went a step further. As the screen showed the family van driving off down the freeway, a horn sounded from a viewer at the back of the parking lot, followed by another. Seconds later, most of the cars in the lot were honking their horns in appreciation for a night, and a meal, away from it all.

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