“If music be the food of love, play on!” — William Shakespeare

L.A. Chamber Orchestra (LACO) is always thinking of ingenious new ways to get audiences interested in chamber music. With their “Westside Connections” series at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, they’ve hit upon a great combination: music and the culinary arts.

Author Michael Ruhlman opened the series on Thursday, March 1, paired with the music of Rossini, Puccini, De Falla and “Café Music,” by Paul Schoenfeld, a premiere for LACO and a spectacular number that brought to mind the bustle of a busy bistro.

Subsequent events will feature the food world’s rock star, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Gold (who’s returning to the L.A. Times, and now also writes for Smithsonian Magazine) March 22, and one of Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales,” chef Susan Feniger of Border Grill in Santa Monica, on Thursday, April 5.

Accompanied by appropriately themed musical selections, these culinary stars share their thoughts about the connections between music and food.

Surprisingly, there are many. Ruhlman — author of “Ratio,” “Ruhlman’s Twenty,” and “Soul of a Chef” about The French Laundry’s legendary chef Thomas Keller, with whom he also collaborated on a cookbook — spoke first, telling the audience that Rossini could easily have been a chef, had he not been so busy composing operas. If he liked you, he invited you to one of his famed dining soirees; he’s said to have cried only three times in his life, “the first time over the fiasco of his first opera, the second when he heard Niccolò Paganini play the violin, and finally, when a picnic lunch — a turkey stuffed with truffles — fell overboard on a day’s outing on a boat.”

Then a quartet of LACO string musicians performed the curated selections by Rossini, Puccini and Falla.

Before the final number, Ruhlman took the stage again, sharing the experience of his four-hour final meal at The French Laundry, following a month’s immersion in Keller’s kitchen and life. As the only VIP that evening, he was completely in Keller’s hands, but he angered the chef upon leaving the table to “visit the loo, to release what must have been two bottles of wine over three hours. Later it occurred to me why. He’d been performing. This was a performing art, with a building of tastes and flavors. He was the conductor, and I’d left the auditorium in the middle of the performance.”

Ruhlman asked us to imagine a busy bistro as he introduced Schoenfeld’s “Café Music,” a virtuosic 20th century composition that brought the audience to its feet for a spontaneous and lengthy standing ovation. Following the performance, Ruhlman and two of the players sat on stage for a Q&A with the audience, which included questions about their most memorable meal and most memorable concert.

Make reservations now. Given the name value of the stars at the next two events, the series is likely to sell out. Visit www.laco.org/series/31 for tickets and information and to read a blog post with more details about the evening.

Cuba in person

Have you ever dreamed of taking a trip to Cuba to see the colors, the crumbling buildings, the classic American cars — and the dynamic art scene? Cal State Long Beach is putting together two rare and exciting cultural exchange trips to the Havana Biennial in May. Attend an informational Q&A and slide show session to get all your Cuba travel questions and concerns answered on Monday, March 12 at 7 p.m. at the University Art Museum at CSULB, inside the Horn Center, at 1250 Bellflower Blvd. in Long Beach. Contact brian.trimble@csulb.edu; more details here: www.csulb.edu/org/uam/EVENTStravel.html

Catch ‘Pina’

And finally, before it closes, see “Pina,” the extraordinary Wim Wenders 3-D film about the complex German contemporary dance artist Pina Bausch. Meant to be made with her during her lifetime, she died before the film began shooting. The film has become instead a personal testament to her spirit by way of the thoughts and faces of her dancers and collaborators, including extended excerpts from some of her most renowned indoor and outdoor Wuppertal Dance Theatre works. It’s at the Landmark in West L.A., but it could go away any time — don’t miss it! The 3-D experience is quite unique in this context.

Jiro’s dreams

And, ending where we began — with food — be sure to seek out the film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” when it opens on Friday, March 16 at the Nuart in West L.A. It’s the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious three-star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.

Sarah Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for National Public Radio and a producer for public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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