Taste Talks Takes Over Wythe Avenue
Taste Talks knows the way to every hungover food-loving Brooklynite’s heart is through a drumstick on a waffle.
That’s how the third annual Taste Talks, a food and discussion festival at The Wythe Hotel, Kinfolk Studios and Colossal Media in Williamsburg, kicked off last Saturday.
You can’t go wrong with Pies-n-Thighs on the fryer, and waffles and syrup to drown out the pain of a long week.
There were a lot of interesting talks this year, but the most thought-provoking conversation happened at “Staying Relevant,” which featured Sarah Zorn of Brooklyn Magazine moderating a panel with Dominique Ansel, Luke Ostrom of NoHo Hospitality Group, and Marco Canora of Hearth and Brodo.
In a city where your flash in the pan may shine only a few months, at a time when social media has reached a frenzied dewpoint, the entrepreneurs discussed how to stay on the tip of tongues without losing sight of a restaurant’s overall vision and balance.
“The trend, the quick hot flash in the pan can be very dangerous,” Ostrom, whose group owns Locanda Verde and The Dutch, said. “We’ve tried not to get too caught up in any trend that could pigeonhole us, but have tried to stay at the forefront of the conversation. It’s tough to find a balance of not diluting your brand. We had some rapid growth, and we took a pause to reflect upon what we have and make it better and be more prepared for the future.”
The panelists were asked who they emulate in the restaurant world.
“Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill still draws the crowds, but has made the conscious decision not to grow and has had a lot of opportunity to do it,” Canora said. “He’s a shining example of someone who learned not to grow.”
The group also discussed Ansel’s seemingly meteoric rise to single item stardom, with the almighty cronut.
“It’s not an overnight success,” Ansel said. “I’ve been trying for 20 years, and we just stayed true to ourselves. I believe in quality.”
“Every restauranteur or chef would love to have that one thing like the cronut that gets the recognition,” Ostrom said. “It’s a little bit of a perfect storm, that perfect mix of trend plus something delicious and comforting that has a lot of soul.”
Canora’s Brodo serves broth through a window adjacent to Hearth, and has gained both favorable press and a backlash against its supposed trendiness.
“I think (Brodo’s broth and Ansel’s cronut) both speak to something we all crave — that satisfying comfort food that triggers areas of your brain that you want triggered is real,” Canora said. “A lot of it is sheep mentality and it’s hard to know how much is attributed to the sheep mentality. It becomes bigger and bigger and then it explodes. It’s a really complicated question why. In New York, people are so hungry and interested and smart and want to explore things and be aware, so where we are has a lot to do with it too.”
A New York chef who has always been on top of trends, meanwhile, had won the Kellogg’s Cereal Throwdown across the street at the Future of Food Expo at Colossal Media. Lady Jay’s owner Sam Mason, whose former restaurant Tailor experimented in bubble gum cocktails and butterscotch miso pork belly, mashed up Special K, honey, figs, almonds, sesame seeds, and apricot jam.
At “Preserving NYC Food and Restaurant Traditions,” Josh Russ Tupper of Russ & Daughters and Jake Dell of Katz’s, both heirs to New York deli dynasties, spoke about how they keep their families’ food traditions alive in their businesses.
“It’s nostalgia but … when there’s a bris, wedding or shiva, it goes beyond nostalgia,” Russ said. “People identify culturally with this. It’s not just Jewish — it’s New Yorkers, it’s cultural. There’s such a connection for people and people are very passionate about delis because so many important events in their lives are marked by these foods.”
With the recent surge in popularity of Jewish deli food and the buzz surrounding it, Dell and Russ said they attempted to add a few items here or there to the menu, but they didn’t want to alienate loyal customers who have been coming for years.
“You see it in people’s faces and you can’t really say what it is — the taste, the smell,” Dell said. “One of my favorite memories is of a 95-year-old woman sitting up front, crying, saying “I’m just so happy. I used to come here every Sunday, to Shimmels, Economy, Candy, and here. Every time I come here I immediately think of my sister and my family.’ That’s nostalgia — there’s nothing more powerful.”
By the end of the day, attendees and speakers were ready for a serious drink. “A Drink for All Seasons” featured several mixologists demonstrating cocktail making and serving up samples to the audience, including a delicious jalapeno-infused tequila cocktail by Leyenda owner Ivy Mix.
The evening concluded at Biba with an oyster spread and a dinner prepared by Leah Cohen of Pig & Khao, Daniel Holtzman of The Meatball Shop, Jacob Rosette of Dinner Lab, and bakers Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga of Ovenly.
Come Sunday, it was time for a barbecue. The All-Star Barbecue brought out Questlove, whose former restaurant Hybird (R.I.P.) served up great fried drumsticks in Chelsea Market, and Matty Matheson, chef and owner of Parts & Labour in Toronto.
This kid knew to burn his calories before hitting the barbecue stands.
Some famous people made food for us.
Allison and Matt Robicelli created a ridiculously savory and delicious Japanese apple pie with miso caramel.
Oysters were painstakingly shucked for our eating pleasure.
Matt Timms of The Takedowns and Ben Conniff of Luke’s Lobster grilled lobster tail after lobster tail to perfection in a piquant chili butter.
Hugue Dufour of M. Wells and Mark Hegedus of Blue Point Brewing served a slice of New England in Brooklyn.
Formidable maverick of new Latin food Alex Stupak flipped flame-broiled burgers with chorizo.
And the rain came, but attendees just ducked under the tents and kept scarfing oysters, devouring barbecue and eating Van Leeuwen ice cream. Another perfect weekend eating in Brooklyn had come to an end.