Going Pro

In 2010, I packed up my franglophone life to move to New York City and pursue my dream of becoming a food writer. This blog chronicled my early days of that struggle, living on the cheap and figuring out how to make it in the big city.

I’m happy to report that things have changed quite a bit since then! These days, I’m living in Brooklyn and work with some of most inspiring artisans and food brands in the business. To read my latest writing, please visit www.carlydefilippo.com

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catch of the day: my life in sourdough

In the world of “food television”, there’s not much I like to watch. I’m easily bored by cooking shows, get aggravated by nearly all reality television (thought I did have my Top Chef moment), and am wholly persuaded by Michael Pollan’s observation that more time spent watching food TV inversely correlates with more time in the kitchen (not to mention general culinary proficiency).

But I am an avid fan of culinary cinema, works that seek to tell a story beyond who can quickly bang out canapés for 500 guests and actually delve into the story behind the food—see Hiro Dreams of Sushi, Toast, or Kings of Pastry. That said, I don’t often have the time to watch a two hour film, and wish there were more short-form cinematic food programs.


Enter My Life In Sourdough , a just-launched cooking show by filmmaker Marie Constantinesco, a French transplant and baking aficionado living in Brooklyn. Admittedly, if there was an equation for things that are likely to please me, Food + French + NYC would be a pretty good bet. But there’s an elegance and quirky honesty to Marie’s work that speaks to both an intelligent, subtle French sense of humor (that I very much appreciate) and the wondrous absurdity of being young today in Brooklyn.

I had the pleasure to meet with Marie and speak about the series, her own experience with cooking and the differences between home-cooking culture in New York and France:

What inspired the series, and how did it come to be?
My Life In Sourdough was inspired by my love for food and film. I wanted to do a new kind of cooking show involving a narrative and decided to tell the story of a girl looking for food and for love in NY. Food was going to be the link between the characters. The series was developed as an independent study at NYU (I’m a thesis student in the Graduate Film Program) and we started shooting the series with a really small budget and a tiny crew of very talented fellow filmmakers.

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Is this your first foray into the food world?
Prior to the series, I had already been playing with food themes in previous short films (Too much strawberry jam, which involved an intense making out/bread kneading session) and I have been shooting food and blogging about food for a while—but food was never really the sole focus. So yes, the series is my first real food world adventure.
 
Any particular funny/interesting stories about the production of the series?
There are a few! From shooting at 6 am in Choice Green in torrential rain (It was literally raining in the store and, if you look close enough, you can actually see the rain in the scene with the made-from-scratch guy!), to feeding the crew prop food to save money (we used the pasta we made in the scene for lunch!).For episode 4, we also needed one shot in the waiting room of an ER. I scouted a grungy hospital, but there was a lot of security and I thought we would never get away with shooting there without permission. On the day of, we went in with a tiny camera. We sat down quietly, I hid the microphone in my handbag and we stole the shot in less than 10 minutes. The security guards couldn’t care less. 

What’s already in store for the future of the show/where would you like to see it go?
I’m planning on shooting another season in the fall in NY – it’s my favorite season on this side of the Atlantic and I can’t wait to shoot in corn fields and apple orchards. A season in Paris is also on my mind. Eventually I would love to develop the series in a longer format. I’m currently looking for producers and investors.
 
Are there any food films/series that you particularly like and respect?
I love In the Mood for Love, which is not a food film per se, but I particularly like the slow motion scenes where Maggie Cheung goes down the stairs to buy her daily dose of noodles. The sensual atmosphere that comes with slow motion was an inspiration for the food videos of My Life in Sourdough, shot by Chananun Chotrungroj who brought her great sense of framing and aesthetics to the series.I also really like Rachel Khoo’s BBC series, and while not a film, Clotilde Dusoulier’s series on French food idioms is quite fascinating!

When and how did you start baking?
I started baking and cooking fairly young, watching my parents cook. My Romanian grandmother was also a serious baker, and I would make hundreds of biscuits with her every Christmas. My first cookbook was called La cuisine sans maman (“Cooking without mum”), but my first cooking endeavors quickly became family gatherings over mini-disasters. I once attempted to make some powered sugar and mint syrup candy balls that would refuse to come into shape. My mum invited along the postman to help out, and the green liquid paste magically turned into candy—but they tasted horrible. 

