What’s better than having some good food to eat while watching a movie? How about, watching a movie about food, and eating the same food shown in the movie at the same time? That is the gimmick behind the Food Film Festival, which this past October celebrated the tenth anniversary of its New York City incarnation (it also takes place in other cities like Charleston, South Carolina).
Long-time readers of this blog will remember that Therese and I volunteered for this festival in 2013. As much fun as that was, we thought: this time around, let’s buy tickets and go the easy way (i.e., be the customers). Plus, with it falling on the weekend closest to Therese’s birthday, it is a natural as a birthday activity. And convenient for us, this year the festival has grown enough that it had to be presented at AMC Empire 25, which is our “home” theater, just a few blocks from where we live. And sure enough, it was put on in theater number 18, one of largest in the multi-theater complex.
We bought tickets for the closing night of the festival, which was called “Eat Japan” (great subtlety in that one). So as you can imagine, the films and the related food were all about ramen and sushi and all that sort of good stuff.
One film we found very intriguing was called “This is Tsukemen,” a film actually created by festival founder and head honcho George Motz. First, because tsukemen, a rather new off-shoot of the ramen family, was new to me. Second, because the chef who has brought tsukemen to America appeared in the film wearing a mask, and went by an alias, Chef Nigo. Apparently, there is a great deal of secrecy surrounding things like the making of ramen noodles and broths, so to protect his secrets, Chef Nigo is going incognito. And sure enough, for the Q&A after the film, there was Chef Nigo on the stage, still wearing his disguise. Wild stuff, my friends.
Because tsukemen is a very substantial dish – you get a bowl of noodles and a second bowl with gravy/thick broth and then various accessories, and to eat them you combine them in the bowl and eat. Thus, we got no tsukemen with that film (did I mention that the bites served with the films tend to be just that – a single bite of something? Oops – yes, they are). But with other films we got things like a small serving of ramen noodles, a bite of crazy good wagyu beef, and a little cup of Japanese coffee (what, no sugar? – no, I am not a fan of straight unsweetened coffee, but I did suffer through this mouthful).
After all the films were done, the audience voted under several categories, and the film that won not one, but two awards was called “Sakurada Zen Chef” – a movie about a legendary sushi chef in Tokyo who recently walked away from it all at the height of his popularity (to be fair, he looked like he is already nearing old age, so I say, power to him). Anyway, the filmmakers were very charming. The director, who spoke for them, stumbled through English, but one of his assistants, a young lady, handed him a pre-written speech, and then he did well. And oh, did I mention that the other crew members were dressed up, one of them in a Pokemon costume? Yep.
Once all the awards were handed out, it was time to move on to the After Party, where all the serious eating takes place, which was presented in the lobby outside the theater. True to the night, it was all Japanese, presented by local restaurants (and one bakery), and there was more than you could eat, all complimentary.
Yes, there was tsukemen, offered by the Ramen Lab. Given the circumstances – nowhere to sit down, etc. – it was a challenge to eat, but I did pretty well, and enjoyed it. Seriously, it was a miracle that I didn’t accidentally tip the whole thing over onto the floor. The thick broth and thick chewy noodles remind me a lot of mazemen, my favorite kind of ramen. Therese, who likes traditional ramen (soupy broth, thin noodles) was less enamored of it.
Also outside on the terrace, across from where we had balanced our tsukemen bowls on a metal post popping up out of the ground, was the Karls Balls booth. With a name as obscene as that, I had to see what was going on (plus my name is Karl, so I had to see what was going on in my name).
They offered deep fried, battered octopus “balls” which were then drizzled with ponzu sauce, mayonnaise, and topped off with some bonito flakes. I am a huge fan of bonito flakes – ever since I had some ramen sprinkled with them a few years ago, I have been in love with the earthy rich umami that they can bring to a dish. So I asked the young lady who was doing the bonito sprinkling to give me extra, and she was thrilled to know how I felt about bonito flakes, and gave me double what all the others got. And while the octopus was a bit chewy, overall, this was a scrumptious bite.
After those two dishes, I was pretty much already full. But there was lots more to eat. The things that stand out in my mind are a luscious mochi and crispy sesame cookie offered by Patisserie Tomoko and kumamoto oysters being shucked by the Billion Oyster Project. The former is a bakery in Williamsburg, and the latter is a non-profit effort to restore marine life, specifically oyster beds, in New York Harbor. This was the second time in three days that we were tasting kumamotos (the first time being at the birthday dinner at Nobu 57), and they are definitely a mild, sweet oyster.
We had tons of fun at the Food Film Festival and are looking forward to going again – maybe next time we will check out their Charleston sister festival and see what that is like!