Reading Big Apple Dining Guide's festival review on Saturday morning did little to excite me for the day's activities at the New York Culinary Festival. I bought my ticket online last the night before because I couldn't decide if I wanted to go and I figured if I bought the ticket, I'd have to go. (I wasn't sure if i wanted to go because I had no one to go with and I'm hella lazy, as going to NYC requires getting my mum to drive me to the bus station 15 minutes away and then getting on the train for...longer than that. It's not really a bad commute—in some cases, it's faster for me to get to NYC than people from certain parts of Brooklyn.)
I shall quote Badge, because that's easier than having to come up with my own words:
They take your ticket (I bought mine online and printed it at home) and give you another, smaller ticket. No direction, no brochure, no map or list of vendors, NOTHING.
I give my ticket to the ticket people (who have no idea about anything) and see the ugliest, most rudimentary "festival" I've ever seen. The space is terrible - cold-like, hard, unfinished and simply ugly with little to no signage, balloons or anything that makes a festival a festival.
Hm...yeah. I have to admit, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be because his review lowered my expectations by a million notches. After looking at the New York Culinary Festival's official site, I would've expected more. More...more of everything. Anything? People? The photo above was taken early in the day, which is why it's rather uncrowded.
This photo was also taken early. Let the drinking begin!
It did actually get more crowded later on, but never so crowded that you felt like you'd need a breathing tube to survive, such as at the Chocolate Show last November. If you went to the festival just to eat, your $20 were wasted. You could only buy food from the vendors (of which there were less than I anticipated) by buying $1 tickets/scrips with cash or credit card. I didn't want to buy any initially because I figured I'd have leftovers, which would be a waste of my money. In the end I had one leftover, which wasn't bad (I only spent $10 anyway), but it bothered me anyway. It would've been cool if we could've donated leftover scrips to something, as I'm sure many people had extras.
Overall, I spent $30 for the festival. I'll get to the food, but first, the $20 entrance fee: was it worth it? I happened to see a few good demos/lectures, so it may have...almost been worth it.
I thought I missed Sam Mason's demo, which was probably the thing I was most looking forward to see since wd-50 is about as awesome as a million hugs, but due to the disorganization of the event, he went on late enough for me to catch him. Huzzah—I love it when I benefit from the incompetence of others! Before taking the "stage", he sat with the few of us in in the audience at the time (no one really knew what was going on as there weren't programs and...well, he was already going on late because they didn't have all the equipment he needed) and was kind of like, "Hey, what's going on...I have no idea" while possibly thinking, "OH MY GOD, WHAT'S GOING ON...I HAVE NO IDEA?!" He was missing a whisk and probably other things. The missing whisk turned into a joke of a need for whiskey (to cope with the poorly organized demo), and during the demo the MC actually came by to deliver a mixed drink. There was plenty of alcohol a-flowing throughout the center, so...why not, I guess.
Will Goldfarb, owner of Room 4 Dessert, became Sam's impromptu assistant since he was schedule to give a lecture after Sam. He was able to find a whisk, which another chef took back after the demo was over; methinks there was a whisk shortage.
For the demo, Sam made his "Beet-Tangerine Ravioli, Cocoa Caviar" dish. I didn't take notes so I could be off in my recollection of his method, but methinks the cocoa caviar was made by mixing cocoa-caramel sauce with an agar solution, boiling it for a few minutes, pouring it into a squeeze bottle with a pointy tip, chilling the bottle, and then dispersing little blobs of cocoa-agar-goop into a 40 degree vat of oil to give birth to many cocoa caviar babies. He explained that the temperature of the oil is important (and he had an electric thermometer to make sure) because otherwise you'll end up with little pancake-shaped cocoa caviar that sink to the bottom (too hot) or float on top (too cold). He said the word "pancake" enough times for me to internally laugh more than I should've.
It's all about the pancakes.
While he was boiling the mixture on the stove, he noticed that no one in the audience could actually see it since it was just out of the range of the overheard mirror. To help us understand what he was doing, he recreated the circular stirring motion with his right hand under the mirror. "By the way, this is what I'm doing...[stir stir]." OH, NOW I GET IT!!! He also wanted to take the baby blobs out of the oil vat, but he didn't have a strainer. He quizzically looked at the vat. "Um...yeah, I guess I can't take these out."
It was funny—you should've been there. Maybe. There were other funny things, but unfortunately I don't remember any of them. The situation was obviously less than ideal and he made the most of it by being laid-back and telling us a bunch of stuff I can't remember. (Maybe...orange.)
Everyone in the audience got to try the dessert. To be honest, I didn't like it that much, at least not compared to the stuff I ate at wd-50. The cocoa caviar had a very mild taste that I expected to be stronger. The orange crispy bits were nice, but I don't know what they were.
The beet "ravioli" was filled with tangerine mousse/foam, which was made by whipping a tangerine juice and gelatin mix over an ice bath. The skin was uber-thingly sliced beet that may or may not have been soaked in something else. I know, my descriptions are so helpful! I may as well be writing in another language.
