In our ongoing endeavor to entice readers to think, ask and marvel about their food community, we sometimes have to resort to such tactics as filling a former church rectory on Park Avenue with the scent of wood and scotch roasted oysters, steaming jambalaya and caramely buttermilk candy. Sitting 120 people down at 3 long tables with ice buckets of Belgian beer before them. And then screening award-winning food film shorts which inspired the dishes that we all ate. Still with me?
This was just the sort of complicated, but eminently delicious, thinking behind our communal beer dinner the other night at Inside Park at St. Bart’s, a marvel of choreography by the staff at Inside Park, captained by the seasoned and celebrated Matt Weingarten. (There were fans in house from his days at Savoy and, farther back, at American Place.)
The beer was three Belgian ales: the lager Stella Artois for the oysters, Hoegaarden wheat beer for the fried okra, collard greens, sweet potatoes, watermelon pickle, and jambalaya course, and the pale ale Leffe Blonde to wash down the dessert, which included warm blackberry curds and whey, kentucky butter cake, and old fashioned buttermilk candy (a recipe Weingarten dug out of the Fanny Farmer cookbook). “The movies electrified some of the most simple day to day acts of these folks that work in our food systems,” said Weingarten, “distilled them into a poem of moving images.”
That distillation was courtesy of our friends at the NYC Food Film Festival, who are all about showing a film and then inviting you to eat what’s in it. They selected three that had won awards at their annual fest (2011’s will be in June). Our amuse course was “The Perfect Oyster”, Craig Noble’s tale of an oysterman who speaks sensually of the mollusk; we actually ate oysters from the same beds.
Following this was “Mr. Okra,” T.G. Herrington’s piece on a funky old 9th Ward fruitmonger; Herrington, who lives between Park Slope and New Orleans, was on-hand, attesting that the andouille still smelled like his southern home even if it was being made in Midtown. (He dropped some nice words about new-comer Edible New Orleans.) “It’s true sustainable food,” said Weingarten of the mix of rice, veggies and “just a bit of protein” that is jambalaya. “It’s lots of flavor and lots of substance,” he added, echoing Mr. Okra’s own pitch for fresh produce. (The always culturally appropriate Weingarten turned his pickling fetish on watermelon for this course.)
Finally, there was “Buttermilk: It Can Help,” Joe York’s Americana short about a successful and proud dairyman, who believes, like we do, that the right food growing and eating can even solve the world’s problems.
Can buttermilk solve the world’s problems? According to Earl Cruze, a dairy farmer and buttermilk maker from Knoxville, Tennessee, “it can help.” (2008)