I took a little afternoon trip to Williamsburg on Saturday to attend a couple lectures sponsored by the first ever Food Book Fair in New York City! Certainly every foodie/cookbook addict's dream come true! :P
Everything was taking place at the new Wythe Hotel.
Food Book Fair is the "first ever event bringing together food publications from around the world alongside a dynamic set of events celebrating food writing, reading, and activism." It was created as a "weekend-long conversation and celebration of food reading and writing" through daily panel discussions with several well-known guest speakers, over twenty book signings, and a pop-up bookshop run by mobile bookseller, Mobile Libris. The event highlighted "cookbooks, memoirs, magazines, and books about science, food systems, agriculture, urban designs, and food art and culture, serving as a meeting place for food enthusiasts from all food disciplines."
The lobby of the Wythe Hotel -- high ceilings with a relax, organic atmosphere.
Checking in led to a quick stop in the mobile bookshop!
The pop-up bookshop was fittingly located in the Library of the Wythe Hotel, with titles hand-selected by the Food Book Fair organizers.
Inside the hotel's reception hall was where each panel took place all weekend.
The first lecture/talk I attended was entitled Food + Porn -- an intimate discussion about food imagery as well as the rise of the term food porn, its growing popularity, its wavering definition, and its relationship to food and sex. The panelists included a quintet of noteworthy food writers: Culinary Institute of America's Anne E. McBride (moderator), Restaurant Girl's Danyelle Freeman, Insatiable Critic's Gael Greene, Time magazine's Josh Ozersky, and Grub Street's Alyssa Shelasky.
Here are some interesting takeaways I had from the hour or so discussion:
- An early foodie before it was a word -- perhaps the first to use!
- Ms. Freeman said Ms. Greene the founder of food born, before it was a thing, as she was one of the first to take such an approach to writing.
- Going into restaurants is also sensuous experience for her -- the same eyes and nose are the things through which we experience both.
- Dinner is a possibility of new discoveries.
- Ultimately, food, however delicious, is not a substitute for great sex.
- Advice on having a wonderful dining experience: turn off your computer, leave your phone at home, and live in the moment.
- Had a one-time affair with Elvis Presley where afterwards, he asked room service for an egg sandwich.
- One must remember the evolution of American food -- from non-American chefs in America to celebrity chefs in present day along with social media.
- She will always be monogamous to a man, but never to a restaurant or a chef -- so many opportunities to discover new things with food.
- Same excitement about food and sex, but food is obviously safer than sex as you don't get hurt as easily with food.
- Going to a new restaurant is like a first date for her -- seduction via cooking, plates, and cuisine.
- Food porn is a bit of a misnomer -- it is more like art. Not just photographs of food -- writing alongside a photograph elevates such a visual image with language.
- You are what your meal is.
- Kitchen was not always a glamorous place -- must remember that. Chefs are finally getting their due with chefs' tables and television broadcasts.
- Sees himself as having a celibate youth with a misdirected libido -- his appetites instead were channeled through food.
- Can sometimes see a steakhouse with a poorly prepared steak as disappointing as a padded bra.
- Believes in one pleasure at a time -- food and sex should remain separate.
- Great sex involves two people, but the ultimate food experience is typically a solitary experience.
- So much exposure to "food porn" these days that elevation is much easier, but definitely needs context.
- Her relationship to food is somewhat new -- discovered later in life than most individuals in the food writing sphere.
- Has always been comfortable talking about sex (with her column at Glamour magazine), so talking about food has become a relatively new concept that she has been getting acquainted with, writing-wise.
- New book, Apron Anxiety, is due out in three weeks, and is about her relationship with food discovered later in her life and how it helped her find love.
After the Food + Porn panel discussion, I went to get my copy of Gael Greene's Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess and Danyelle Freeman's Try This: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving the Table. So awesome! :D
In between book signings and the next lecture I signed up to attend, I grabbed a ramps sandwich from the bar (they had a brunch of refreshments for sale to all Food Book Fair attendees) which had ramps, ricotta, asparagus, and arugula between some artisan bread.
It was simple and really delicious. The greens were really fresh and the ricotta was creamy with the strong, fragrant flavor from the ramps.
The next panel was Food + Cooking + Change, where it explored the roles of chefs and food writers in our food system and how many have been changing the way we eat and think about food. The panel aimed to explore the question, "Can we change the world through the way we cook?" Included in the panel were esteemed food writers including The New York Times' Peter Kaminsky, author Tamar Adler, eco-activist Bryant Terry, and Chef Mona Talbott of the American Academy in Rome.
Some of the main takeaways:
- Focus of the panel: nutrition, cooking, and change.
- Wide variety of backgrounds: institutional eating over at the American Academy in Rome; local, sustainable eating; resourceful and pragmatic cooking.
- Ultimate solution: learn how to cook or live with someone who does!
- Changing nation's stereotypes of African American cuisine.
- Importance of food IQ: empowering young people as to how to cook and cultivate food.
- Potential idea to promote cooking among friends and family: cooking parties.
- Cooking communally is key.
- The best way to learn how to cook is at the stove.
- Cooking gives her life balance -- it is empowering, grounding, and liberating, instead of being driven by hunger when she doesn't cook as often (thereby losing her way).
- Two realms of eating and food: politics versus aesthetics -- bridged by cooking.
- Inspiring words by Michael Simon: choosing not to cook is freedom from the world while choosing to cook is freedom into the world.
- With social media today, sharing is the key word -- allows the world to be connected in so many ways, but in other ways, we may lose basic connections (i.e., physically sharing).
- Needing to buy things versus working with things you already have -- the message of her book, An Everlasting Meal (i.e., preservation of food, cooking, etc.).
I got my copy of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace signed by Chef Tamar Adler after the panel discussion!
When you say there will be a food-themed book fair, you should automatically expect I will leave it with at least three or more books in tow. I think I will be needing a new bookshelf soon -- my one for cookbooks alone is almost hitting its maximum capacity!
Findings: I found the idea to bring together food enthusiasts, chefs, food writers, activists, and the like to be very inspiring and thought-provoking. It gives everyone a chance to get to know each other, via panel discussions, Q&As, book signings, and just plain ol' mingling in the crowd. The atmosphere was very casual and relaxed, and the questions explored were fascinating and discussion worthy. As a (cook)book signing fanatic, you can say I had a field day on just the one day I was in attendance. It was also great to put faces and actual voices to writing and press that I've read about the individuals in the lectures for which I sat. With that being said, I'm looking forward to the next Food Book Fair -- curious to see what the new topics of discussion will be, what writers/chefs/etc. will be there, and the cookbooks/food-related literary fare will be added to my growing library of food porn.
Price point: $15 per lecture/talk, $6.50 for the sandwich.
--May 5, 2012
Food Book Fair (NYC)
80 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11249