This is the third in a trio of posts sharing tidbits from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference in Portland last week, which included an awards ceremony featuring the best in gastronomical writing, styling, and photography for 2009.
Time to fill you in on the “international” flavor of this food meet. Full disclosure up front: You may spot some Down Under bias in my selections. My picks from around the world:
- Truly inspiring presentation (it moved at least one food blogger in the room to tears) by Kamal Mouzawak, creator of Souk el Tayeb, a twice-weekly farmers’ market in Beirut, the first of its kind, designed to bring together a diverse people around a combined passion for good food. A chef and TV personality, Kamal celebrates Lebanon’s cultural and culinary heritage, creates links between communities fractured by religious or political divisions, and champions small, rural farmers and sustainable agriculture. His efforts have expanded into school programs, food festivals, and an open kitchen at the market, where each day a different farmer, producer, or chef showcases a traditional meal from their region. Born into a family of farmers, Kamal is convinced that cuisine can triumph over partisanship and that a peaceful food movement is possible in this war-torn nation. Learn more about Souk el Tayeb on the Taste of Beirut blog.
- Stephanie Alexander, author of Kitchen Garden Companion, and Australia’s version of Alice Waters-Jamie Oliver, took top honors in the General cookbook category. I happen to own Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden Cooking for Kids and it is, hands down, the most beautiful school food book I’ve seen. Stephanie has paved the way for 138 kitchen gardens in schools around Oz. Go Aussies.
- Another Southern Hemisphere chef, Al Brown, won the cookbook award for a single subject for his Go Fish. I don’t know this New Zealander from a bar of soap, as we say where I come from, but anyone who promotes cooking sustainable seafood is worth paying attention to, in my mind. Plus, have you eaten from the sea down there? Amazing aquatic offerings from those oceans.
- On the last night of dining around town those in the know booked a table at the tiny Pok Pok, where authentic, mostly Northern Thai cuisine (no pad Thai sold here) is served up banquet style at this slip of a much-lauded local eatery. Coconut curry noodle soup, giant prawns baked in a claypot, whole fish grilled with lime-garlic-chile. Even the water scented with Pandus leaf evokes a sense of supping in South-East Asia.
- After dinner I caught an advanced screening of the sweet food flick, Today’s Special, a romcom with cumin and coriander set in Queens. The film features a cinematic celebration of Indian eats; paneer, parathas, biriyani, and dosas get equal billing with the actors. The movie stars Aasif Mandvi, who co-wrote the screenplay, and is best known for his work on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he serves as, um, a correspondent. Veteran, award-winning Indian actors Harish Patel and Naseeruddin Shah round out the cast, along with acclaimed cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey, (though funnily enough this actor never goes near the kitchen in this film). Read a glowing review of Today’s Special and a more measured response from Variety. My two cents: It’s a playful if tad predictable addition to the food in film genre. Look for Today’s Special in theaters this fall.
A shout out to veteran cookbook authors and new friends Jill O’Connor, who organized the Pok Pok dinner, and Nancie McDermott, for her expert ordering — in Thai, no less. Nancie remained unflappable despite the stressful task of figuring out what dishes to pick for a large table packed full of opinionated food fans.