Sam mentioned that his new, yet-to-be-named restaurant will open in November . Suh-weeet. Will joked that that's why he'll have to move Room 4 Dessert out of Soho.
Will is...um, awesome and the nerdiest chef I've ever witness. Granted, I'm not familiar with the chefing world, but I think it's safe to assume that most of them wouldn't try to draw a Gaussian sphere for the audience. Which is what he did.
I don't have many photos for you since he basically stood in front of us (next to his line of hydrocolloid powders, which he let people take at the end of this lecture) and talked about "Molecular Gastronomy" for half an hour, but it was my favorite part of the day. "Molecular Gastronomy" to me sounds like a fancy phrase for "food science" as some of the things he mentioned reminded me of my class work, although probably more complicated than what I learned. I never had to learn about Gaussian spheres, at least.
While the first half of his lecture gave us a background on molecular gastronomy, the second half was more personal and based on an article he wrote for Gastronomica called "AKWA: Commercializing Creativity". If anyone wants the article, I could find a pdf version of it through the use of my school's electronic journal access. (That's what I pay a bagillion dollars for, right?) Fortunately, I riffled through my bookcase and found the Fall 2005 issue with the article in it (yes, I keep the back issues, SO?!); mm, I love the feel of pressed tree pulp between my fingers.
"AKWA is an attempt by four young cooks to synthesize art, cuisine, finance, and leadership development, to create a learning organization from all the things we love." Will explains in the article that AKWA is an acro-homonym for "Kasper and Will Like Water", Kasper being Kasper Kurdahl, "a Danish chef who had opened Ducasse and worked as chef de cuisine for Roger Souvereyns in Belgium". They were later joined by David Scabin and Ruben Garcia. I wasn't familiar with their website akwa.org, but he mentioned that they want to get that running again, probably a good idea since it looks about 5 years old. The group somewhat pooted out because their plans to build an NYC-based food lab in September 2001 didn't look so hot to investors after September 11th. Yeeeah.
MOVING ON! Will told us his "five principal axes of creativity in the kitchen":
The article gives an explanation for each point, but I'll just quote the "love" one since I found it the most interesting of the bunch:
Kasper's suggestion that only love has the power to unify ingredient, technique, and philosophy is challenging. In experimenting with love as a creative level, akwa has developed a mock computer program for creation. Our prototype program generates dishes by realizing an exponential power of ingredient, technique, and philosophy. With love, one can dance freely and without inhibition across previously determined levels of creativity. Intense, true love has proved the sole tool available to humanity to bridge a seemingly broad gap: between self and other, or chef and guest. One characteristic of all great plates is clear: they are made with love.
Yup. I'll just leave it to you to read and interpret however you want. I don't think of love in relation to food, although if love if needed to make good food, that could explain why my food usually sucks. It's the food I make for myself that usually comes out rather blech. MAYBE THAT MEANS I HATE MYSELF.
Haha! Um. Sometimes I bake stuff for other people, in which case I put more effort into it and something edible actually results from my lack of baking prowess.
I don't know what my love of food can be categorized under. It's not like Will's; I definitely do not have a love for being creative in the kitchen, although I'd love to eat the results. I need food, so I may as well love it as far as I can tell. For some reason, it's hard for me to talk about love in any serious matter. For me, food is fun, or should be fun, and I can't imagine doing anything professional in the food industry (even though just about everyone suggests that to me) because I like my little amauteur-foodie corner of the blogging world.
While Will's lecture was pretty straightforward, his writing is...less so, to me at least. The article is over my head, which may have been why I didn't read it when I first got this issue of Gastronomica. It's probably good that I read it after hearing him speak.
So! So. What else did he say? [scratches head]...I'm too lazy to go through every detail, but I walked away with the impression, "Holy crap, this guy is really, really into what he does, and he seems to know what he's doing." I want a passion like that for something...anything...but I suspect that most people don't find it, which makes me worried about my future.
Hohum. [sings the "doom song"]
After Will I stayed for Rose Malindretos of O & Co to hear her informative lecture about olive oil. I guess I knew more about olive oil than I thought I did, but it was good to drill more information about the awesomeness of olive oil into my head. I suspect this isn't common of most Chinese households (or maybe most houesholds overall), but my mum (although not my dad) mainly cooks with extra virgin olive oil (and coconut oil on occasion). Admittedly, we don't cook often so it's not much of a financial sacrifice; otherwise it wouldn't make much sense to cook with craploads of good olive oil all the time. I think I went through one and a half normal sized bottles (I forget what normal is) of oil while at school, mainly because I'd eat it with bread. I use butter sometimes too, but I like olive oil more because I love using bread as an oil sponge. Yesssss.
We tasted two olive oils, the first of which was somewhat floral and the second with was uber-herbacious. Seriously, the second one smelled like grass and tasted somewhat like leafy greens...if the greens were liquid fat. I liked both of them. Heehee. I don't think I'd want to swish plain oil in my mouth repeatedly in the future though.
