TOOTHLESS AT THE FOOD FILM FESTIVAL
I got a call recently from my grandson-in-law Chris, asking if I’d like to go to this year’s Food Film Festival. I had attended last year’s for the first time and recalled it being a lot of fun, so my answer was a resounding Yes. This five day festival is in its 12th year in New York. The program on Friday would feature edible adventure stories of New York; eight films selected from many, one to ten minutes in length. As the audience views each film, samples of the food highlighted in said film are passed around to taste. Chris, who works for Complex, a media platform for youth culture, had produced two of the eight chosen. These had been shown during the year on his phenomenally successful website First We Feast.
We arrived before 7:00 PM at the multiplex AMC movie theater on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. Chris and I were greeted in the lobby by a bevy of beautiful welcoming young women and ushered to the fourth floor, all of which was given over to the festival. One area consisted of tables of various foods, but we didn’t have time to stop, because the program was about to begin, and I still had to go visit the ladies’ room. I did, however, meet Justin, the young director, and Kyle, the editor, and their friend Brendan who works for a popular sneaker company. These delightful young men were so welcoming, and I enjoyed talking to them. Justin said they had a cluster of assigned seats in the second row.
As we made our way to the seats, an usher greeted us with a tray of wine. A good beginning. But on my second sip, I had one of those Uh oh! moments – my upper denture was coming loose! What do I do now? I couldn’t ask Chris to take me to the ladies’ room (I always carry some denture glue with me) which was what felt like a mile away and from which we had only just come. The attendees were taking their seats, and the screen was already showing photos of previous winners. I’d just have to bypass the fun part, the samples of food, and pray the denture stays in. My mind was diverted when I noticed that some of the films we would see were listed as “food porn.” Now what could that be? A food that could propel you to ultimate ecstasy? They must be about chocolate, I thought, and was happy to see two of them were. Maybe I would still be able to enjoy the samples, by just letting the chocolate melt in my mouth. (I was to learn later the mundane fact that a food porn film merely tells the story using visuals and music but no dialogue.)
The jovial festival director, George Motz, greeted the audience with some opening remarks which included an apology for the dearth of napkins; we would all be limited to one small cocktail napkin per person. This ended up involving some careful maneuvering in the dark. When the lights finally came back on at the end, I was mortified to see sticky rice stuck all over my my left sleeve; if only my denture had stayed so firmly glued!
The first or opening film was called Billion Oyster Project, about restoring oyster reefs to the New York Harbor by planting millions of oysters, 28 million so far. Surely they were not going to give us samples of raw oysters from New York’s polluted waters? On the other hand, at least my teeth could manage food that simply slides down one’s throat. I didn’t have to make that decision; they didn’t serve them but only wanted to highlight a project that has so far involved 6,000 school children, 9000 volunteers and 70+NY restaurants. This was followed by a tasting of Good Reef Ale from Blue Point Brewing which supports the Oyster Project. I was still nursing my wine.
Next on the menu was a no brainer for me, bagels and cream cheese from a Brooklyn bagel company. I have problems tackling a bagel even when my denture is in solid. Pass. But how about mozzarella made by Casa Della Mozzarella on Arthur Ave, an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx? The film was one of Chris’ entries. Watching the art of kneading and stretching the dough evoked a kind of sensual experience. Could this be food porn? The sample served was very fresh tasting and manageable. This was followed by the Hawaiian dish Poke, diced raw chili salmon on sticky rice. Delicious but I approached it very gingerly as I did the Pecking Duck a l’Orange that followed because IT was loosening with every bite. Thank God, the samples were small and tender, served in tiny paper cups with miniature spoons.
The next film was titled Mac n’ Cheese and Collard Greens from Just Soul Catering, a company started by two African-American women after they were released from prison where one had served twenty years for killing her abusive husband. The sample was very tasty indeed, but IT kept loosening. I might just make it by the skin of my teeth , so to speak, if I could manage the sample from Chris’ second entry. The film is an exploration of the unsung food icon of NYC, the Jamaican Beef Patty. Thank God, the tasting sample was tender, the bun and the the patty, but I couldn’t appreciate it completely, because by now I was full of food and anxiety. I was still ready, however, for the chocolate mousse with orange zest which of course, required no teeth at all, so I could relax and enjoy it. As for the toasted coconut marshmallow, coated with chocolate, it was pleasant to the palate and very, very soft! What a relief; I had made it through the menu, my teeth had not fallen out!
But the festivities were not over yet. Next the winners were announced – for the makers of Jamaican Beef Patty and for the Mac n’ Cheese and Collard Greens, represented by Chris, Justin and Clyde and by one of the women who created Just Soul Catering and had been in the film. The prize? A spoon with the longest handle I’ve ever seen.
The audience made for the food stalls out in the hall for beer, wine, some of the foods featured in the films, plus foods promoted by other companies. There was lots of picture taking of winners and attendees. Someone mentioned that there were black and white frosted cookies. I could not resist! I took one bite and that’s when it happened – the denture came loose and dropped into my mouth! Somehow, I was able to push it back up with my tongue while still engaging in conversation with Brendan, hoping he hadn’t noticed me stopping in mid sentence. I did very little talking from then on, instead getting Brendan to tell me about the sneaker business and sneaker culture among the young, how some of them never actually wear their sneakers, but rather collect them to sell when they go up in value. I found it fascinating, and my teeth, thank god, stayed put. Had they not, I could just imagine some of the guests telling friends, “A funny thing happened at the Food Film Festival the other night; there was this really, really old lady there whose teeth fell out onto the floor. What was she ever doing there in the first place?” It’s true that the guests were all young. Not only was I the only person there with a walker, there wasn’t even anyone there with a cane!
By the end of the evening, my confidence had increased enough so that I engaged in conversation with the festival director and congratulated him on how smoothly the festival was run; he replied he thinks about it much of the time and how to keep improving it. I thought it was perfect, the only improvement I could think of was having large napkins and lots of them; of course, I didn’t say something so petty.
Chris came over eating a delectable looking juicy hamburger asking if I’d like one. Even though there’s nothing I like better than a good hamburger, I had already pushed my luck enough. I did wish I could have taken a black and white cookie home to eat once my teeth were behaving, but by then they were gone. I mentioned this to the festival director, who went behind the scenes and returned bringing me four beautiful cookies. Next I met, and, of course, congratulated, the young man who had prepared most of the food that night. We made it to the end of the festival with my denture still in my mouth. My guardian angel had worked overtime that night!
Chris said he had thought about not going to the festival since his wife Sarah, my granddaughter, couldn’t go, but was glad he did, because he had had a wonderful time. I concluded that so had I despite all the anxiety. I had triumphed, and I had not sullied the reputation of the elderly!