Category Archives: seen and heard

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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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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seen and heard: food book fair

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

This weekend, writers, chefs and other food enthusiasts converged on Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel for the second annual Food Book Fair. This Brooklyn-based series of panels, cooking demos and food tours examined culinary innovation in food policy, media, trends and design, through the specific lens of food publications.

Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen

Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen

The fair kicked off with a cooking demo at Pure Kitchen, featuring self-taught blogger and cookbook author, Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen. Deb’s story is an unconventional one, having jumped into the blogosphere far before it was a full-fledged industry. With creative recipes—like “popcorn cookies”—and indulgent photography that feature her homespun style, Perelman is the quintessential example of a blog-to-book-deal success story.

Deb Perelman's "popcorn cookies", ready for baking.

Deb Perelman’s “popcorn cookies”, ready for baking

Another interesting session considered “Food + Foraging”, with Aska Chef Fredrik Berselius and professional forager Evan Strusinski. The two had a surprisingly non-dogmatic approach to foraging, with Strusinski, in particular, bristling at the trending term. As we munched on samples of locally found ingredients, it was an opportunity to consider the collective weight of terminology and how it influences our perception of individual purveyors or chefs.

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Locally foraged ingredients

Other talks related more specifically to publications, such as “Cookbooks + Art”. The trend of chef-driven texts was discussed in most depth, in particular by panelist Anne McBride. In recent years, the importance of a chef’s perspective has overtaken the historic prerequisite of producing a highly useable, instructional guide to cooking. Publishers are now willing to take chances on chefs whose food is unlikely to be replicated by home cooks, which has led to the production of such magnificent tomes as Modernist Cuisine or Heston Blumenthal’s Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Design, in turn, has shifted to support these more personal, artistic statements of chefs, and not only on the high end of the culinary industry.

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Design was also a large part of the focus at “Foodieodicals”, a day-long fair of printed food magazines and pamphlets from around the world. From the highly-saturated style of Tokyo’s inexpensive, newspaper-like Rocket, to the scratch-n-sniff whimsy of Swallow Magazine‘s latest issue, the range of perspectives of what a magazine should look or feel like was endless. As far as the content, it ran the gamut from editorial, to literary and even intentionally “nerdy”, as in the case of Cereal, whose content most caught my eye.

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There was a food publication for all levels of kitchen proficiency and palate training, a spectrum that represented our growing insatiability for food, distanced from the actual plate. Based on some of the edgier publications presented by the weekend’s panelists, such as Christopher Lopez-Thomas of White Zinfandel, we can only expect that the industry will continue to grow in unexpected ways, creating not only new styles of content, but also innovative designs that further explore our relationship with food.

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Sofar Sounds – March 26

I’ve recently had the pleasure of joining the blog team at Sofar Sounds, an intimate, underground concert experience hosted each month in private apartments and other unusual venues all over the world.

The following post covers the most recent New York Sofar gig, held March 26th in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Read the original post here.)

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In my usual line of work—food writing—the traditional measure of greatness is “that which merits the detour.” With music, it’s not how far we’ve traveled to get there, but rather how far the music can take us from where we are. Braving crowded cold or steamy hot rooms filled with debatably polite strangers, craning necks over heads taller than our own, just for the sake of a listen— the best music can help us escape from this place, or transform it into something far greater.

When it comes to settings, Sofar has the head start, as the venues tend to be naturally charmed, even at their most crowded.  In this case, it was a walk-up Williamsburg apartment, complete with exposed brick, where fifty-or-so music lovers came together—seated, quiet, waiting on a listen.

First up was Afeefa & the Boy, an Orlando-based group stripped down to a singer/guitarist and percussionist. Afeefa emanated the vibe of a traveler—not for her shawl and harem pants, but for her drawling speech, the waxing and waning voice of a storyteller. Her affected pronunciation almost recalled Amy Winehouse, laid upon layers of a much simpler, guitar-based style. Andrew, her drummer, filled out the sound with a range of organic percussion, from mellow tribal beats to shakers and the reverb of a lone cymbal.

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My favorite band from the evening, Leif Vollebekk’s Montreal-based folk/jazz quartet.