After the oil-ing, Pichet Ong showed us how to make peanut butter cookies with vanilla bean-infused brown butter, chopped peanuts, white and brown sugar, and...flour. And maybe other stuff. Baking soda? He gave his cookies extra yumminess by topping them with Malon sea salt, which helped bring out the peanuty-ness of the cookies. His soft, chewy, butter-filled cookie was a lot better than the hard, not-so-buttery peanut butter cookie I ate that morning from Amy's Bread. Amy's Bread, why do you always disappoint me? [sigh]
Before Pichet's demo, I ran into Gerald of foodite and one of his friends from culinary school. He recognized me, wooha! I wandered around the food area with them after sitting on my bunch for hours, a duration that hadn't really hit me as I'm quite used to sitting on my bum for hours (in front of glowing monitors). I also ran into Nick, who was not guzzling down beer at the time. ;)
I honestly wasn't that drawn to most of the offerings since meat dishes aren't high on my "Holy shizz, I need to eat that" list. Citarella came to my rescue from the otherwise meager dessert selection, resulting in my first purchase of the day: CREME BRULEE. Oh my, how I love thee. I thought it may not taste as good as a warm, hopefully freshly-torched brulee that I've had in restaurants, but it was great (especially for $3) and I scarfed it down too quickly. The thin, crackly caramelized top layer protected the smooth, creamy, vanilla bean-specked innards...until I jabbed it with my plastic spoon. Delicious? YES. (The cream. Not the spoon.)
I also tried a bison slider from Aspen, which is listed on menupages as being topped with smoked cheddar, bacon, and "gonzo sauce". I'm not sure what gonzo sauce is, but my slider was also topped with onions. Mmm, this was pretty awesome. It obviously wouldn't overtake a creme brulee to my taste buds, but despite the small-ness of this burger my stomach was satisfied. The meat was juicy and flavorful with...ye know, meatiness, and there was just enough of each topping; nothing overwhelmed anything else. I wouldn't want to pay $6 for another taste, but I'm glad I tried it.
I think I've written enough about the festival. Also, I want to eat dinner now. Read Gerald's report to read more about the "horrible execution and logistical failures". So true.
the foodiness was just a few avenues away
I walked to the culinary festival from Penn Station and actually forgot that the 9th Ave Food Festival was also taking place. I mean, until I ran into hundreds of thousands of people and blocked-off streets. I wasn't very hungry so I didn't eat much from the festival besides the disappointing cookie from Amy's Bread.
A lot of people love Amy's Bread and they do good business, but for whatever reason everything I try tastes medicore, or a step above mediocre. However, since I expect more I'm usually disappointed. WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!
I'll just do a random photo splodge of the food festival since that's easier than writing. Enjooooy:
After leaving the culinary festival, I met up with Allen at Little Pie Company and watched him attempt to eat a 5" lemon meringue pie all by himself. In the process, I also watched him undergo the initial stages of a sugar coma. Poor guy only got through half of it. I ate a few bites, but certainly wasn't hungry enough to eat more than that.
Then I semi-ran to Penn Station, which proved to me that my lungs truly hate me, and went back to dirty Jerz.
OH, but wait...there's this place on 9th Ave aroud 36th Street:
I'm so going there. Maybe on Tuesday. Weehee!
random food related things
Someone found this blog by googling "is it okay to eat expired ice cream". Just wanted to let you know. I have to ask how anyone could have expired ice cream, as that implies having ice cream around that hasn't been eaten, but that's coming from someone who can't buy containers of ice cream lest she wants to eat too much ice cream.
The Neurotic Consumer gives this lovely description of salad:
I do eat salad, but majoritarily squashed between two pieces of bread, or melted in rice or pasta dishes, for I find it boring and fastidious on its own. It falls of the fork. It is unchewable. It is basically a virtual food that is extremely sad to eat.
Yes. I too will shove salad in between chunks of bread, but on its own it makes me sad.
I'll eat chunks of bread on their own too. Today I ate half of a sourdough boule. It was some of the best sourdough I've ever had, with a paper thin, cracker-like crust protecting a ginormous fluffy pillow of leavened wheat. I'm holding in my gut right now to compensate for the gluttony. I actually always have to hold in my gut...
Thanks a bucketload to all the people who have mapped themselves on my frappr map thingy! THE LURKERS ARE COMIN' OUT, HOOHA!! I'm happy that you noticed the link on the left column, although if you haven't already, sign my frappr map thingy, please. It's good for market research. For instance, so far the estrogen is taking over, the mid-west does not represent, and I've made no impact on South America or Africa. Hohum!
This map will help me track you all down as food guides when I plan my vacations. Heeeheee!!!...um, I hope that doesn't frighten you.
Drew speaks the truth: exercising blows. Chunks.
I have a public service announcement of utmost importance: