Meet the Women Running This Year's Food Book Fair

© Liz Clayman

By Stephen Satterfield, Civil Eats Posted April 25, 2016

Brooklyn's Food Book Fair returns May 1 and 2.

"It's like going to a record store where every bin holds deep cuts." That's how Amanda Dell describes Foodieodicals, the obscure Indie mag showcase at Food Book Fair, which she's producing for the first time with fellow food obsessive Kimberly Chou this year.

The Food Book Fair, which runs May 1 and 2 at Williamsburg's Wythe Hotel, launched in 2011 as the brainchild of Elizabeth Thacker Jones, a then- graduate student in New York University's Food Studies program. Thacker Jones created the fair as a school assignment that has since blossomed into a distinguished food culture event. From the beginning, she had an ambitious goal: assemble an international group of publishers to exhibit, meet and speak on diverse topics in food. Chou and Dell are now putting their own passions to work for the conference.

In 2014, Chou was a journalist writing for the Wall Street Journal and MSN.com among other sources. When Microsoft decided to restructure its editorial team, at a friend’s urging, Chou spent some of her newfound time helping to organize a media dinner for a restaurant opening. Thacker Jones came to the event, and she and Chou quickly connected, first as friends, and almost as quickly, as colleagues. She hired Chou to produce Foodieodicals for the 2014 fair.

Amanda Dell is a New Yorker who “fell into the restaurant business” and landed at Danny Meyer's American classic Gramercy Tavern, where she was inspired by the cuture of food and service. She first attended Foodieodicals to represesnt Small Thyme Cooks, a magazine from winemaker and former Chaine des Rotisseurs Best New Sommelier entrepreneur André Hueston Mack. Dell saw the Food Book Fair as a convergence of all of the things she’d felt so passionately about at Gramercy Tavern, or, as she says, “the excitement of putting a room together.” At the after-party, Dell and Chou cemented a friendship and agreed to work together again.

Both Dell and Chou feel strongly about wanting to maintain the original “DIY” spirit of the event, but they also have big plans for its future, and not just the size. Whenever either woman talks about influence, it’s primarily in relation to using the platform of the event to raise the profile of the attendees. “We want to give a platform to chefs we think deserve it, no matter how big or small their restaurant is. We don’t want to be overwhelmed by the trends that a lot of food culture festivals are driven by,” says Chou.

One panel, for instance, includes Terry Hope Romero, author and director of food outreach at the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter. She’s a panelist for Kickstart and Publish Your Dreams, a discussion about bringing creative ideas to fruition. There are lighter events, too, like cocktail classes and, A Spritz and a Slice, hosted by the authors of the newly released book, Spritz, Leslie Pariseau and Talia Baiocchi. The most substantial discussion of the weekend is the final one, a panel on food and labor hosted at the Brooklyn Brewery. Brooklyn restaurateur and publisher Andrew Tarlow, Michael Hurwitz, (Greenmarket director, GrowNYC) and Diana Robinson, national campaign and education coordinator at the Food Chain Workers Alliance are some of the names that will lead this discussion. Attendees will move into smaller groups to discuss plans for direct action.

It's the DIY vibe, and the fact that there are so many indie publications produced as labors of love—ranging from Cherry Bombe and Jarry Mag (motto: men + food + men) to Lucky Peach—that they say specifically makes Foodieodicals such a dynamic event in the line-up. The subject matter ranges broadly, with each publication assuming a very particular focus. Not all that long ago, Dell says, the idea that there would be so many small publications focused on food seemed unfathomable.

Although the event features several mediums, emphasizing the book in Food Book Fair is also important, particularly to Dell. “Five or six years ago there were not as many cookbooks,” she says. “There was a sentiment or fear that print was going on dead. So to me, it feels important to throw it back to use that word.

The two women attribute—along with broader consumer interest—an explosion in food “books” to a rise in the number of people who feel empowered to go out and create them. The writers, the illustrators, the chefs—the very same people whose work they are looking to amplify.

Dell is also champion of the increasingly elusive, old-fashioned art of human interaction—and she’s planned the event to include lots of it. “It might sound cliche, but there are fewer and fewer chances for people to meet and make connections offline,” she says. “A lot of times influential people are seen as unreachable and unapproachable. Creating a space where they’re there in real life is gratifying and important.”

Food Book Fair, May 1 and 2, at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn.

F&W is thrilled to partner on a new series about the American Food System with the award-winning CivilEats.com, run by Naomi Starkman and Twilight Greenaway. Here, the site's expert contributors will share interviews and news about the entrepreneurs and activists making a difference right now.

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