The NYC Food Film Festival, or How I Legally Yanked Food from a Truck

Gastrocinephiles! So you’ve watched and rewound the opening scene of Eat Drink Man Woman multiple times? Your dreams involve recreating the timpano from Big Night? Then the NYC Food Film Festival is the place to be, celebrating the year’s accomplishments in food film, food documentary, and of course, food porn. In its fifth year of running, the Food Film Fest is attracting all sorts of attention from food media, filmmakers, and even Mayor Bloomberg, who kicked off the opening ceremony by declaring “Food Film Fest Day” in New York.

I was present for the closing gala, themed “Farm to Film to Table.” Held in the Varick Room at the Tribeca Theater, the city’s student filmmakers, publicists and chefs gathered for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails made from locally sourced ingredients. Chef and Food Network star Amanda Freitag spearheaded a menu of baked crab apples with pork belly in the core, butternut squash with curry and pepitas, and roasted sunchokes with red garlic. Most interesting was the edible dirt, a powdery concoction of mushrooms served with peppery arugula. The dirt, while tasty, would’ve been better if it were warm, so I actually ended up sprinkling some over a bowl of chili for highly satisfactory results.

Marion Nestle was in the house. She’s a professor at the NYU food studies program, and I read her food politics blog religiously. When she had a free moment, my friend Jen and I cornered her to introduce ourselves, as food documentary folks and as alumni of the University of Gastronomic Sciences. I asked her if there was any chance she’d be interested in teaching in Italy. “Oh they’ve asked many times,” she laughed, “but my teaching schedule is too tight for me to go over and teach an intense three-day course like that.” Allora, maybe next year.

Competition films ranged from 4 minute shorts to full-feature lengths, discussing everything from “How to” instructional videos to biopics of multi-generational restauranteurs. You could soak in Hangover Tacos, document the steps to a perfect sandwich in Banh and Mi, or sit down at The Big Table with the family behind Ronnybrook dairy farm. And for the prize? Winners came away with a slotted spoon and legendary fame among foodie film cognoscenti.

Jen has been video editing for Wicked Delicate, the production team behind Truck Farm. As you might expect, the movie is about a mobile mini-farm in the back of a weathered 1986 Dodge pick-up truck. The farm was on-site for the festival, since the movie was nominated for the “Best Feature Film” award. And much to our surprise, it won! So, here’s a hearty congratulations to the Truck Farm team; may the Truck Farm fleet grow and journey many more miles.

Back to the real business at hand. As it was the end of the season, Jen and her colleagues at Truck Farm had decided to give away the herbs in the truck. After Hurricane Irene, the flooded plants had recovered and flourished with an astonishing fecundity—the basil plants were now threatening to topple over. There were heaping amounts of thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary in the rear, wavy chive tendrils along the sides. So as the crowd headed to the first screening of the night, we went to work. Under a breezy New York night sky, surrounded by speeding cabs and skyscrapers, we began hacking with gusto at the plants in the old 1986 Dodge pick-up. Pedestrians and homeless bums looked at us with curiosity. The grassy smell of the herbs was overwhelming.

After working for a while, we counted the number of herb packets we’d put together. “73, 74, 75…hmm, that’s not quite enough for everyone at the festival…” But we were running out of steam, and the windy conditions made it difficult to snip and sort the herbs. It was time to halve the original packets. I’m pretty sure that some folks came away with about two sage leaves, just enough for a garnish. Sorry about that; if you’d like more, you can look for the truck in its usual home in Park Slope!

At the end of the night, everyone was treated to a make-your-own-sundae bar, with ice cream from Ronnybrook Farms. I was too stuffed to partake, but was happy to take in the sweet, sweet statue constructed from hard candies, provided by festival sponsor Daily Candy. I’m waiting for someone on Lady Gaga’s team to design this as an outfit for her.

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