Next came Leif Vollebekk, a Montreal-based musician playing guitar and harmonica, backed by harmonium, percussion and upright bass. The quartet immediately distinguished itself from the usual singer-songwriter set-up with an improvisational structure that swelled slowly with abstract sound. It started low, with a few exploratory notes drifting in from the bass, as the scratch of a cymbal recalled the creak of an outdoor gate. Leif’s rough, unfinished timbre came in, coloring lyrics about the simplest moments or snippets of conversation, ending many of his phrases with a subtle lift, as if he was asking us to weigh them as questions. This was a band of exceptional note—one that creates on the spot, revisiting their repeated tunes with the fresh intentions of a first rendition.

Dawn Landes, a country-infused folk artist, brought us back from the break. Accompanied by a friend on the banjo, she played guitar as they harmonized in the iconic intervals of the genre. Yet it was in her last piece, a solo—“Bluebird”—that Dawn revealed her true appeal. Her fragile voice shudders at the end of each phrase with a striking vulnerability. When all other sound is pulled away, you notice the strength of her choices, and can better appreciate her raw talent.

Last, but not least, was Sofar veteran Anthony Hall. This pop singer and guitarist was on his seventh go-round and articulated the evening’s appeal for everyone. “No one here must have ADD—because no one is checking their phones, at all.” Whether testing the crowd with his controversial “Emotional” or bringing the show home with a cover of “No Diggity,” Anthony had the whole crowd laughing and harmonizing. In a borough where “pop” borders on a derogatory term, it was a refreshing reminder of the appeal of a simple, genuinely delivered song.

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seen and heard: emily hope price

As anyone who has followed comme au marche long enough knows, music – not food – is my first love. I grew up training in opera, sang in a jazz big band for a stretch, and only upon moving to France began to consider food as a creative career path.

These days, my musical cravings are mostly filled with the songs and sounds of others. So while it may be more practical (professionally) to write about food, I occasionally cannot help but gush about some new find that has arrived to sate my audible appetite.

As of last night, that find is Emily Hope Price. Cellist of the already breath-stealing trio Pearl and the Beard, Ms. Price commands your attention in the most intoxicating of ways. Her soulful tone and incredible breath control are the ideal complement to the low resonance of her instrument. In fact, the whole of her performance is so physically potent for the listener that you can’t help but ebb and flow with the rise and fall of her phrasing.

I can wax poetic, or I can give you a listen. The latter says it all.

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seen & heard: buika

It’s funny how often my favorite concerts have been those I’ve attended by accident.

Last fall, I wrote about my love affair with Rockwood Music Hall, and how it led me to discover the eerie eloquence of singer/songwriter Freddie Stevenson. Yet before I discovered the NYC trick of frequenting well-curated venues, I was rambling through the musically confusing landscape of Paris, where truly great gigs were less easy to find.

The pan flutes of Paris. Fete de la Musique, 2010

There is one day, however, in France when music quite literally lines the streets: the annual Fête de la Musique. This day-long, free music festival coincides with the summer solstice (June 21) and,  since its inception in 1982, has become an international celebration. (Make Music NY is one of the more recent iterations of the festival.) In Paris, the fête is so extensive that you can simply follow the sound of music through the cobbled streets of the city.

I was in town for the Fête in 2010, and spent most of the morning rambling around Les Halles, hopping from one ubiquitous pan flute to another django-esque guitarist. Eventually, I met up with my friend Gina, who suggested we head to the Palais Royal. (The first time Gina and I had gone to a concert, it was to see Manu Chao at the Fête de l’Humanité, a communist festival which quickly turned into a mosh-pit nightmare. Needless to say, my expectations were low.)

The Palais’ program was to celebrate female performers, none of whose names we had ever heard. After head-bobbing to singer/songwriter Madjo‘s pop-y tunes, we snuck off for some snacks. The historic park was pleasantly buzzing when we left, but upon our return, it had swollen with anticipation. We wove our way back to the front, just as the crowd began to roar. There she was, a regal, afro’ed vixen in red: the Mallorcan “Flamenco Queen”, Buika.

Buika, Palais Royal, Fete de la Musique, 2010

For two hours under the dark, open skies and uniquely Parisian box-cut trees, we swayed – squished but mesmerized -beside a group of overzealous Italians screaming “che bella!” (when not singing along in broken Spanish). Though I didn’t understand a word of the lyrics, I couldn’t take my eyes off the slim, vivacious siren. Buika’s musicality and rhythm were exceptional, laced with a feisty humor and passion that transcended linguistic boundaries. To this day, I vividly recall her heartfelt performance of “Volveras“.