The kitchen has always been a place of exploration for me. It’s the place where I go when I’m down, and I’ll make a rhubarb jam to cheer me up. The place I like to invite friends—to cook with me or eat the new cheesecake I’ve just made. It’s also the place where I can close the door, turn on the radio, and create something. I also love how you know very quickly when it’s working or when it’s a fail, and sometimes I wish making films would resemble that process.

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How would you compare home cooking culture in France vs. New York?
Typically in NY people have less time—they drink or eat their breakfast on the street, and tend to eat out or do take out for dinner. The tradition of home-cooked meals is not as rooted as in France, but it’s changing, as there is a growing movement towards home-cooking in NY, and farmer’s markets are becoming more and more popular.In France, where a croissant used to be the only thing that was acceptably eaten on-the-go, people now tend to devote less time to eating lunch. For instance, the two hour lunch break has often been reduced to one hour, hence more and more sandwiches eaten on the street. However, it seems that the tradition of family dinners remains somewhat unshaken, even though the communal table is often facing a television.

Eventually, the main difference is that in France, people are so obsessed by food that they can’t stop talking about it. Even in a “non-foodie” family, it’s not rare for a dinner conversation to focus exclusively around food. Reminiscing over extraordinary food experiences makes the best dinner conversation!

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eater’s digest: bklyn larder

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

By mid-summer in New York City, the average food lover has spent plenty of time outside—grilling hot dogs, veggies and ribs; packing improvised picnics of bread, cheese and wine. By now, your “signature salad” may seem a bit redundant, or the humidity may have you researching a raw food diet. In other words, it’s the ideal time to let someone else do the cooking. And for that, there’s no better place than Bklyn Larder.

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Started by the same team behind renowned Brooklyn pizza spot, Franny’s, Bklyn Larder is not your average boutique grocery store. Community-focused in its vision, the Larder is a seasonal, local and eco-conscious shop, with much of their day-to-day produce coming from the nearby Grand Army Plaza of Union Square greenmarkets. The bread is also locally selected from some of the city’s best artisans—Grandaisy, Bien Cuit and Orwasher’s.

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Heirloom tomato and cucumber salad with fresh oregano and red wine vinaigrette

This savvy approach to sourcing translates into incredibly fresh and photogenic food, from an heirloom tomato and cucumber salad to an organic berry tart with vanilla pastry cream. It’s worth noting that the Larder also specializes in cheese, so whether you’re looking for local, raw milk, aged imports or a taste of each, the shop is stocked with an excellent selection.

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Organic berry tart with vanilla pastry cream

One of my favorite seasonal bites was an English pea salad with farro and dill buttermilk dressing, a cool and refreshing spin on grains.

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English pea and farro salad with dill buttermilk dressing

I also appreciated the aged prosciutto da parma from Pio Tosini, which beautifully complemented the naturally leavened, tangy dough and dark crust of a Bien Cuit baguette.

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Pio Tosini’s exceptional prosciutto di parma and raw cow’s milk blue cheese from Blue Cellars at Jasper Hill

For those in more of a rush, the shop has wrapped sandwiches to go, prepared with such care that the words pre-made seem misleading. On the contrary, if you’ve time to peruse the Larder’s provisions, the thoughtfully curated goods extend to hard-to-find grains, tinned fish, oils and chocolates. I especially enjoyed the exceptionally creamy walnut and honey White Moustache yogurt that I spotted in the dairy case.

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A range of refined grains are among the Larder’s pantry staples.

For those too far removed to enjoy the Larder in person, you can still snag a pint of the shop’s prized gelato and sorbetto, which recently became available for nationwide shipping.

Don't forget dessert: from their signature gelato and sorbetto, to these beautifully brûléed s'mores cupcakes, the shop's not short on sweets.

Don’t forget dessert: from their signature gelato and sorbetto, to these beautifully brûléed s’mores cupcakes, the shop’s not short on sweets.

So whether you stop in to prep a simple picnic, cater a house party or stock up on top-notch staples, Bkyln Larder’s the type of shop that will have you lingering, daydreaming, yearning and scheming. You might even find yourself asking the happy, helpful staff if they’re hiring.

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seen and heard: supper studio

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

As a food writer, most of the time, my job includes avoiding open nights. Even in the better, faster, stronger culture of social media, the most serious critics still give new food businesses 4-6 weeks (and 2-3 visits!) before writing a first review.

