Hi, food friends! As we Americans head into our own family food festivals this Thanksgiving – maybe with a holiday film or two — I am sharing a few amazing food and film experiences from the 2nd annual Chicago Food Film Festival that took place this past weekend, at Kendall College, Chicago’s preeminent culinary arts school. The Festival has been going on in New York since 2008, and this was its second year in Chicago. Here’s what goes down: they show films about food and you eat the actual food featured in the films while you’re watching them! Yes! It is so cool! Right off the bat, I have to share this picture of a turtle burger – featured in the film, “How to Make a Turtle Burger,” by Jason Lam.Come on! How hilarious is this? It’s a hamburger, with hotdog pieces stuck into it and snipped to look like turtle feet, a tail and head, and then it’s wrapped in bacon and baked. It’s crazy! (And crazy delicious.)
The Festival kicked off on Friday night with a “Farm to Film to Table” theme, featuring films about, well, just that — farmers and chefs and cooks who make food straight from the farm.
We tasted fresh churned buttermilk from Cruze Family Dairy Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee during “Buttermilk: It Can Help” and Colleen Cruze, the proverbial farmer’s daughter, drove that buttermilk straight up to Chicago from the farm, and it was – well, for me, an acquired taste, I think – but her buttermilk ice cream was deeeelish! There was also sorghum molasses from a small Texas farm, and a ton of delicious, savory British-inspired baked delights from Chef Art Jackson’s Pleasant House Bakery in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, like pasties (pronounced paaa-stees) filled with curried chicken and Scotch eggs (hard-cooked eggs wrapped in ground sausage and then deep-fried – shut up). He grows much of his own ingredients in his own garden. And the night ended with an after party at which Chicago meat master Rob Leavitt from The Butcher & Larder roasted a 240-pound pig.
On Saturday, the Festival shifted to Intelligentsia Roasting Works for coffee and Doughnut Vault doughnuts. People stand in line, in the rain, the wind, the heat, the freezing cold, whatever, for these things, and it killed me that I had to miss this event, but I had to pick up my fiddle and jam with my Bob Dylan peeps at Old Town School, so my thighs might thank me, but one day I will try a Doughnut Vault doughnut, so help me God.
And that brings us to Saturday night, which was mad fun. The food films were fantastic. One of my faves was “Zergut,” which took two years to make and featured extremely cool film-making techniques to tell a dramatic story of conflict between fresh and not-so-fresh foods in your fridge. The finale was Festival founder and executive director George Motz’s film trailer, “The Mud & the Blood,” about oystering in Bull’s Bay, South Carolina. As I was performing my role as official greeter and “traffic cop” downstairs before the festivities, I made friends with the guys who were tending four roaring fires for the Great Chicago Shuck ‘n Suck – which I didn’t really understand until I saw George’s film trailer. These guys had driven 26 bushels of fresh Bull’s Bay oysters up to Chicago from South Carolina and were fixin’ to roast ’em and shovel ’em onto big plywood tables with a hole cut in the center to chuck your shucked shells after you’d sucked ’em clean. It was more fun than a barrel of, well, oysters!
I mean: I don’t like oysters! No, they’re squishy and wet and slithery and slimy – ick! But put me at one of these tables, with a chef from Kendall who shows you how to shuck ’em and suck ’em – and put a couple beers in me – and add some killer country pickin’ on the guitar and the fiddle – and I’m IN! It was so much fun! Everyone’s standing around these tables, with these kinda muddy oysters, and big shuck knives, slurping oysters and sipping beer and these guys are coming in with more shovels full of oysters off the fire – strangers made friends and friends got strange and it was a complete riot of fun. Well-done, George, South Carolina boys and eveyone at the Food Film Festival!
So everyone stayed up pretty late, drinking some pretty good beer from Chicago’s Two Brothers Brewing and Chicago’s newest microbrewery, Argyle, so Sunday called for, yes, turtle burgers. And some chocolate milk from Cruze Dairy Farm. The perfect hangover cure if you ask me.
The Festival benefitted and was hosted by The Good Food Project, my friend Susan Taylor’s brainchild, which brings fresh food tastings to kids in public schools (brilliant). Kids from Chicago’s Sullivan High School passed apple “slinkies” to guests!
Big shout-outs and hugs to Festival producer Seth Unger, event organizer Amy Kantrowitz and intern Olivia Accardo (my roommate for four days!) and chef Fletcher Chenn and so many others! Stay tuned for next year! And here’s to your own Thanksgiving food festival – I hope it is as delicious and fun as the Food Film Festival!