Last year, I was hired to write the script for the Inaugural Taste Talks Food and Drink Awards. I was thrilled as it was a pretty huge event, hosted by Mo Rocca at The BAM Howard Gilman Opera House--you know, a place that rivals Carnegie Hall for space--seating up to 2,100 people! Of course, there were some flaws with the planning of the event--most notably that is was hosted on a Monday night that happened to be the same night as the first Presidential Debate, as well as the beginning of Football Season (although there's probably not too much crossover between the crowds that would attend a food awards event and those skipping it for football). But, clearly, the debates--especially for media guests was going to be the more important story of the night. Not to mention the organizing group's annual festival was held two weeks prior to this event. As an Awards producer myself, this all seemed very ambitious, but I was just hired to make the people laugh. And although many of my jokes were not used by the various presenters, Mo did use a couple, which was pretty cool for me. I got to hang out at the after party with some of my buddies from MOFAD, which was fun and then I journeyed back to upper Manhattan and eventually had to chase down my payment, as there were some organizational changes made post-show, naturally.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was emailed an invite to attend the Taste Talks Brooklyn Festival this year, which took place in Williamsburg from Friday, September 8th, through Sunday, the 10th. I was excited that I didn't have any other bookings and would be able to attend, so I secured my passes which included a Brunch at the Williamsburg Hotel on Saturday morning, the Future of Food Expo in the same location, and the various conference panels throughout the day. Also included was a pass to the All Star Cookout in the East River State Park on Sunday. Later on I was also invited to attend The Tastys (a little rebranding, you see!) on Friday night at The Weylin, their After Party in the same space and the "Invite-only" festival closeout party at The William Vale's Terrace.
I put the word out to my friends via the book of faces to see who would want to be my date for any or all of the things. While I couldn't get anyone to join me for the awards themselves, a fellow uptown foodie friend said she could join me for the after party--you know--free drinks and dancing. So I trekked out to Williamsburg thinking I'd probably make it just as the doors were opening for the show, and not much sooner--little did I realize they were hosting a reception for those of us who arrived early enough to enjoy it! I ran into some familiar faces from the local food world, but when I realized there were free drinks available my mission became clear. I reunited with some old MOFAD cohorts on the line for a skimpy buffet table that had been picked pretty clean--leaving me with a nice clean plate to double as a coaster for my beverage. And just as we passed through the uninspiring table of leftover cheese and fruit scraps they opened the doors for the show. I had recently been in this space, The Weylin, for a TV shoot where they transformed the room into a smoky and depressing federal hearing hall. I was much more impressed with this awards show layout.
This year's venue was a much more easy-to-fill room, which was clearly packed to the brim with young folks with very busy insta feeds and snap filters. The host was certainly more appropriate for this vibrant group of folks. Matty Matheson is a Canadian chef with a show on Viceland called Dead Set on Life (that happened to also be nominated for an award). He's a great and charming personality and he came bursting out onto the stage in a very impressive paisley-covered suit, complete with a matching cowboy hat. He definitely brought fire to the stage and great presence, but it was pretty obvious from the start that they hadn't hired a script-writer this year. Nor did they have Matty write one himself. And while I think that you could probably have a host improvise some of this stuff--it's probably best to at least have a rehearsal so that everyone's on the same page--especially the host. Like, someone should be keeping track of which of their nominees will be in attendance to accept the awards in case of a win--so that the show isn't awkwardly waiting to see if someone will be stepping up to grab their award. Once in a show, that's OK. Twice is a little odd. But more than that it just looks like no one has their shit together.
Aside from the venue and the host, it seemed that they'd also learned to invite a lot of people to the show for free. Of course, these people were very young and not very connected to the food world. When my friend got to the after party, she asked how many people there I thought were foodies and how many were just Brooklyn Influencers--my guess? Most were influencers. And that makes a ton of sense--you're trying to build your brand, a reputation and get people talking. However, you must still know your audience. If you invite a lot of young folks with an internet presence, then you have to give them a show that won't force them to start walking out in droves because you've slowed the energy down. There were three awkward moments of the show: the musical act, Sneaks, while very young, hip, and talented, played to a seated audience which was very strange. I think they need to cut that out and just have their artist kick off the after party. The fireside chat with Wylie Dufresne was rather dull and felt more like a plug for Wylie's book than anything else. Cut it and replace with the kind of talk that they decided to close the show on: a very interesting panel discussion hosted by Dana Cowin, talking to Claus Meyer, Johnnymae Robinson, and Philip Hoffman who all work together on Brownsville's Melting Pot Foundation. Which I'm particularly interested in as I talk of Claus on my Winter tour. But this is not how you end a show--serious talks should be saved for the middle of the show. Alas, we made it through the show, enjoyed our drinks and ice cream, and let loose on the dance floor until it was time to head back to Upper Manhattan for a little rest before the morning sessions began.
I got some rest and booked it out of Harlem to make sure I didn't miss out on the brunch I was told would be there--if I'd learned anything from the day before it was that these youngsters would EAT. Of course, I didn't consider the timing of the thing and that they probably wouldn't want to be bothered by waking up early. Which meant more for me--since there wasn't miuch to begin with. The plates of food put out in the basement hall in The Williamsburg Hotel sat across from the Future of Food "Expo" and contained a mini lobster BLT. It was very tasty, but I was glad to be able to grab a second. And while the brunch didn't come with coffee, there was a tequila cocktail to wake us up! Getting there early gave me some time to explore the Future of Food Expo--and see if they had any food/coffee for me to consume--they did!