On the flip side, in the music industry, there has long been an appeal of being the person to “discover” a band. While heading to a new restaurant is often a major risk on opening day, a great many music stories revolve around being present at the first public performance of a song, or even getting a sneak peak of a band’s studio time.

Preparing the duck prosciutto and polenta fry appetizer.

Preparing the duck prosciutto and polenta fry appetizer.

At the brand-new venture, Supper Studio, these two worlds—music and food—delightfully collide, with all their disparate quirks and appeal. The event’s organizers, Laura Leebove, Tracy Candido and Ben Wygonik, are no stranger to this mash-up, as Laura’s longtime blog, Eating the Beats, features recipes inspired by various musicians.

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Pearl and the Beard performed mere feet from where we were standing.

Such was the format for Supper Studio, with local band Pearl and the Beard as the inspiration for the evening’s ambitious eats. As Pearl’s guitarist, Jeremy Styles recalls, the group actually met Laura through her blog, when she featured their Bon Iver cover of “Stacks” alongside a fanciful stack of pancakes.

This seasonal dinner series launched on a humid night near City Hall. Curiosity ran high, as well as excitement. $35 for dinner and a concert certainly seemed like a bargain rate, so I was both anxious and excited to see what the night would bring. A glass wall was all that separated us from the kitchen—an exciting detail, from my perspective, but certainly one that raised the stakes for the kitchen crew.

Laura Leebowe explains the inspiration for the first course.

Laura explains the inspiration for the first two courses.

We were promptly served small cups of polenta fries with duck prosciutto, roasted asparagus and horseradish mustard. It was a tasty, indulgent snack, if a bit difficult to eat. Upon hearing the dish analyzed by the cooks, Pearl’s Jocelyn joked, “Our voices have never been compared to prosciutto—that’s some expensive meat!”

As the band geared up to play their first set, the kitchen served a second appetizer of smoked almond tart with eggplant, vine tomato and ricotta. My co-diners especially liked this course, which we savored, settling into the intimacy of watching one of our favorite bands from 3 feet away.

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As someone who regularly hosts a supper club, I was impressed that the kitchen was accommodating for food allergies (a generous, but time consuming move, in my experience). The decision to serve the three final courses seated also created a significant delay, given the event’s limited staff.

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Despite the delay, the other courses were well prepared—a refreshing watermelon radish and butter lettuce salad, creamy macaroni and cheese with salmon and zucchini and a sweet vanilla tapioca with strawberry rhubarb and shortbread cookie crumbs.

During dessert, Pearl and the Beard performed a second set, and any disappointment caused by the dinner’s delay instantly faded. The band played a brand new song—so new, in fact, that they had yet to agree on the name. It was in that moment that I recalled how different the value of “newness” is in music and food. We forgive the experimental among musicians—the false starts, the jokes when they do mess up—in ways that we do not forgive cooks.

Pearl and the Beard's sultry cellist, Emily Hope Price.

Pearl and the Beard’s sultry cellist, Emily Hope Price.

Which is why I would recommend Supper Studio to other fans of music and food. For a first event, the food was well prepared—an ambitious feat, especially given the team’s small, makeshift kitchen. To boot, unless you work at NPR’s Tiny Desk, it’s nearly impossible to see a band (especially a great band!) in that intimate a setting. So keep an eye out for Supper Studio this fall. I’m sure they’ll return with tastier timing.

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June 13 – Superhuman Happiness, Poor Remy, Morgan O’Kane, Milla Brune

Sofar Sounds NY

By Carly DeFilippo
Photos by Jose Camargo and Yana Gilbuena

Oh, early summer. That time of year when we dance ’til we drop at outdoor music festivals, stay up way too late on weeknights and question if we ever could leave NY. Newly infected with sunshine-induced optimism, we Sofar NY’ers scaled the steps to a fifth floor Soho walk-up, squeezing in with 60 other newly tanned music fans, for a chance to hear the very best up-and-coming bands.

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First up was the aptly named Superhuman Happiness, featuring futuristic bleeps and bloops that faded into tinny guitar, muted horn and upbeat vocal lines. This curious mish-mash of musical talent was a literal juggling act of instruments and techniques, on one hand featuring a certain island sway, on the other sounding like the perfect band for an 80s houseparty. But within the group’s remarkable range, there was one consistent element: seriously…

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ingredients: coffee

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

We don’t often think of coffee as an ingredient, a product to be manipulated by temperature and technique to achieve a certain sensory effect. But whether we’re considering the origin of the beans, how they are ground or the increasing range of steeping techniques, coffee is just that—the starting point in an evolutionary process, a drinkable choose-your-own-adventure.

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Freshly roasted beans.

Coffee isn’t regarded this way by most consumers, because we rarely have the chance to experience proper tastings—side by side comparisons of different beans, roasting techniques or brewing styles. But at this year’s Food and Book Fair, I had the unique chance to do just that. Hosted by New York Times contributor, Oliver Strand, and illustrator/coffee afficionado Lars Huse our “coffee crawl” explored the caffeinated creativity of a few particularly tasty blocks in Williamsburg.

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Ground beans, ready for a straightforward “cowboy” style steep.

We first checked out Toby’s Estate, for a “cowboy coffee” cupping. A “cupping” is the industry term for a coffee tasting, and this rudimentary style of brewing eliminates variables that might otherwise influence  our perception of a certain bean’s properties. In this case, we were looking to understand the complexity of roasting, under the guidance of one of Toby’s in-house experts.

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Diving into the cupping.

In the roasting process, beans start at about twelve percent moisture. The green color of raw beans is a trait of chlorophyll, which slowly roasts out as the beans heat. During this process, the polysaccharides break down into monosaccharides, and help establish sweetness in the form of fructose and glucose. As the beans dry, they fade from green to yellow to orange. They also expand and when the moisture finally reaches the point of becoming gas, it emits an audible crack, similar to the sound of popcorn. A roaster is looking for something in between an underdeveloped bean (“baked”) and a “roasted” bean, one in which the taste of the roast overtakes the coffee’s inherent qualities.

Freshly roasted beans falling from the barrel of Toby's Probat machine.

Freshly roasted beans falling from the barrel of Toby’s Probat machine.

After tasting quickly brewed beans which had undergone varied degrees of roasting, we headed over to Blue Bottle, to experience the range of flavors and textures provided by brewing the same ground coffee in different ways. In this case, we were tasting Rwandan Kirezi coffee, a bean prized for its qualities, but that also provided a considerable risk to coffee brewers. For one reason or another, Rwandan beans are subject to a “potato defect”, which means that if one bad bean heats up in the roaster, the entire facility will smell like fried potato. When this happens, shops literally have to halt production and clean out the roasting machine in question, losing not only the current batch of coffee, but also valuable time—and the potato defect, unlike a “quaker” (underripe bean) cannot be spotted by eye.

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An Oji cold-brewed coffee.

We first sampled a cold brew, which expressed a highly developed mouthfeel and surprising level of sweetness. Prepared with a Japanese Oji brewer, this slow, 10-12 hour process also packs a mighty punch of caffeine, as the longer the brewing method, the more caffeinated the beverage. From there we sampled a Chemex brew, a style that hails from Chicago in the 1940s. This method requires “blooming” the coffee—to pour water slowly over the filter while the gases (“the bloom”) rise. The flavor was light and clean, but far less sweet (and caffeinated) than the cold brew. Last, we sampled a French Press coffee, an infusion brewing style that rendered an oilier, more viscous cup.

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Using all five senses at the cupping.

Waving off our growing “caffeine jitters”, we continued on to Sweetleaf Espresso Bar. Oliver chose this shop because it is one of the few that offer multiple types of espresso. An espresso grinder costs $1-4,000, and since each bean requires its own grinder to preserve its subtle character, it’s an investment many shops aren’t willing to take on. Tasting Ritual Coffee‘s “Stickball Blend” and “Rwanda Kiringue”, it was remarkable to note the differences in the darkness of the roast and the acidity of the flavors. If you’ve never tasted two espressos side by side, it’s certainly an interesting experiment.

Espresso at Sweetleaf.

Espresso at Sweetleaf.

From there, the wired group headed back to the Wythe, the epicenter of the Food & Book Fair. I had to step out to attend another FBF lecture, but left with the buzz of both caffeine and newfound curiosity.

Like a wine connoisseurs "tastevin", these silver spoons are the slurping equivalent for coffee cuppings.

Like a wine connoisseurs “tastevin”, these coffee bean-engraved silver spoons are the slurping equivalent for coffee cuppings at Toby’s Estate.