For months after that concert, I downloaded Buika’s various albums, singing along in my 5th floor mezzanine bedroom, attempting to repossess some of the magic of that night. But her records, while still admirable, held only the slightest glimmer of the singer’s commanding stage presence. If it is disappointing when a band sounds worse in concert than they do on the radio, it is even more frustrating to discover an exceptional live artist whose albums are comparably unremarkable.

Two years later – almost to the day  – I learned Buika was coming to New York City. I immediately snatched up tickets, raving to friends about “one of the best concerts of my life”. But as the day drew closer, I wondered if my second, intentional evening with Buika could ever live up to that accidental night in Paris.

The set-up at the Highline Ballroom was sparse – a single guitar and a percussionist on cajón. Buika glided on stage with a sleek, long hairstyle and a red, bustled dress. She was as quirky and elegant as ever, blessing the stage with her drink and excusing herself for her broken English. The Spanish speakers in the crowd began a dialogue with her almost instantaneously, echoing the zany energy of my Italian neighbors from the Palais Royal. And then, almost casually, she began to sing.

Buika takes the stage at NYC’s Highline Ballroom, 2012

Some artists impress us with their musical skill – a unique sense of pitch or meter. Buika has both. But what struck me that night – as it did in Paris – was the emotion in her breath and her uncanny reverence for the present moment. Between songs, unabashedly personal banter eloquently revealed the source of her authentic performance style  – “I think to sing is easy. It’s about sincerity.” – and witty insight into her lyrics – “At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, lies hurt my heart. But at 3 in the morning…lies are nice.” On stage, she is both a real-life Carmen -approaching the microphone like a confident toreador – and the most convincingly heartbroken woman in the world.

If the Highline Ballroom was less romantic than a historic Parisian public garden, you wouldn’t have known it that night. Part of Buika’s enduring appeal is the sense that every concert is the most special performance of her life. In the end, there is only one word to describe her elusive aura : “gratitude”. It is this emotion which she so uniquely inhabits and exponentially inspires in us, her admiring crowd.

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seen and heard: tedXmanhattan

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the TEDxManhattan conference, Changing the Way We Eat, at the Times Center in New York City.

The day started off with “Issues”, primarily focusing on the health and ecological risks of industrial meat production (the quick and dirty : even if you don’t feel any compassion for farm animals, the conditions in which they are raised – and the lack of suitable regulation of these conditions – are heading us in the direction of both antibiotic-resistant epidemics and food insecurity on a global scale).  My favorite talk of the morning,  however, was Urvashi Rangan’s “Labeling and the Controversy Around it”.

Rangan humorously guided us through the debacle that is food labeling in America.  Natural is boundless; it can be defined by companies at will and most certainly does not equate with OrganicFree range means that animals were provided the “opportunity” to spend time outdoors, but it in no way ensures that these animals spent time outside of a barn or pen.  And then there are the labels that should exist and don’t.  For example, No Carbon Monoxide.  Supermarket meat is often treated with CO to preserve its red color.  In fact, tests have proven that CO can even preserve the red color of meat after it has spoiled.  The list of crazy, illogical examples goes on and on. (To learn more about Rangan and her work, click here.)

Picking wine grapes by hand, Burgundy

In the second session, “Impact”, we heard about a range of topics, from the importance of preserving our soil, to new programs for training and supporting immigrant farmers, to the impact of gardens on the rehabilitation of veterans, to the fruits of Green Bronx Machine’s edible labors.  But, unsurprisingly, the talk which most sparked my interest was food journalist Mitchell Davis’ evocation of the importance of taste.  Davis highlighted that we are in a unique period in history, one in which our ideals and our perception of taste have aligned.  Some of us buy tomatoes from farmers markets because of their unequaled flavor and texture.   Others shop at the market to support small farmers and ecological interests.  While these two groups’ motivations do not overlap (though there are certainly individuals who belong to both categories), the results of their actions are the same.   Davis argues that we not only can, but also should, use the edible enticement of “good taste” as a central argument in the sustainable food revolution.

 

RealtimeFarms.com

The final session of the day, “Innovation”, addressed programs and products that have begun to address issues in our food systems in a creative and sustainable way.  RealTimeFarms.com helps consumers decode the “local” label touted by do-gooder restaurants, mapping the farms from which chefs are purchasing their featured ingredients.  Recirculating farms are creating the opportunity to grow veggies and raise fish in any climate, with minimal waste and water usage (If I ever get a bigger apartment, I am totally buying one of these for my own home). Fresh Paper, an organic, biodegradable, oil-infused paper inspired by Indian medicinal spices, promises to prolong the life of your produce.  And Bright Farms is building greenhouses on top of your local supermarket/food distribution center – providing more local produce, for less money than ever before.

