Since it began in 2012, food-media professionals, small-batch producers and chefs eager for a cookbook deal have come together for the Food Book Fair, being held April 10-12 at the iconic — if something that’s only been around since 2012 can be iconic — Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. The fair’s founder, Elizabeth Thacker Jones, conceived of the event as a trade show for publishers, but when she tried to raise money for the concept on Kickstarter, the funding didn’t come through. However, when a friend encouraged her to ask restaurateur Andrew Tarlow to host the event at the Wythe, which he co-owns, the answer was a resounding yes. The 2012 Food Book Fair, the hotel’s first event, set the stage for the Wythe to become a hub for the particular confluence of narrative, artisanal production and camaraderie that characterizes Brooklyn’s food scene.
Jones originally became interested in food as a 10-year-old, visiting her older sister at the restaurant where she worked as a server, Chanterelle, the legendary and influential downtown Manhattan establishment that closed in 2009. As an adult, Jones held various food jobs in the Bay Area, including vending sustainable caviar to four-star restaurants and leading cycling tours through biodynamic vineyards. Finally, she found her way back East and attended the NYU Food Studies graduate program.
“I was reading Marion Nestle and Raj Patel,” she says. All around her, locavorism and foodieism were hot topics. “Restaurants were serving local ingredients; CSAs were going through the roof.” She thought up the Food Book Fair as a way for people to come together and share the narratives that weren’t surfacing in the mainstream media. For managing director Kimberly Chou, a journalist, the interest in food started with her family and blossomed during college, when she participated in what she called a “rigorous potluck group.”
Now in its fourth year, the Food Book Fair is presenting panels on such topics as “Food and Empire,” “Cookbooks and History” and “Chinese Food in America.” What you won’t find there: corporate-sponsored, mainstream food media. One change this year is that tickets are now all-inclusive, including events as well as food and drink, as opposed to each event being ticketed separately.
As in previous years, there’s a special literary-themed dinner, with George Weld and Evan Hanczor of nearby Brooklyn restaurant Egg cooking a meal inspired by Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding. As it turns out, Jones was instrumental in helping the Egg chefs get signed on for their forthcoming breakfast cookbook — she brought editor Caitlin Lefell to eat there, and Lefell was inspired to propose the book.
Jones and Chou also have their hands in a campaign, along with the ethical-food app Foodstand, to promote “ugly” or disfigured produce that typically gets thrown out. Through their organizing, marketing and writing skills, these two cultural movers have already done much to promote Brooklyn’s food scene — and surely more is to come.
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