Photos by Brian Samuels and Aly Miller
RENSSELAERVILLE – Last week, fifty foodsters gathered in an old barn in Rensselaerville, New York for the first annual LongHouse Food Writers Revival. The day was designed to explore the intersection of Old Food Media and New Food Media, to provoke and delight, to promote inter-generational exchange, to forge and renew collegial bonds, revive creativity — and, most of all, to celebrate the many ways that food stories can be told.
From morning until the winds and darkness sent us scampering home, we lived the story of the Oaxacan Diaspora in the Northeast through food, stories, and conversation.
Reigning over the live fire cooking arena with our whole-roasted pig outside the barn, Neftali Duran, owner of El Jardin wood-fired bakery in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, massaged the pig with a mole-like spice blend, tended the fire, and, along with Claire Handleman and Bill Benson, the owner of the Palmer House Cafe in Rensselaerville, turned bushels of peppers and tomatoes and charred catcus, chilies and limes in the way that his family has for generations.
Meanwhile, the Pop-Up Food Magazine — the multimedia speaker presentation portion of the day — began inside the barn. Actors Bobby Lupone and Casey Biggs moved the audience to the edges of their folding wooden church chairs with a dramatic reading of a poem by Itzel Fernandez, a 15 year old Mexican American food activist from Poughkeepsie, New York. Katherine Alford of The Food Network discussed recipes in translation with the pioneering Mexican restaurateur Zarela Martinez in the barn’s KitchenAid Pop-Up Kitchen, and photographer Penny De Los Santos presented the lives she documented along the Mexican border for National Geographic.
A video montage of oral histories gathered by the LongHouse team took us inside the lives of the Mexican farmers and grocers and tortilla makers who contributed to the feast, while Kathy Gunst of NPR’s Here & Now interviewed Neftali Duran. Brian Halweil, publisher of Edible Manhattan and editor of Edible East End, discussed the confluence of culture and agriculture in daily life. Bloggers Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan of Apartment Therapy’s TheKitchn.com and Shauna Ahern of Gluten Free Girl visualized a blog post based on the day’s events. And Corie Brown, the founder of Zester Daily, and Tanya Steel, the editor in chief of Epicurious and Gourmet Live, provided commentary on how these various media forms could be deployed to tell the story of a people, a place — and a meal.
We broke for lunch. Albie Barden of the Maine Wood Heat Company had towed his copper-domed, wood fired oven – a true masterpiece – nine hours to Rensselaerville and stoked it up for local farmer and chef Micha Kuhar to work his magic making pizzas. Working with Ultragrain, a traditionally-milled whole grain flour that yields a fine artisinal loaf, Micah turned out two delicious pies – one topped with local mozzarella and tomatoes he grows and roasts himself, and the other with kale and fresh goat ricotta from our local goat keeper.
The Harney Tea Company was brewing their smoky, new Earl of Harlem blend. Chris’ Coffee from Albany was pulling espresso after espresso. But the winds were blowing up by then and only people who live on the ridges of the northern Catskills understood that sweaters and shawls are di rigeur 365 days a year in the curious notches of hard scrabble highlands. We ran back to the barn.
And the Revival portion of the day began – an open discussion about food media among speakers and participants. “Monetization” and “art” squared off. The temperature rose as three generations — print media, the first food blogger generation, and twenty-somethings who arrived bearing backpacks full of ‘zines — explored, celebrated and bemoaned the uncertainties of making-a-living and living-the-dream. The Taza Chocolate break came just as the scent of wood fired pig began to penetrate the red barn wall. We talked another hour — long enough to feel we’d earned the feast now in its final stages of roasting right outside the barn and the mezcal cocktail that Casa Mezcal in New York City had invented for the Revival..
When the cocktail shakers ran dry, there was sparkling local cider from Naked Flock Hard Cider — who would have thought that New York apples and cactus sap firewater could have such affinity — and fine wine from Vinport to keep us warm and rosy. Alex Casso, a Mexican-American fine arts graduate from New York University, pulled up the hood on his sweatshirt and continued painting the mural he’d been working on for a week.
Neftali worried the wind and erected the fire barriers that welder Tom May have provided to contain the fire and direct the heat toward the still-roasting pig. Dissembling the taco a pastor, he seared the thin sheets of marinated pork in cast iron pans over the pit adjacent to the spit and began pulling out the eggplant and peppers and butternut squash that had been roasting, along with shoulders of pork pobil and a cauldron of black beans. He mashed the eggplant, seared cabbage and made a smoky cole slaw. Margarita Martinez of Poughkeepsie began turning out hand-crafted tortilla — some filled with pork carnitas and, for the more adventuresome, others with fried grasshoppers.
The pig was lifted from the spit by six strong men to a stadium-style cheer. The speakers, attendees and local friends who had gathered for the feast made their way to the candlelit buffet. Eating a story never tasted quite that good.
For more photos from the LongHouse Food Writers Revival, check out our Flickr page.