In addition to some unroasted coffee, a "new" spin on yogurt that's still pretty much yogurt, and your standby cabbot cheddar, there was a fun little offering from Brooklyn Bugs! Which I was very excited to see because while I'm not about to but into a waterbug, I do believe there are a lot of ways to use these creatures in food that can help with sustainability. So, I tried a yummy cricket flour chocolate chip cookie and some mealworm marinara--both I would consume again. And we talked about my buddy Chef PV who does a lot of critter cooking. Then it was time to shuffle along to The William Vale hotel, where I was promised a tasting of Du's Donuts. There was a small group of us that was very eager for these donuts and had been waiting for maybe 20-30 minutes before they finally graced us with their presence (they weren't late, we were just early, and filling up on free conference coffee). I was impressed with the wall that formed behind the young woman who was setting up the table of donuts for us--patiently waiting for her to clear it so we could attack. The lighting was such that the donut I meant to grab was actually not what I wanted--but that didn't stop me from shoving it in my mouth anyway. As the crowd subsided, I was pleasantly surprised to see there were still many more donuts to be had. So, I grabbed a little baggie and found the donut I really wanted.
Now that I had my donuts, I was ready for some education. The first panel I wanted to attend was on Fermentation, over in the Wythe Screening Room, which provided us with some beer and bread that came from a couple of the panelists. What was most interesting was learning that yeast can come from anywhere and be used to make beer--like a log, even! After that, I stuck around drank some more beer and went to the next panel about branding from one of the geniuses behind Sir Kensington's, Scott Norton. Scott was a great presenter, which was why I asked what he was studying in college before getting into this crazy world of food--turned out it was filmmaking, which is why he's such a brilliant storyteller. After the panel I grabbed some condiments and took a breather in the sun, where I had an interesting little chat with a food writer I admire, Andrea Strong, who moderated the talk with Scott. After she went off to a children's party, I moseyed back over to the Future of Food Expo for some more free nibbles. I ran into a chef friend who joined me for a walk back to the William Vale where we sat and waited for some chicken. The talk was running late as they had a lot to set up. But once they got going--right after my friend left to check out another panel, they started to hand out some delicious chicken dishes--three in all, so lunch was covered!
The panel that I was most looking forward to ended up actually being the one I enjoyed the most--and not just because Seamus Mullen is adorable to look at, and speak to, and dream about...OK, I'll stop, he's married. But the real joy was because his talk was about the healing power of food and while a lot of our viewpoints already aligned he had a lot of great takeaways for me to bring into the conversations I have with loved ones. As a society, we rely so heavily on pharma and doctors to give us a quick fix when we don't take the time to understand and focus on the things we consume several times a day, every day. Plus, we're bombarded with messages about "health" that come from marketing and ad agencies who have no interest in actual health.
Luckily, I purchased his book before the panel began, so I didn't have to wait in any long lines, but as my power source charged, I waited around for a little more chatting with Seamus and then I pulled myself away to the place that was promising drinks! The final panel of the day was with a few barman, who concocted some cocktails and spoke of the true meaning of the word hospitality. And, while that too started on a delay it was a nice way to end the afternoon--with more eye candy! ;) I clearly have a type: food industry professionals! I was learned, tired, started and ended the day with some tequila and was ready to head back uptown and get some rest before the final day of festivities.
For the last day, I did manage to get a friend to join me for some free food in East River State Park, at the BBQ. We decided to get there at 2pm, since we were both exhausted from the days before. But we realized we probably should have tried for a little earlier as a lot of the vendors were already running out of food. Most of the stalls were collaborations of two popular chefs/restaurants, and every one of them was offering you the once in a lifetime waiting in line experience. Sadly, one of the ones I really wanted to try sold out entirely before we got there--so they weren't even able to re-open for the 2nd wave of ticket buyers at 2:30pm. So, I guess I'll be stopping by a Dale Talde restaurant in the near future, looking for some compensatory eats! The biggest screw up in my mind, though was from Mile End and Emmy Squared. They were serving up some poutine--which is a pretty simple dish, but it does require a fryer. And the science of frying will tell you that one baby event fryer will not cut it for an event catering to hundreds of people over 4/5 hours. And to add insult to injury the people serving up the grub were not at all apologetic or even friendly when we had been patiently waiting for 45 minutes or so to be served A waffle fry with some stuff on top. Clearly, they missed the last panel the day before. Not a good look for two catering pros on your line. The backdrop of the city was great though, and while we only got our one comp drink, I did treat my friend to another--cuz I'm nice. And then we killed some time before the closeout party.
We wandered over to The William Vale where the party would be, and although the staff there was all pretty clueless when it came to being able tell us where and when the party would be, we decided to head to the roof and grab some views.
After I got my snaps we headed down to their little terrace where we gabbed and treated ourselves to some ice cream at Mister Dips.
And after many previous failed attempts, we were finally able to head up to our event to enjoy some more free booze and stalk out the passed hors d'oeuvres--you know, once we'd finally gained some hunger back. I even got to spill all of my thoughts upon the festival manager, Brian Quinn, who is not the same person that is on Impractical Jokers. And, eventually we were accosted by a very drunk woman who we hope got home OK. All in all, I had a very nice weekend. I learned a lot, networked some and ate and drank plenty! I hope to be invited back next year, and perhaps they'll have even more of their awards program nailed down. Their talks are great and the BBQ is pretty much what I expected--just with nicer views--of course we've all gotta get it in now before the L train shutdown makes this whole thing impossible to attend!