Le Fooding

This weekend I also went to another food event, where I ate a little healthier, knowing what I would be eating at the Vendy Awards the next day.

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It’s hard to complain about Le Fooding because it was great that an event featuring such elite chefs was so affordable. But I must admit the event was bewildering in all the wrong sorts of ways.

Lines snaked through giant furry tents in PS 1 lit up warmly gold, but not providing much protection from the surprisingly bitter early autumn night chill. We got in some lines not sure where they would take us as pretentiously twee French pop lulled us to discontent.

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We got in lines not knowing where they went or why we existed…wait, never mind. I soon learned to grab as much of the tiny portions as possible so I wouldn’t have to get back in line.

I was unimpressed by the pig’s head and tapioca (!!??) soup from Le Comptoir du Relais. I’m all about eating animal heads, but it was a little bland.

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I am going to have to learn how to make Bo Ssäm, served up by David Chang himself. A simple concept of meat + lettuce really came together because of the spicy kimchee.

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I was excited about Wylie Dufresne’s grilled chicken necks, anticipating I would discover an amazing cheap cut of meat to learn how to cook, but alas they were mostly gristle and bone.

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From Paris restaurant Bigarrade came this delicious steak. It was delicious, but mostly just because steak is delicious. Same for the pork ribs from Ze Kitchen Galerie.

The most impressive flavor was the scallop butter from Brooklyn’s own Diner (no, not a diner, but a locavore place simply named Diner. I would complain, but their food is seriously very good…even locavore-hater Anthony Bourdain liked it). The combination of butter, tomato, and mint was surprising and wonderfully zesty.

Vendy Awards

I wish I had a bigger stomach, really, I do. Events like the Vendy Awards are a struggle because there is so much good food and I want all of it, but every bite brings me closer to the dreaded food fatigue.

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This year’s event was held in Flushing, Queens at the former site of the World’s Fair, which unfortunately very very very far away from where I live in Brooklyn, at least by subway, which is an even slower form of transportation on the weekend when they do construction.

The Vendy Award is not just an aggregation of all the best street food trucks in NYC, but a fundraising event for the Street Vendor Project, which advocates for street vendors both by representing them in court and by lobbying for better policies. Street vending in NYC is currently not well protected or respected by the powers that be. Street Vendors are mercilessly ticketed and the permit system is punitive and corrupt to say the least. This is unfortunate, as vending represents a great opportunity for people to start a small business. Many vendors are immigrants and come from poor backgrounds and vending represents a way out of poverty.

But the Vendy Awards are fun because street food is not only a valid business enterprise that should be respected, but because the best vendors serve up incredibly delicious and creative food.

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My favorite rookie was Schnitzel & Things, which brought back my memories of Austria. My pork schnitzel was perfect and the delicious creamy Austrian potato salad sealed the deal.

Cravings, the other rookie cart had some incredibly luscious gravy, but otherwise the meats and dumplings didn’t wow me. Picnick, the only cart touting local sustainable food, was also a disappointment. I thought the meat was dry, the sauce boring, and the cookie was an abomination to cookies everywhere.

I hit up the dessert trucks after that, with Wafels and Dinges being my first stop. I always thought I didn’t like waffles because the ones I had were gummy and boring, but apparently I hadn’t had the right waffle…until Saturday, when I took an incredible bite of the buttery chewy wonderful waffles served up by those genius Belgian men who topped it all off with the amazing concoction that is gingerbread butter.

I waited in line for eons for the Big Gay Ice Cream truck, but it was worth it. I also tend to look down on soft serve, but once again, I was wrong. This soft serve was creamy with real vanilla and the topping were creative and of course, delicious. I had the gobbler, which was topped with pumpkin butter. Wow.

Cupcake Stop was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The first cupcake I had, the Elvis, a banana cupcake with peanut butter icing, was salty and sweet and melted pleasingly in my mouth. However, the pumpkin spice was nauseatingly sweet.

I wasn’t much hungry afterwards. I had admittedly eating the Country Boys truck for a taco before the monster line formed and it was delicious, but I didn’t think it was anything exciting. Same for the falafel from the King of Falafel, but maybe it’s because I couldn’t manage the whole dish he made and just ate the falafel.

Mediocre Rickshaw Dumplings, buttery spicy Kati Rolls, and burnt Jamacian Dutchy were tasted, but were tasted, but at this point I was ready to pass out on the grass, so I wasn’t a fair judge.

NYC Craft Beer Week

First up was NYC Craft Beer Week, a harried week for me because my own organization had an event as part of that week. I did get to go to a few amazing events though, one being a panel on Women in Beer at the French Culinary Institute.

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After eating lots of Murray’s cheese and tasting some great Ommegang and Stoudt’s beers, beer mavins dished on the state of women in this mostly-male profession. The women on the panel this year were Debbie Boening, president of Oak Beverages which distributes beer, Susan Green, sales manager of the Global Brewers Guild, Sarah Lescrauwaet Beach, Market Manager of Ommegang Brewery, Jennifer Schwertman, bar btender and beer geek, and Carol Stoudt, President of Stoudt’s Brewery and the first female Brewmaster in the U.S: The panel was hosted by Maggie Fuller, the founder of Beer Ethos.

It was a diverse group and all of them were more than willing to speak their minds. Carol Stoudt got into beer after her kids left home and started a brewery, whereas Sarah, who is Belgian, recounted growing up with good beer. They talked about how session beers are in and beer is getting new respect from gourmands.

What was clear from the panel is that the stereotypes of “girly” beer are fading and women are enjoying beer with real flavor. Indeed, when I bartended at the Vendy Awards, it was the women making a beeline for the IPA.

The best beers I tasted at beer week were Kelso’s Brett and Ommegang’s Hennepin. I definitely lean towards the Belgian styles and I am so glad I discovered beers brewed with the bacteria brettanomyces at a cool event recently called Where the Wild Beers Are.

Kombucha drinkers will immediately recognize (and love) the sour brettanomyces flavor and find it enhanced and perfected in many of the beers that utilize it.

Ommegang’s Bière De Mars is a great example of a beer that does sour right. It’s like cinnamon spiced sour windfall apples topped with a malty caramel sauce.

Let Us Eat Local

Let Us Eat Local is not just a fundraising event for Just Food. It’s a showcase of how delicious locally grown can be. Divorced from the tiring dialogue of food miles, local shows that it’s not just from X number of miles away. Local food is also about the idea of a farmer as not just the producer of commodities, but as an artisan with the magical ability to raise up succulent perfect tomatoes from the Earth. When I made the slide show for the event, which featured pictures of these farmers and their handiwork, that is what I wanted to portray. It’s unfortunate that most people at the event already know this. I would have loved to have seen locavore naysayers like Anthony Bourdain try to naysay while choking down Marlow & Son’s luxuriously fatty porkbelly with brightly tart grilled peaches. Of course local food is about other things besides pure hedonism, but this hedonism doesn’t get enough press as far as I’m concerned. Too many articles I’ve read about local food are exercises in calculating abstract reasons why we should eat one way or another.

I was happy to see Bourdain in his Outer Boroughs show chow down on the hamburger from Diner. That burger is not just made with local ingredients, it’s made with the best ingredients. You should order it rare and savor the unctuous silkiness of the beef. Grass-fed beef has its detractors, but I think they don’t get that it’s like a wine and each vintage tastes a particularly way, for better or worse, based on the life of the organism. In this case, the beef is the story of a cow from how its mother nursed it with colostrum to the particular strain of pink clover it favored while out to pasture.

Bourdain would also approve of the local food movement’s love affair with offal, which I have reluctantly become embroiled with. Whole animals raised so carefully are valuable from nose to tail. That means greater appreciation for things like kidneys, which I couldn’t say no to when chef Jacque from Palo Santo offered me them in a taco so enthusiastically. The whole taco was so delicious, so perfectly spiced and dripping with salsa, that I forgot that the offer initially gave me pause.

A picture I, sadly, did not take.

Giving up meat may calculate better in some economics spreadsheet, but in the end Boca Burgers aren’t going to support the kind of economy I want to see that fosters farmers as artisans and stewards of the soil rather than as variables producing X numbers of soybeans. And I say that earnestly, even as I proudly have as bachelors in science in agricultural economics…it’s not going to govern the way I personally eat.

