The Food Film Festival, now in its sixth year, gives attendees the chance to taste what they see on screen, both by delivering in-theater tastings to viewers during screenings and by having food available, along with copious amounts of booze, before and after films are shown.
This year's NYC Film Fest included six events over five days, during which 39 films ranging from about an hour to exactly a minute were screened and 100 different foods and drinks were available. While everything was pretty great, there were some that stood out in a number of categories, even after watching all of the films and tasting just about every single item—any missed were simply oversight. Here are our highlights from the event.
Most Interesting Examination of Food Traditions
Winner: Meat Hooked!, in which NYC historican Susanne Wasserman looks at butchery in New York City from the early days when its practice was limited to men of a certain social standing to the increased demand for meat. It follows the path of immigration opening of hundreds of public butcher shops to the supermarket-driven decline of the neighborhood butcher, and the recent rise in sustainable butchery. The film includes interviews with butchers from Fleisher's, Dickson's Farmstand Meats, Albanese, and other establishments; there's also flim clips, footage from a pig slaughter Wasserman attended, and historical details like the "Judas goat"—an actual, literal goat with a bell around its neck—that led lambs to slaughter every day on the west side. Wasserman shared that the rights to the film have been sold to PBS, so it may get the wider distribution it deserves.
Runner-up: Sugar Shack, about a family-run maple syrup operation in Quebec that continues to make syrup the way the did in 1890, with the same spiles, pails, and wood-burning stove. During sugaring season, Sucrerie de la Montagne opens to the public for demonstrations, as well as traditional lumberjack-style meals and communal music nights.
Winner: Vegetables: Friend or Foe? by Dirt Candy chef Amanda Cohen's husband, Grady Hendrix, which imagines a reality in which tomatoes ("hell's own apples") used to eat humans but have been hunted into submission, and portobellos, the "gentle giants of the funghi world," enjoy playing in the blender, that "merry-go-round of whirling blades."
Runners-up: By the Fireside With Larry: The Zimlet. Larry Cauldwell, who was omnipresent at the festival, discusses the eponymous cocktail by the hearth while wearing another of his inventions, the SnugWow, a Snuggie made of ShamWows. [Fun fact: the festival provided samples of the Zimlet to the audience, but because it calls for Zima, which hasn't been produced in the States for eight or so years, organizers made an arrangement with Keizo Shimamoto to bring three bottles from Japan.]
And Mickle's Pickle, the story of a Picayune, MS pickle company and what happened when someone stole the large plastic pickle hanging outside their building.
Winner: New York Cooks for Tohoku. After the tsunami of 2011, chefs including Francois Payard, Daniel Boulud, and Bill Telepan traveled to Japan to cook for 2,500 evacuees. It's a cliche because it's true—not a dry eye in the house.
Runner-up: Mexican Cuisine, which shows immigrant Latino cooks in restaurant kitchens making a wide variety of dishes that all call back to their home cuisine. The voiceover describes patting tortillas into flat circles as a man onscreen works with pizza dough.
Best In-Theater Bite
Winner: Chicken wings from Kasadela Izakaya, which were served during the Friday night showing of Kasadela Izakaya: The House That Chicken Wings Built. Saturday night, more than one person I talked to owned up to having gone to the restaurant that day to have more.
Runner-up: Ice cream sandwiches from Pat and Stick's Great Big Ice Cream Sandwich Adventure. Transporting ice cream sandwiches from Sydney daunted even the intrepid food festival staff, so Pat and Stick arranged with local Melt Bakery to recreate their product stateside.
Best Out-of-Theater Bite
Winner: Pork sticky buns with parsnip buttercream from Northern Spy Food Co. Decadent, witty, surprising, and delicious.
Runner-up: Dirt Candy's portobello mousse, the recipe for which, I'm happy to say, appears in the Dirt Candy cookbook.
Best Overall Food Event
Winner: The Low Country Oyster Roast that went along with festival director George Motz's Mud and Blood. The festival brought 20,000 Bull's Bay oysters up from South Carolina and roasted them on a rooftop in Williamsburg, then armed festivalgoers with shucking knives and turned 'em loose. These oysters are much saltier than most other varieties and are generally not available outside the area where they grow. Roasting them makes easy to pop open and, since they don't need any accompaniment other than maybe a splash of tabasco, they go down mighty easy.
Runner-up: The whisky tasting at the opening night event, Single Malt Whisky: The Islay 8. Tasting eight whiskys while representatives of each distillery discuss their products onscreen allows for appreciation of the nuance of flavor and the wide differences between the whiskys. For the record, I came away with a new favorite, Bunnahadhain, which my (barely legible by then, yes) notes say "smells like caramel and tastes like fire."
The festival did give out its own awards too, of course:
Best Feature: Meat Hooked!
Best Short: Ramen Dreams, the story of ramen fanatic Keizo Shimamoto, a second-generation Japanese American who moved to Tokyo to start his own ramen shop, Bossanova Ramen. He closed the shop to come to New York for the festival, two of his employees came on their own dime, and they did a fabulous ramen demonstration after the film.
Best Super Short: Mexican Cuisine.
Best Food Porn Film: Dog Eats Dream, in which a handsome Australian shepherd (just a guess!) dreams about the making of an exquisite sandwich, half of which falls on the ground for him. Jeannie, the dog, was at the festival to accept the award.
Made in New York Award: Brooklynography, a tour of Bay Ridge markets and bakeries from the extraordinarily charming Matt and Allison Robicelli.
Filmmaker of the Year: Liza de Guia, who had three films in the festival. She's made close to 150 films in the last two and a half years, all of which are available on her site, Food.Curated.
Look out for the Chicago Food Film Festival next month. At the oyster roast, festival director George Motz shared a bit of intel. They're adding another city to the festival: Charleston, SC.