Others have called coffee the “new wine”, regarding our growing interest in single-origin blends, roasting methods and styles of preparation. However, unlike wine, coffee offers a unique hobbyist element, in that almost anyone can play around with different brewing methods at home. If I had to choose, I’d probably opt for an (admittedly pricey) Oji brewer…but for the time being, my old-fashioned Italian moka will do.

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eater’s digest: northern spy food co.

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

As a food writer, it’s easy to to fall into a habit of extremes, toggling from insatiable to oversaturated. This is typically the curse of chasing trends, following the buzz or, worse yet, a desire to be the first to discover a new, unsung food locale. But then there are the restaurants we discover off-the-clock. The plates that satiate us, without leaving us feeling stuffed. The mouthfuls that remind us why we got excited by food in the first place—which, for me, has nothing to do with standing in line three hours for a cronut.

My food appreciation began with the ingredients at my disposal and the thrill of testing out a new flavor or texture—most especially, those with a specific taste of place. In short, I fell hard for cooking with local ingredients, and the chefs who thrill me most are the ones who revive that feeling of discovery.

Porgy with fava and yellow eyed beans in green garlic broth

Porgy with fava and yellow eyed beans in green garlic broth

In Manhattan, Northern Spy Food Co. is a singular example of this type of restaurant. Over the past year, I’ve eaten there four times—more any other restaurant, except maybe the more casual Co. Pane—yet I never got so far as to write a review. They were meals without ulterior motives, an opportunity to indulge in anonymity. In fact, I ate there the way critics would ideally eat at restaurants: often, and casually, without explicit intentions to review them. The true gems are the places that consistently satisfy and surprise you, steeping over time until they blossom into a story.

Let’s start with Northern Spy’s kale salad. Or don’t, in fact. It’s been raved about so often that it overshadows other dishes on the menu – plates like the equally irreplaceable Elysian Fields lamb or smoked bluefish rillettes. In that spirit, I decided on one rule for this review – if I’ve already eaten it, it’s off the table.

And so it was that I started off with pickled eggs. Normally, this wouldn’t be a dish that I’d choose, as all my favorite egg preparations include a runny yolk. Pink with beet juice, they were certainly acidic but also mildly sweet. The yolk maintained a certain creaminess, if the white was a bit more resistant than I’d usually prefer. But I approached them objectively, and they grew on me with each bite, providing yet again that N’Spy sense of discovery, the same that I’d found before.

Chilled watercress soup

Chilled watercress soup

The rest of the dishes were less challenging, but no less interesting. First up, the chilled watercress soup. The texture of this gorgeous pastel palette of food is nothing short of spectacular, coating your mouth with cool green flavor, without the cumbersome weight of cream.

Then came the strawberry salad with goat milk yogurt and fresh herbs. Tart and sweet, it featured both fresh red and pickled green berries, cut with the funkiness of goat cheese, the refreshing crunch of fennel, and the bright, lemony bite of sorrel. I’ll go right ahead and call it the salad of the summer.

Speaking of summer, I highly recommend the refreshing celery tonic cocktail. I’d been eyeing it for months, and it met all my expectations, balancing refreshment with bitter and vegetal notes. For those who like ginger, the Spy Glass is the spicy, fruitier cousin of a Bloody Mary, and also shouldn’t be missed.

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Celery tonic and Spyglass cocktail

Back to the eats, the warm squid salad arrived all tender coils: squid, carrot and daikon radish, garnished with a streak of dark black ink. Accented with the rich flavor of pork belly, it reminded me of a pork and clam dish I once ate in a bistro in Lisbon, a remarkable marriage of land and sea.

For our first entree, we tried the Porgy special—mildly briny and flaky, but more oily than flimsier white fish. Served in a green garlic broth with favas and yellow eyed beans, it was fragrant and comforting, the tender beans yielding beautifully under the impeccably moist, pink-tinged fish.

Broccoli with cabbage, mustard, pretzel

Broccoli with cabbage, mustard, pretzel

But the real scene-stealer was the sleeper on the menu: the broccoli with “cabbage, mustard and pretzel.” If it sounds like a vegetarian beer hall dish, you’re not entirely off track. Tender stalks, breaded and fried in crisp pretzel crumbs, made me wonder if I ever needed to eat juicy sausage again. Negotiating over who would get to drag the last floret through the mustard and pesto sauces, I couldn’t help but think that this was no mere vegetarian alternative. This was a definitive dish – the kind that can make a chef’s career (kale salad be damned).

