The Little Festival That Could: NYC's Food Book Fair Turns Five

It was more than just a shared love of food and books that united Kimberly Chou and Amanda Dell. It was a booze-fueled late-night excursion to Whole Foods.

"We went out in Gowanus, then we went to Whole Foods at like 11 p.m. on a Friday night after having a couple drinks, and I was like, 'I like this person. This is how she wants to spend her Friday. Drinking, then going to Whole Foods,'" Chou laughs.

It's a sunny afternoon and I'm having lunch at Journee, a restaurant-industry clubhouse, with the co-directors of New York City's Food Book Fair, which returns to Williamsburg's Wythe Hotel for its fifth year on May 1 and 2. Everything from Justin Bieber's "Baby" to the Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman" plays loudly on the stereo.

Because the fair's founder, Elizabeth Thacker Jones, has moved on, the Food Book Fair is now helmed by Chou, who has worked with the fair since 2014, and Dell, who was involved with running last summer's Food Book Parties along with Chou. They're molding the fair to be their own, keeping the core of the fair's original concept intact while adding their own flair. A new feature of the fair that Dell and Chou are eager to speak about is Food Book Fair School, a series of workshops, classes and town hall–style discussions that involve topics such as food styling and photography as well as food and labor issues beyond tipping.

"Kim and I had the opportunity to really think about whether or not we were going to continue it, what that would look like and we decided to do that," Dell says.

For the uninitiated, Food Book Fair is where all things food media are celebrated with symposiums, workshops, dinners and more. However, if you're looking for publications and celebrity chefs, you might not be looking in the right place. (Disclosure: Food Republic is a media sponsor of Food Book Fair.)

"It's all the intellectual rigor of a conference and the fun and energy of a festival," Chou says. "It's about shining the spotlight on stuff that doesn't get covered or people who don't get as much attention. I think a lot of these larger-platform, legacy publications already do that so well for what they do, so we can spend our time highlighting a small magazine or some activists."


We asked Chou and Dell about this new chapter of Food Book Fair and why a food-book celebration makes sense in this day and age.

What is it about print that drives the Food Book Fair? You guys work with books and zines (and they still exist!).

Dell: Not only do they exist, there are new ones made every day. I think that personally, I'm in a very interesting position in the age group in the sense that much of my life is online, but my enjoyment of media happens to be things that I can actually touch. My pleasure is actually reading The New York Times in print.

Chou: I don't think that books being art is a new thing. I think there are people who celebrate them in a different way. I would say magazines too, because it's very hard now to make magazines be a moneymaking proposition based on circulation. But if you make a beautiful quarterly and charge a higher price for it and have that be one part of the larger brand and have that beautiful physical book component, I think that's a really smart way to make a magazine today.

From running Food Book Fair for two years now, I have so many food magazines that I can't recycle because they're so beautiful, but I don't know what to do with them. Being a millennial [means] having most of our lives online now, but growing up, we were in the transition between analog to digital. I was a bookish nerd growing up, so...books have always been a part of my life; there's been that continuity there. There's definitely a strong memory-tinged relationship with the print book for a lot of people.

There's a feminist and queer-friendly air to Food Book Fair. Tell me about that.

Chou: Food Book Fair was started by a strong woman. It's always drawn strong women for whatever reason.

Dell: It's kind of selfish, and this is a huge overgeneralization, but men get the majority of the spotlight. If there's anything that we can do to bring attention to women doing amazing things, we want to get behind that. Our stage has been filled by incredible men and women. We, if anything, want to be inclusive and never have any exclusivity. A lot of the inspiration behind [Food Book Party's Gay Food 101 event] was two gay men's magazines that came out. We were like "Whoa!" Not only are there two gay men's food magazines, [but] they're both so different. We were really drawn to them both. Something that's underlying there is that we have many friends in the hospitality and restaurant industries — that conversation is something we want to continue at the right time, talking about gay, lesbian and queer culture and experience within the hospitality community.


This year's festival is split up into two sections: Sunday will be dedicated to Food Book Fair Jr., a kid-friendly version of the festival with a worm bin compost demonstration, Foodieodicals and panel discussions about fashion, fiction, indie food magazines, recipe testing and more. Monday's events will feature workshops about food styling and photography, visual storytelling, how to Kickstart your own food project, a cocktail-making class and more. Sunday ends with the A Spritz & A Slice party, where Spritz and The New York Pizza Project authors and special guests will speak and go through a blindfolded pizza taste test.

Tickets to the fair and supplemental events can be found here.