Monday, February 25, 2013

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Actor Brandon Bell

Late one weekend night, I had a few friends from college over to catch up. Sipping our wine and flipping through TV channels, we did a double take when we landed on Nickelodeon’s "Hollywood Heights."

Wait a minute.

Who was that guy?

Was that Brandon Bell? The same Brandon Bell who we went to college with? 

It was!

Clearly, a lot had happened since our dorm days, so being my inquisitive self, I reached out to him to find out what he had been up to.

And, it’s been a lot. Not only was there his reoccurring role as Jake Madsen on "Hollywood Heights," but there’s been national commercials with companies like Coors and Samsung, and tons of appearances on shows like "Switched at Birth," "The Family Tools," "2 Broke Girls" and "Revenge." He was kind enough to share what having a career in Hollywood has been like, and of course, his favorite “where to” destination right here in L.A.

Read on to hear what he had to say!

Miss Wilson: How did you first get into acting professionally – what launched your career?

Mr. Bell: Although I’ve been doing theater since I was about 10 or 12, I got my first paid acting gig in high school. I played Walter Lee Younger at this community college’s (MCTC) portrayal of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and was a Shepherd Boy in Pebumbra theater’s annual “Nativity” story starring Jennifer Holliday. The money wasn’t great but it definitely felt good to get paid for doing what I love the most, which was motivation in my desire to take it to the next step via moving to L.A. to pursue a Bachelor of Art in theater at USC [University of Southern California].

I was also surrounded by professional adult actors who gave me so much advice and insight about what it takes to be successful in such a fickle industry. I give all credit to my incredibly supportive parents as far as launching my career goes. They wanted my siblings and I to be exposed to the arts, sports, etc. so we could make an informed decision as to what interested us and what to pursue later in life. I was always told to do what I love and the money would follow.

Miss Wilson: What is the most challenging aspect of working in Hollywood?

Mr. Bell: The most challenging aspect is the constant rejection, which is a big part of this industry. You’ve got to be patient and know that your time will come when it comes. If you don’t have faith in yourself and your purpose, you can get easily overwhelmed and intimidated. A friend once said it best in that “It only takes one decision in this industry to change your life forever.” This is something I’ve always kept in my front pocket no matter how slow or down or distracted I’ve gotten.

Miss Wilson: You currently have worked on a lot of television series; do you have any interest to get more into theater or feature films?
Mr. Bell: I would definitely love to transition into film. Films can allow an actor to evolve from role to role versus playing one role for a period of time, although that perspective can easily change when one hasn’t worked often. Theater is my first love and I can’t wait until the right opportunity presents itself. There’s absolutely nothing like performing live for an audience. It’s a breathing organism that is so delicate and exhilarating because there are no "take 2"s.

Miss Wilson: What’s a typical day like on set when you have a recurring role?
Mr. Bell: Show up early, eat something – which is funny because when I first started and as a lover of food I’d try EVERYTHING that one could eat! Then you go to hair/make-up, change into your wardrobe in your trailer or room depending on your set up, run lines and sign contracts. Then, you’re called to set for a rehearsal where you meet the other actors in your scene(s). After rehearsal you wait until your scene is up, which could be right away or take hours. Hitting up the craft service table for snacks is fun too!

Miss Wilson: On your website, you have a quote from Marlon Brando: “To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty, to interpret it is his problem, and to express it, his dedication.” What’s the significance to you behind it? 
Mr. Bell: Such a profound quote and one of my acting heroes. He was almost mad in his approach, but he wanted to truly do what the quote says, which takes so much dedication, yet the good actors/actresses make seem easy. It’s a reminder to me that amidst the rewards and challenges I do this art for that reason. It sums up my philosophy on acting and couldn’t have been said more eloquently by one of the most revered actors of the past generation.

Miss Wilson: What's an accomplishment you want to achieve during your career?
Mr. Bell: To have someone say that my performance changed their life or made them a better more open person or understand/appreciate my character’s life journey is the ultimate goal.

Miss Wilson: I understand that you played soccer for seven years, traveling to France and winning the USA Cup Gold Medal…did you ever consider pursuing a professional soccer career?
Mr. Bell: I did. It was a huge part of my life for most of my adolescence and high school life. I met life-long friends and truly learned the value of competition. But I think God had another plan because I eventually and literally left it all behind one day. I still enjoy watching and playing occasionally and have so much respect for the game and professional athletes of all sports.

Miss Wilson: Do you have any words of encouragement for aspiring actors trying to make it in Hollywood?
Mr. Bell: First be clear on your goals and why you want to act. If it’s just for fame and money...I’d choose a different/easier route. Patience and persistence along with hard work and dedication seem to be the necessary ingredients to create opportunities to work, at least for me. Luck is key too, but longevity requires the above qualities, which can create its own type of luck. Also, never compromise who you are.

Miss Wilson: Where is your favorite “Where To” destination in L.A. (i.e., your favorite restaurant, lounge, museum, nightlife or social destination, etc.)?
Mr. Bell: So many great places to find good, healthy food in L.A. Recently I’ve been exploring places in downtown L.A. like Perch and Bottega Louie with friends. I’m a homebody at heart so good music, getting food or seeing a movie with close friends is always a better alternative to me. I love museums and highly recommend the Cleopatra exhibit at the Science museum by USC. LACMA, the Getty and Grammy museums are candy for the soul if you appreciate all art. I’ve finally started traveling to beaches more in Malibu and Hermosa and enjoy a good hike or bike ride too.