NYC GreenCarts in action

It’s hard to choose which of the “Innovations” was my favorite, but the one that really hit home was the New York City GreenCarts program.  While those who live near Union Square may revel in their greenmarket, there are neighborhoods in New York that are veritable food deserts, served solely by bodegas, where no fresh produce is available.  GreenCarts is overturning that status quo, encouraging community members to start their own businesses and serve their community – one orange or banana at a time.

If you missed TEDxManhattan and would like to learn more about the interesting and inspiring work that was presented, the event organizers will be posting videos of the day’s talks online within the month.  The talks from 2011’s TEDxManhattan are already available here.

Or for those who prefer the “famous” foodies, here are a few of my favorite TED Talks by gastro-celebrities:

  • Mark Bittman, “What’s Wrong With What We Eat?”
  • Jaime Oliver, “Teach Every Child About Food”

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seen and heard: French & American Perspectives on Food & Nutrition

This week, I had the pleasure of attending a conference on “French and American Perspectives on Food and Nutrition” at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

The French view of "American" Food - BBQ sauce, marshmallow fluff, creamy salad dressing, various canned goods...

With speakers from various sectors and cultural biases – ranging from researchers at the Institut Paul Bocuse to the much-lauded Marion Nestle – the conference covered everything from epigenetics to American terroir.

The presenters touched on subjects from food politics in the 1980s to the French preference for three-course meals, but a few key themes emerged from the wide array of research:

  •  The French, on the whole, are more open to the relationship between food and social responsibility.  The American media – despite the increased presence of scholars and journalists who portray these issues as political or systemic problems – continues to portray health as a personal, individual pursuit (especially when it comes to obesity).
  • The French openly flout some of the most common advice provided by nutrition professionals (for example, “don’t eat dinner late in the evening”).  They do, however, maintain a certain reverence for the pleasure of eating, spend more time preparing food, and involve the whole family in the food preparation process.  (Studies have shown that the amount of food one consumes is inversely correlated to the amount of time one spends preparing food.  Aka – the longer you take cooking, the more likely you are to appreciate and value your food – and the less likely you are to overeat).
  • Epigenetics is a field that is likely to take the forefront in the way we understand nutrition, as well as social and personal responsibility.  We are only beginning to realize the dramatic effect that our diet and environment can have on the expression of our genes (and the genes of our future offspring – not to mention the fact that French researchers have found that our food preferences start developing in utero).
  • There is a future for “terroir” in the United States.  In Vermont, initiatives to preserve or cultivate traditional methods for producing maple syrup and artisanal cheese are revealing that the American public has a vested interest in the value of food traditions.  And as the locavore movement continues to pick up speed, (Husk, an uber-local Southern restaurant was named Best New Restaurant in America, 2011 by Bon Appétit), this is the perfect time for local food communities to take pride in products specific to their region.

Parisian "petite fille" joins "maman" at the market.

Yet even more fascinating than the multitude of topics presented by the speakers was the diverse perspectives of the conference attendees.  Their varied backgrounds – from an AirFrance employee passionate about pastry to a landscape designer curious about the social effects of gardens – spoke to the intimate and influential role food plays in the lives of each and every person.

After a few days’ reflection, I find myself lingering on one cultural distinction between the US and France. While I have no statistics to back up this claim, my personal experience and research in Paris has taught me that the French appreciation for the “art of eating” is matched (if not surpassed) by an insatiable desire to talk about food.  Everyone has an opinion, a story, a discovery to share – and the discussion about food reaches far beyond the confines of the table.  Moreover, meals are not one of many possible moments for socialization in France; they are the moment for community and social interaction – so much so that a threat to the quality of mealtime is considered a threat to French-ness itself.

The dangers of letting the media define our relationship with food.

On the American side, we are experiencing a veritable food revolution and the exponential growth in media buzz around food is absolutely astounding.  But does watching the Food Network or Top Chef religiously translate into spending more time in the kitchen or participating in meaningful conversations about food in our day-to-day lives?

Americans may be increasingly food-obsessed, but we are not yet adequately food-conscious.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of the food media, but I fear that, unless we stop primarily taking our cues from the fantasy-land of the “food stars” and start basing our appreciation of food in our own experience (and our own kitchens), we will forever be missing the je ne sais quoi that distinguishes food as culture, rather than a commodity.

