“I feed off the event for months.”
My words last week before heading to New York for Cherry Bombe Jubilee, an annual women in food conference. I was referring to the wisdom from the speakers and the conversations I have throughout the day, from the bathroom to the lunch line. I suppose most conferences are like this, a distillation of like-minded people brought together by a common theme. It’s no wonder connection happens.
But it’s not just the wisdom I feed off, it’s also the flavours. That’s what travel does – it shifts you away from your food rhythm, injecting a new ingredient here, or a spin on something there. Like the tiny waffle with whisky bacon I ate upon arrival, with a surprise sous-vide egg inside. I washed it down with water from a sustainable milk carton and settled in for some wisdom from Dorie Greenspan in conversation with Joy the Baker:
- Careers can start later in life (Dorie started off as a gerontologist until she was fired for ‘creative insubordination’ and moved on to authoring cookbooks
- She once had to ‘origami’ the very tall Julia Child into her red Miata convertible because she couldn’t get the top down. Julia and Dorie were on a trip to a local grocery store to stock up for a project, but Julia couldn’t help herself. Once there, she gave random people advice on how to pick a melon
- Julia taught Dorie to be curious, about everything
Then it was back to the food, where I sampled a rhubarb cake, just like my mom’s, but topped with coconut streusel and black sesame seeds. A new ingredient here, a spin on something there. I stood in a long line for coffee, a must at that point, but lines are part of the day. That’s when I chatted with a woman I see every year, one who is cataloguing American nineteenth century handwritten recipes.
Cha McCoy, a New York Sommelier, was up next. Her talk, I Am More Than Moscato, brought the house down. Most black people in America, she said, are profiled as Moscato drinkers. Moscato is an Italian white, sweet and easy to drink. “Even Drake has been known to throw back a bottle of two,” writes Vinepair.com. Drake rapped in 2009, “It’s a celebration – clap clap bravo. Lobster and shrimp and a glass of moscato.”
Cha McCoy is black, proud, and went to Tuscany to learn her craft and followed it up with accreditation to get her foot legitimately in the (very white) door. Her words were mesmerizing, poetic, and inspired us to ask ourselves, is there diversity in our local wine stores? Because diversity invites variety. Opinion. Curious palettes. We need these things in my community, badly.
“I am Cha McCoy, and I am more than Moscato.”
It was time then for a Cashew Yogurt Parfait with Brown Butter, Honey Granola and Lemon Curd. I approached the table, admittedly, because I liked the jacket and red nails of the woman behind the food. It all turned out to be perfect.
Dig Inn’s farro, sliced chicken and kale ‘bowls’ we on the lunch menu- seemingly simple combinations, but inside were candied cashews, orange peel and lots of fresh mint. I ate outside in the sun, beside my dear friend Eshun. We met at University, she a blond curly-haired goddess, me a seventeen year-old ‘too young for a pint in the university bar.’ Now she’s the food editor of House & Home Magazine. We shared a bunk bed at a Brooklyn hotel. I fell asleep to Eshun reading to me from Bon Appétit magazine.
The rest of the afternoon was a swirl of powerhouse inspiration, from Ruth Reichl reading from her memoir chronicling her time as editor of Gourmet, to chef Missy Robbins on why ‘going into work happy’ is the most important thing in life. Madhur Jaffrey told us how she climbed mango trees as a child in India before setting off on a boat for England, where she would become a famed cookbook author and actor. Padma Lakshmi told us to stop everything and watch Madhur’s latest youtube project – Nani. Who knew the woman who taught me how to roast cauliflower, the Indian way, could also rap and drop the F bomb?
- She’s struggling with fame, but realizes there’s power to be harnessed within this discomfort
- She’s building a business to support the many makers behind the ingredients and ceramics used on her show
- She’s happy to help friends who want to benefit from her connections in the media world. A friend in the industry taught her that being jealous and possessive with contacts is useless because editors will decide what and who they want; it’s not Samin’s job to be the gatekeeper. That said, pitch stories well. If her Netflix producer isn’t intrigued in the 20 secs available to read an email, forget it.
Helen Rosner, food writer for The New Yorker, interviewed Samin. She didn’t use notes, a phone, scribbles on the back of a receipt, nothing.
Before we left, before we met the sparkly-eyed editor of GRLSQUASH, before we walked past bacon and eggs graffitied on the sidewalk, we tasted Four & Twenty Blackbird’s malted chocolate chess pie with cherries. My mom is a chess pie maker from our time in Mississippi. I had forgotten how delicious it was, and now I want it on the Easter menu.
And finally, we sampled Nicole Ponesca’s (author of I AM A Filipino) tiny bibingkas in a banana leaf topped with adobo. Pork with cake! Who would have thought. Nicole’s book is up for a James Beard Award this year in the International category. She’s just one of the many diverse voices we sampled today, a voice to feed us for months through flavours and thoughts.
Eshun and I finished off the night at Bird’s of a Feather, a Chinese restaurant around the corner from our hotel. It was recommended to us as ‘special’, and indeed it was. We were tired, our brains were spinning and our bellies should have been full, but we found a way. Har gow, snow pea shoots with garlic, and the softest sweet and sour tofu pudding arrived with a small fleet of beer. But it was the Dan Dan noodles, with a delicate peanuty sauce, a touch of green and a pile of ground pork, that we loved the most.
I drove home from the airport via a Chinese grocery, one that I knew sold fresh chow mein noodles. I wanted to recreate the Dan Dan noodles that night, between school, tutoring and football practice. The finished dish wasn’t perfect; I used a mishmash of recipes from the internet (like this one, and this one), had to omit greens for the picky fifteen year old, and didn’t toss the noodles with sauce before I snapped this picture. There wasn’t time. But as Annie Dillard once wrote in The New Yorker, when it comes to writing,
“…spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”*
The same goes for food. Be curious with food. Ask questions. Take notes. Pass on what your learn. Eat with your family, rushed or not. Share. Don’t save it, give it all, give it now.
*Thank you Sandra, once again, for giving it all, giving it now. I loved reading this piece.