For more information:
Brandon Bell, @HerculesBell

Monday, February 18, 2013

Where to Travel: Brown Sugar Kitchen @ Oakland

The Destination: Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland, CA

The Vibes: A casual eatery with a welcoming ambiance

Good for: Those moments when you’re in the mood for food that’s flavorful, filling and made from local/seasonal/organic ingredients

When-To-Go: Breakfast and Lunch, everyday 

I’ll Be Back…: For the macaroni and cheese and the beignets

Before making my way up to Oakland, as a SoCal native, my knowledge about the city was pretty limited. I knew that E40 and Too Short claim it, and that it's been portrayed as a dangerous place in the media.

Luckily, I have a few friends who are from and/or have lived there, so they were able to give me an "insider's look" into the heart of Oakland when I visited for the first time. And what I discovered was a vibrantly burgeoning city with a disarmingly edgy yet attractive charm!

One place in particular that left a lasting impression on me was Brown Sugar Kitchen. Located in an industrial part of West Oakland, its exterior is unassuming: a one-story, wooden building; a rectangular sign indicating the restaurant's location; a handful of warehouses, factories and concrete buildings nearby...and its interior: a clean-cut design that's modestly welcoming and reminiscent of an updated retro diner, with hints of subdued yellows and muted greens that give it a throwback feel.

The setting serves as a great backdrop for the delicious soul food made by Executive Chef and Owner Tanya Holland and her team. The kitchen’s specialties include traditional soul food recipes that have a fresh, modernized twist to them.

For example, the Creole BBQ Shrimp pictured below has steamed basmati rice and garden-fresh baby spinach.

The dishes here also have a lot of unique character and originality. Each entrĂ©e (and I was up in everyone’s business, seeing what they ordered) has its own special appearance and most importantly, their own unique tastes. It was quite a pleasant surprise to have a dollop of "Spicy Cabbage Slaw" on my pulled BBQ Pork Sandwich, pictured below.

The beignets are seriously some of the best I’ve had in the nation. They're gigantic, moist, fluffy and sprinkled with just the right amount of confetti sugar.

The Smoked Chicken and Shrimp Gumbo is also delicious. I had some of my friend’s, and found it to be hearty and very tasty.

Also, no matter what you get – a sandwich, a bowl of gumbo or whatever else – definitely order a side of the macaroni and cheese. It’s creamy and just simply amazing.

So the next time you find yourself in the Bay area - whether that's Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley or somewhere else nearby - do yourself a favor and head to Brown Sugar Kitchen. I guarantee you'll leave immensely satisfied.

See you there soon!

For more information:

With Executive Chef and Owner Tanya Holland (2nd from the right)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Where to Drink: The Juicing Experience @ Sustain Juicery

The Drinks: detoxifying juices, whole fruit smoothies, energy boosting shots and wellness cocktails

The Location: Downtown L.A.

The Vibes: A tiny juice bar in a nondescript building, at the edge of the Jewelry district, past Broadway

Good for: When you need a *healthy* energy booster – a great alternative to caffeine, coffee and Coke

When-To-Go: Mon.-Fr. 8am-6pm; Sat. 10am-6pm; Sun. 10am-4pm

The $ Factor: $$; smoothies and juices are $7 each, wellness cocktails are $5 and shots are $2

I’ll Be Back…: For the “get glowing” shot, comprised of burdock, honey, mala and cinnamon that is supposed to boost the immune system 

The 4-1-1: Recently, I got a new addition to my family: a juicer. And let me tell you, it’s been life-changing. I’ve never eaten - well, actually drank - so many delicious beets/carrots/celery/chard/kale in my life, and most importantly, I feel extremely invigorated and full of energy.

But on the flip side, juicing an absolute nightmare. It takes a huge amount of ingredients to make one reasonable glass of juice, and it can be costly buying so much veggies and fruit. Not to mention, it's a workout – it takes a lot of arm strength – and, it’s difficult and time-consuming to clean the machine.

After spending $500, burning 2,500 calories and cleaning for four hours to literally make like two glasses of juice, I thought to myself: there has to be something easier than this, right?

There is. It’s called Sustain Juicery.

Open for a little over a year, this juice bar has a variety of different drinks made exclusively with all natural ingredients, and a slew of drink enhancers, like chia seeds, vegan protein and powders. The menu changes seasonally.

The first thing I noticed about this place was the smell. It smells like a garden, probably because of all of the produce displayed in the open. All fresh everything. It was quite a pleasant surprise, especially after trekking down 6th Street and being bombarded by the sights and smells of an urban, concrete metropolis.

Secondly, you must try a wellness cocktail. A straight up shot of wheatgrass intimidates most people, but the wellness cocktails incorporate this misunderstood plant along with other ingredients to take the edge off. My “green lady” cocktail had apple and burdock, and even though I didn’t do it, I felt like running 20 miles after having it.

Other drinks to try: “the classic green” (more savory than sweet, but still flavorful); “the emerald,” (delightfully sweet, with mint, ginger, pineapple and even dandelion); and the “juice recovery” (with kale, Asian pear, lemon and ginger). Interestingly, there’s also cleanses available, ranging from 3 to 7 days, and from $126 to $294. I’m planning to try that in the near future, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Since I’m new to this whole juicing thing, I have no idea if Sustain Juicery is the best juice bar ever, but I can say that it came to me highly recommended by multiple people and I’ve had positive experiences whenever I’ve gone. The staff has always been helpful, giving great advice on what to pick, and stopping by here takes a fraction of the time that it would take me to make a juice at home.

So the next time you’re looking for all of the benefits of juicing without the mess, I highly recommend stopping by Sustain Juicery.

See you there soon!

For more information:
Sustain Juicery, @sustainjuicery, Facebook