This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend Taste Talks, a foodie conference in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. OpenTable had reached out to me about attending and as soon as I started reading about the event, I jumped at the chance! (For restaurants in NYC, check out OpenTable’s New York City restaurants page here!) My Food Enthusiast pass got me into all of Saturday’s events (I couldn’t make the Sunday BBQ) and it was nice to learn some new information about the culinary industry from some the area’s top experts.
Saturday started off with the Chicken and Waffles breakfast. The venue, Colossal Media, was so Brooklyn, if I can say that. (I know you’re picturing a valley girl voice.) It’s a huge painting warehouse that – only in Brooklyn – is also used for events. Once I accepted that I wasn’t in Manhattan anymore, the place was pretty cool. In their back courtyard I enjoyed some homemade waffles, fried chicken, collard greens with bacon (my new favorite green), and grits. It was a delicious way to get the energy I needed for the rest of the day.
Since the panel and workshop events overlapped, I had to be choosey about which ones to go to. So I went for the food – a demo and tasting by “The Chef’s Chef”, Lee Tiernan, a London chef who showed us what a chef wants to eat after a long shift.
He said he craves something salty, fatty, and “bad for you” so he showed us his Confit Pork Jowl crusted with dried shrimp topped with a cabbage salad. (You can see him making this same recipe on Munchies. Click here for the video.) Fatty pork jowl wrapped in dried shrimp and cooked in duck fat – this snack made me proud to not be a vegetarian. It was GOOD.
Next up, I was running late for “From Indie Bands to Grandpa’s Buick: What is Buzz?” which was a panel of food professionals discussing the “buzz” of the food industry, moderated by Mario Batali (who was the presenter of Taste Talks). The conversation was informative, and had some great quotes which I’ll mention here.
Christine Muhlke, Executive Editor of Bon Appétit, and Kate Krader, Restaurant Editor at Food & Wine magazine spoke about the value of “organic” buzz, and finding a restaurant or dish on your own rather than through press releases. They also spoke about how today, people are interested in the story behind the food, and how these magazines have an audience that is naturally skewing younger. Ken Friedman, Co-owner of The Spotted Pig and recently revived Tosca Cafe, spoke of his experience on too much buzz, and making the mistake of over-hyping a restaurant before it’s open the same way we can over-hyper a new album. When it finally launches, we’ve already heard too much about it and no one cares. He emphasized that today it is harder to under promise and over deliver because of the buzz that surrounds the food industry. Along with Craig Kanarick, CEO of Mouth.com, the panel discussed the “classic” restaurants like Balthazar, and how French bistros are a popular trend in NYC, a city that is focused on the next new restaurant. When it comes to “shopping” for your food, Kanarick discussed the value of the experience of shopping whether it’s online on your couch, or out in a brick and mortar store.
When it comes to media, Mario Batali and the panel said there is more credibility in print publications such as Bon Appétit and Food & Wine because of the time and investment in these publications, whereas a single tweet from a reviewer is more “disposable”. Mario stated, “There’s buzz, buzz development, and buzz maintenance” but you want to casually remind the consumer that there is new stuff every day. Buzz return is the value in the experience when you look at your credit card bill and decide if the meal was worth it, whether it’s a $400 lunch or a $7 falafel.
Finally, the panel shared their closing thoughts on generating buzz. Friedman simply advised “make good food” and “keep the music low” while Kanarick compared it to a blind date, saying you need to reveal just enough to get people enticed.
After all that information, I took a break at the Future of Food Expo for some samplings of new foods and companies in the NYC area. Sud de France had some great wine samplings, while Legally Addictive passed out “crack cookies” which were amazingly similar to my Chocolate Espresso bars recipe (courtesy of Giada). I also tried some gourmet chai flavored marshmallows – what an interesting group of vendors!
I briefly popped into the seminar on Reporting, Writing, & Eating with Sam Sifton of the New York Times which discussed their new cooking site, a resource for foodies and home chefs.
From there I went to taste tequila at The Magic and Taste of Tequila and Mescal with Death & Co.’s Phil Ward. Although I couldn’t stomach more than two
shots samplings of tequila and mescal, I learned a lot from Ward who recently opened an East Village bar dedicated to these spirits called Mayahuel. The first thing I learned was that tequila is a type of mescal, but not all mescals are tequila. (He compared mescal to tequila’s parents, rather than cousin which is a common analogical misconception.) Ward explained the process of making great tequila, noting that good tequila is 100% blue agave, although makers can have up to 49% of “other” sugars, lessening the quality. Cooking also affects the quality of tequila, as well as aging to some degree. Blanco tequila is typically not aged, but can be aged up to two months, while reposado tequila can be aged two months to one year. Añejos are aged at least one year, or even up to three years.
Some of the tequila and mescal we (well, not me) tasted were up to $80/bottle and he recommended Astor Wine & Spirits (on Lafayette) as a great source for shopping in the city. While I couldn’t stomach the tequila sipping without some salt and line juice, Ward noted, “An acquired taste is a just reward for an effort put forth.” I think that’s my new favorite quote.
Daniel Krieger teaching us to how to master foodstagramming
The event I was most excited for was NYC food photographer Daniel Krieger‘s Expert Food Photography for Everyday Cooks. This was right up my alley, (obviously). He interestingly spoke in detail about food photography for Instagram with an iPhone, as well as photography for cook books (which he does professionally) with a DSLR. He spoke of the importance of composition and using negative space and appropriate angles, as well as how to help light your plate in a dimly lit restaurant (he recommends iPhone flashlights, with the help of your fellow diners). On a more advanced level, for a DSLR he recommends a macros lens to get close to your dishes, and a 50 mm lens to shoot at f2 with a blurred background. (I need to invest in some equipment.) Follow him on Instagram @danielkrieger for some cool shots and some helpful tips. (He also wrote an interesting article on photography for Food & Wine here.)
Lastly, I tasted an IPA at the Beer Tasting hosted by The Other Half. Owner and brewmaster Sam Richardson discussed his journey through beer making with Mike Conklin, Editor-in-Chief of Brooklyn magazine. The Gowanis-based brewery focuses on IPAs with a west coast style.
It was an exhausting but educational day, which was a lot of fun despite the rain. Brooklyn certainly has a different flair than Manhattan, but it’s great to see the food scene from the other side of the river. It was also a perfect pre-game for the upcoming NYC Wine & Food Festival (for which I am counting down the days). Can’t wait for the next foodie adventure!
My ticket to Taste Talks was provided by OpenTable. All writing and opinions are completely my own. For more information on OpenTable, visit the NYC Restaurants page and learn how you can pay without the wait via OpenTable payments.