Ending on a sweet note, (and still entranced by the pretzel-breaded broccoli stalks) we opted for the pretzel waffle with strawberry ice cream and caramel sauce. A flatter, compact, Scandinavian-style waffle, it brought al dente texture and salt, an excellent contrast to the sticky caramel and creamy, concentrated strawberry scoop. Yet again, we found ourselves bartering for the final bite.

Pretzel waffle with strawberry ice cream and caramel

Pretzel waffle with strawberry ice cream and caramel

If this sounds like a rave review, it is. I don’t promise that each of your taste buds will explode with new ideas or ingredients, but—like a good tea–the dishes at Northern Spy develop as they steep. Rather than being at their best on the first bite, they evolve as you uncover each layer of complexity. It’s the ultimate in “slow food,” in fact. Not only is it local and sustainable, but you’re best eating it at a leisurely pace, lest you let one of the subtler elements pass you by.

Northern Spy Food Co.
511 E 12th St
(212) 228-5100

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supper club: a seasonal spring dinner

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

While summer may be the pinnacle of fresh produce, spring is the season I love the most. It’s the season of bitter vegetables, detox from our hearty winter stews, casseroles and soups. From artichokes to asparagus, fiddleheads to ramps, this is the season of green—and I’m just eating it up.

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To share my enthusiasm for the budding flavors of this season, I invited a dozen of my nearest and dearest, including my favorite Brooklyn baker: Molly Marzalek-Kelly. I met Molly through my very first supper club, as she was a good friend of the dinner’s host (I was freshly moved into my BK apartment, and had barely unpacked). When I luke-warmly accepted his invitation to have someone else bake, I had no idea that I would be meeting such an incredible talent. Molly is even sweeter than her baked treats (which I love, because I prefer my desserts on the less-than-tooth-decaying end of the spectrum). Her attention to detail and instinct for fresh flavors is admirable, and I can’t recommend enough that you all take a trip to visit her at BAKED in Red Hook.

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Anyway, back to the menu:

Sourdough Miche and Sunflower-Rye Loaves from Bien Cuit Bakery

Flaky Ramp Tart

Mixed Baby Green Salad with Candied Walnuts and Broccoli Raab Flowers

Roasted Tarragon and Preserved Lemon Chicken 

Thyme and Garlic Roasted Carrots

Grilled Vegetables: Radicchio, Asparagus, Favas, Baby Garlic

Dessert: Lemon Curd Meringues, Rhubarb Pie and Rich Chocolate Tart
(paired with Grapefruit-Champagne Sorbet, Fresh Mint Ice Cream & Orange Cardamom Sorbet)

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Sofar Sounds NY – May 21st, 2013

Sofar Sounds NY

By Carly DeFilippo
Photos by Jose Camargo

Beyond featuring amazing live music, Sofar Sounds is a veritable tour of NYC’s real estate, from high-end lofts to low-fi warehouses. Among the most exciting places we’ve been hosted of late was the Cole Haan design studios in the Flatiron district. Inside an unassuming corporate building, we discovered a spacious, high-ceilinged living space, with snacks, giant pillows, couches…and a man painting the wall?

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That wall was a canvas—a very large one at that—and the man was none other than Chicago artist Joe Miller, who had volunteered to live-paint a background for the evening’s artists. As we moved from indie pop to soulful, singer/songwriter and bluegrass sounds, his canvas evolved in drizzles and waves of warm color.

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First up was Beaty Heart, sent to us from Sofar’s home base in London. Looping melodies and lyrics, they layered organic sounds including their own…

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eater’s digest: googamooga 2013

Photos by Eric Isaac

The dust is starting to settle after GoogaMooga‘s second annual food and music festival, and I can’t help but think of LL Cool J’s oft-misused catch phrase “don’t call it a comeback.” After the onslaught of criticism about long lines and insufficient amounts of food at GoogaMooga’s first run, I returned to this year’s food and music extravaganza with tentative optimism. And until 12:15 on Sunday morning, I was ready to write an article on how, this year, the event had finally earned its name of The Great GoogaMooga.

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Sure, the sound on Friday night could have been better, and yes, Saturday’s weather left something to be desired. But on the whole, the food I ate at GoogaMooga was among the most satisfying I’ve had at large-scale, multi-vendor food events. The notorious lines were short, bordering on non-existent. And Saturday’s musical acts at the Joe’s Pub stage included some of the most promising local bands in New York City.

