Like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, I’ve been living in a parallel world for the past seven months. Jeff tumbled in a few months ago and as we are emerging and returning to our old world, we are much richer for friendships forged in foxholes, much wiser for hard lessons learned, and excited about what the future holds.
I’m talking about the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference in NYC that was 5 days of food, fashion and love. People have written eloquently and glowingly about attending this conference, this is about what it was like to plan and execute this whale of a conference.
Don’t call me Ishmael. Call me Nutz.
It all started with Doug Duda. He’s part Merry Prankster, part Auntie Mame willing us to enjoy the ride, part Guru with mystical ideas that continually flow, and part Whisperer, smoothing over the rough patches. He was also the Conference Chair for this whole shindig, and he invited me along for the journey. My job, as the honorable “Host City Chair”, would be to corral the ideas and keep fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.
The next one to join our little band of Pranksters was Martha Holmberg, author, writer, visionaire. Martha is a bit of Pippi Longstocking, a dash of Judith Jones, with good pinch of Ruth Reichl’s editorial eye and Anna Wintour’s instincts.
And then we were 3. Of course, it wasn’t just us, but we became a nucleus, or maybe we became a virus as we infected others with The Passion.
Here, drink a little KoolAid, and help us plan this event that eventually grew to be 5 days long, with over 23 tours launched in a single day, an opening party with 16 chefs, phenomenal cocktails and naked women covered in fruit slices, over 230 speakers, over 170 educational sessions,a glamorous awards ceremony, a culinary expo that was zinging with energy, a book and blog festival that rocked, demos and hands on classes at the Institute of Culinary Education, the International Culinary Center, and a delightful, intelligent cocktail party and more sessions at the James Beard House.
Conferences need a theme, and Darra Goldstein of Gastronomica filtered the New York food scene into a simple sounding concept, “The Fashion of Food”. New York as an axis of media, food policy, food trends, culture and fetish.
But how do you translate that into a visual message? This was fun, batting around ideas, trying to distill the message into something cleaner, simpler.
Enter Jason Blake. Jason is a challenging, provocative photographer whose photos tell stories, the narrative caught in a shutter flick.
You see what’s happening, right? More bodies tumbling down the rabbit hole, but not tumbling, more like we were thermalling, buoyed by each others ideas.
Jason woke up one morning with THE way to tell this Fashion of Food story. Take the threads of what is in style now: veganism, craft cocktails, culinary students, cookbook authors, charcuterie makers, urban farmers, kids, a butcher, a coffee roaster. Use real people, stylize them like a Gucci ad and ask the question, “Am I in Fashion?”.
Martha came up with the tagline that said it all. We had the visual anchor. We had a conversation starter.
The actual photo shoot was a bit like the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers “Night at the Opera”. Organized chaos that verged on ordinary chaos.
Pushing furniture aside in our loft, we set up a simple back drop and had our artisans display their talents. Our poor mixologist arrived with a hang over and we had him pouring a soy sauce and water mixture over and over to simulate a cocktail. I’m sure the smell worked well with a raging hangover. Our butcher skateboarded over from Brooklyn with 3 rabbits he’d slaughtered in his backyard. Actually he slaughtered 50 of them and just brought 3. He always butchers in a shirt and tie. We had to hide the rabbits from the vegan activist when she showed up. The coffee roaster is naturally gorgeous, and I think Jason fell a little in love with her, but that’s to be expected. Then again, throughout the day, I think he fell in love more than once.
How did we find these people? Nicki, the coffee roaster is the daughter of Jeff’s first girlfriend. The charcuterie maker is our good friend Elaine, she of cherry pie fame. Adam the butcher? I think Adam and Nora, our urban farmer, came from a conversation with Holley Atkinson of Slow Food NYC. The adorable kids are Karin Endy’s boys. Karin is the President of The Culinary Trust and Karin roped in Ona our culinary student and Simone our vegan. I met Lauren Shockey, our author, at a book signing event and fell in love with the story behind her smile. The mixologist thought I might be just a little nuts, but he was a good sport in the end.The net widens.
This is a long story, that deserves telling. But it needs to be told in pieces, in installments.
Next chapter: enter Jimmy Carbone. (Kar- bone- ay). Bring a beer for that chapter.