Pictures of the event
Feedbag
Village Voice

Beyond Ikea: A day in Red Hook, Brooklyn

Red Hook, Brooklyn is an isolated little area below Carroll Gardens. Its main claim to fame is that it is home to NYC’s IKEA. Having lived in Sweden for a year, I had no need to go to IKEA, but I did want to explore this oft overlooked neighborhood.

Red Hook is home to some of the biggest public housing projects in the US. Nearby are ballfields where children play soccer and baseball and where many people from all over New York come to enjoy excellent cheap Latin American Street Food. I had a delicious pupusa, a thick Salvadorean tortilla stuffed with delicious fillings such as gooey cheese and tender pork. I also had tamales stuffed with delicious spicy chickpeas and potatoes. I washed it down with sweet red hibiscus tea (aqua de Jamaica).
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As I walked down the street, I came across the giant glaring blue box that is IKEA, as well as a farm…yes, a small farm run by an organization called Added Value. Local children work at the farm to learn about healthy food and how to grow it for the community.

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Red Hook is a very industrial area, but being a place of contradictions, it also has many beautiful garden centers. This garden center truck planted with beautiful tropical plants had a water fountain.

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By another garden center water fountain, I found Steve’s Key Lime pie, which was a delicious creamy respite from the heat of the day.

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Historical industrial buildings dot the coastline, the ones from the Civil War era standing out with their black shutters and stars. This one has been turned into a giant gourmet supermarket. The more modern industrial buildings are just grim boxes, I wonder why back then they made even shipping warehouses beautiful?

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There are some beautiful parks by the coast with views of the Statue of Liberty. I sat in one to eat my pie while watching men fish from the pier. The sign warned pregnant women and children to avoid eating the fish (and eels!).

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The area is home to many artists, antique stores, gourmet restaurants, strange dive bars, and a lobster pound.

Unfortunately, it is also fairly isolated from the rest of New York. There is no subway stop, just an erratic bus. Many suburbanites come to shop at the Fairway or Ikea and miss Red Hook’s other charms. I suggest skipping out on the mediocre Swedish meatballs when visiting IKEA and instead eating some pupusas and key lime pie.

Zurich, Switzerland

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My last trip in Europe outside Sweden was to Zurich, Switzerland. I was hosted by biodynamics expert Andrew Lorand, who gave a small seminar on the basics of biodynamics. I’m very familiar with organic agriculture, but before this trip I didn’t have much experience with biodynamics.

Both biodynamic and organic agriculture are alternative methods to conventional agriculture that aim to be more environmentally friendly, but they have very different approaches. Organic agriculture might be unconventional, but to be organic you simply have to follow a set of rules and procedures laid out by whatever country you are in. There is no specific philosophy behind them and they vary between different countries. Typically, organic farmers simply use more natural pesticide and fertilizer alternatives.

Biodynamics has the philosophy of anthroposophy behind it, which was founded by Rudolf Steiner. It aims to look at farms as organisms in themselves with a goal of achieving natural balances. Unlike organics, it has a spiritual component. A biodynamic farmer consults astronomical planting calendars, for example. A biodynamic farm also is also going to emphasize being self-sufficient by growing a diversity of crops and hosting many different animals, insects, and other beneficial organisms.

In own experience, there growing disillusionment with the organic movement in the US. After learning about the Aurora “Organic” factory dairy, I realized that to get good milk I would have to do my homework and visit actual small farms to buy milk. This means I usually eschew milk altogether.
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In Switzerland you can get very high quality untreated raw milk and other dairy products at biodynamic stores.

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I got a chance to visit Steiner’s center, the Goetheanum. I took a tour and learned about the building and Steiner. His influence extends through many different spheres from Waldorf schools to homeopathy.

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Some of the inside is painted lovely soft plant colors. Some day they will paint the whole building.

Sheepishly

Wow, it is very rainy and cold today. It’s kind of depressing because it’s June and I figure we’ve had just about enough dark weather.
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Yesterday was at least sunny. While biking home I saw these sheep grazing on the lawn of a local park. An excellent natural lawn mower.

Impressive horns too. Sheep always looked a little pathetic to me, but I wouldn’t want to bother these.