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seen and heard : freddie stevenson

In New York City, one often fails to be a regular.  With so many bars, restaurants, clubs, events, etc. to choose from, we often hop from place to place, bereft of the acknowledging nod of a familiar bouncer or bartender (let alone a fellow regular).

Freddie Stevenson's new album

But as one ages in NY-years, there is a certain appeal to deciding upon a few worthy establishments to frequent, safeholds in the swirl of the city’s never-ending orgy of frenzied innovation.

For those who fear the commitment of becoming a “regular”, Rockwood Music Hall is a delightful solution.  Within the confines of a single locale, it serves up an ever-changing menu of worthy musical acts (on the hour, every hour).

It was there that I found myself on Sunday eve, to see singer-songwriters Rosi Golan & Ari Hest – a couple of Rockwood regulars themselves.  Having just enjoyed their intimate evening set, I was preparing to leave, and that’s when the floodgates opened.  Concertgoers of all shapes, sizes and ages filled the room (on a Sunday night!) so – with the enthusiastic orders of a photographer “No, you have to stay.  Freddie will change your life” – our curiosity peaked, we decided to linger (at least for one song).

“Freddie” Stevenson did, in fact, change our lives that night (or, at least, our mood and perspective) – from the moment he and his band, the “Midnight Crisis”, hit that first smooth groove.

“I’m in some kind of boutique clothing store/Nothing makes sense to me no more/I’m headed for the door/Everything is more than I can afford”

From there, a waxing & waning 1 to 10 man band (from guitar, to baby-grand, sax, electric mandolin…) filled the smallish Rockwood stage, as we sat mesmerized in the haze of a beautiful, mystical time warp.

Yes, I said “time warp”.  We stayed glued to our seats for a good two hours, while Stevenson’s singer-songwriter/busker/camp rock wooed us.  Nothing short of entrancing, these are anachronistic – yet uncannily relevant – songs for the 20 or 30-something set that plays Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens on beat-up record players, seduced by the lyrics and the crackly sound.  Born in 1980 himself, Stevenson’s lyrics are marked with the profundity of a wise, well-worn sage :

May I pay for my sins in installments?/Sell the keys but save the ring/In the end everything comes to depend/On a few inessential things”

And if Stevenson’s lyrics are of an eerie eloquence – the foot-stomping groove of the Midnight Crisis is nothing but a good ol’ time.

For those of us with a day-job, Stevenson’s repeated midnight Sunday set at Rockwood is nothing short of depressing.  Luckily, he can be found busking in Central Park or performing with The Dirty Urchins at the 11th Street Bar or The Tippler.

You can catch The Dirty Urchins tomorrow (November 30th) at The Tippler, a bar worthy of regular-status itself.

Links:
Buy a full 58-song album of Freddie Steveson’s Songs
Buy Stevenson’s new album, The City is King on iTunes
Interview Magazine’s interview with Freddie Stevenson

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seen and heard: “pig: a restaurant”

Last night, I scampered over to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theatre in Chelsea to see Pig: A Restaurant.  This witty one-woman satire on food fetishism is a welcome, refreshing gut-buster for anyone involved in the wild world of foodie-ism.

Pigs feet, Rue Dejean market, Paris 18e

Pigs feet, Rue Dejean market, Paris 18e

“Pig” is a series of monologues (from chef to hostess, owner, supplier, food critic, and even the chef’s former “I invented morels” mentor) from a pork-centric restaurant.  My personal favorites were those of model/actress/hostess Aurora and the eerily Insatiable food critic.  Intermixed with each character portrait (or should I say, “pork-trait”) is a series of silly, spot-on media quips.  The intro alone is razor-sharp in its wit: a mock-up of the modern restaurant website, where the music’s too loud, the landing page takes forever to load, and the menu is nowhere to be found.  (By the way, who ever decided that PDF menus – see inconvenient smartphone downloads – were a good idea?).

But don’t get all worked-up, food-disinterested vultures.  Your circling stops here.  Because this self-deprecating, restaurant-referential sketch is nothing but a hysterical love letter to “ravenous” foodies of all kinds.  If there’s a moral in sight, it’s not “stop eating pork, fried in schmaltz, topped with cracklin”, but rather “the fact that we can dream up and consume such things is ridiculous, privileged, and indulgent – so let’s at least not take ourselves so seriously”.

Click here to read the Gothamist review, featuring a picture of my favorite faux food critic.

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