So after frankly acknowledging the fact that attendees, the musicians and (especially) the food vendors were blindsided by Sunday’s last-minute cancellation, let’s talk about the first two days of the festival.

Friday’s beautiful weather had everyone in high spirits, with early arrivers singing along to The Darkness, laughing as they realized they knew all the words. The smell of barbecue was in the air, shoulders were bare, and a surprising number of toddlers donning adorable sound-muffling headsets danced along with the mostly 20/30-something crowd.

Grilling oysters at Maison Premiere

I kicked off The Flaming Lips’ set with a round of Maison Premiere‘s grilled oysters, their brine laden with a gorgeous herb butter and aroma of char. Serving oysters at an outdoor music festival may seem more Hamptons than “hipster”, but at GoogaMooga, quality was king. Even the stands selling sliders upped the ante, as with Umami Burger’s fragrant, truffle-infused beef patty.

Another unexpected element: healthy food options. At Back Forty, Chef Michael Laarhoven served up a harissa smoked lamb over a refreshing pickled vegetable and quinoa salad with spiced yogurt. Sufficiently filling for an evening of drinking, but leaner than your average summer bbq fare, it was my clear favorite dish at the festival.

Back Forty’s smoked harissa lamb dish

Midway through the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ performance, I had a hankering for something sweet, so I headed up to the Melt Bakery cart to check out Chef Julian Plytner’s latest concoction. I’ve tried many of his flavor pairings before, but I was especially impressed by the sugar-sprinkled chocolate cookie with malted chocolate rum ice cream. Alcohol isn’t my favorite flavor in dessert, but Julian had crafted a just-adult-enough ice cream sandwich, mellowing the chocolate flavor to let the malt and rum subtly shine through.

On day two, the drizzle had us feeling indulgent, so we started the day with dessert from Red Hook’s BAKED. Head Baker Molly Marzalek-Kelly couldn’t have been more friendly, as she hawked her sweet and salty brownies, as well as “brooksters” (the love child of a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie). We eagerly gobbled up the brookster and used our remaining willpower to hold onto the brownie, which later proved to be one of the most moist and delectable I’ve ever eaten.

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For lunch, we opted first for Red Hook Lobster Pound‘s chilled Maine lobster roll, with a bright, mellow sweetness that helped us imagine sunnier times. Looking for a warmer dish to follow, we ran into Chef Dan Holzman of The Meatball Shop, expediting to ensure that each of his MBLT sandwiches had exactly the right amount of mayo. To say the least, we were grateful for his attention to detail. Having recently been impressed by Pok Pok‘s showing at the Lucky Rice Night Market, we settled on Chef Andy Ricker’s “phat thai.” Unusually egg’y, with crushed bits of dried shrimp, tofu, tamarind and fish sauce, it had a delayed spiciness and complexity of flavor that couldn’t have been farther from takeout food.

By Saturday’s end, we had already dreamed up a last-ditch list of the dishes we wanted to try on Sunday. Jeepney‘s pinoy corn and chori slider. DBGB Kitchen & Bar‘s Käsekrainer sausage with ramps, spring onion and mustard. Northern Spy Food Co‘s fried eggs with kale and potato hash. Big Gay Ice Cream‘s vanilla with bourbon butterscotch and cardamom and cacao nibs. (That’s the short list.)

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Really, the tragedy of GoogaMooga’s cancellation on Sunday wasn’t the fact that it was poorly communicated (There was already a delayed opening when I arrived at 11:30, and nothing was announced on social media or their website. The cancellation itself came nearly 90 minutes after the scheduled opening.) The rain was constant, and despite our “make it work” game faces and weather-appropriate outfits, we still were chilled to the bone. The real tragedy is that the very vendors who killed it on Friday and Saturday were faced with a major financial hit to their bottom lines.

I’m not sure what the future of the festival holds, and I’m not one to suppose I know enough of the details about Superfly’s event planning tactics and policies. What I do know is that there is an amazing number of small food businesses in this city and that they’re not only incredible at serving food on their own premises, but they’re also dedicated enough to surpass our expectations off-site, in challenging weather, faced with potentially ungrateful crowds. That’s the story of GoogaMooga I’d like to remember. So maybe we should “call it a comeback.”

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