Preview: Food Book Fair Returns with Artful Salads, James Baldwin and a Sumptuous Cambodian Feast

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Preview: Food Book Fair Returns with Artful Salads, James Baldwin and a Sumptuous Cambodian Feast

Whether you’re gobbling up YouTube videos about boxed mac and cheese or reading longform features on mushroom hunters, it’s no secret that food media is expanding at a breakneck clip. For eaters, readers, writers and food purveyors alike, the conversation often feels like it is pulling in every direction at once. Now in its fifth year, the Food Book Fair has become a central forum where pros, hobbyists and the culinary-curious can meet IRL to learn, discuss and marvel at all the food that’s fit to print. The event, which calls itself, “part festival, part conference, set at the intersection of food culture and food systems,” will be held at Ace Hotel New York on Thursday, May 11th through Sunday, May 14th.

As the channels to discuss and critique food have ballooned, so too have the depth and breadth of the Food Book Fair’s offerings. This year’s festivities will kick off with a party featuring jams from DJs Omar Amulfti and Raj Debah, short films from film studio On Plate, and an on-the-floor, eat-with-your-hands Cambodian feast. Chef Chinchakriya Un of pop-up Kreung has partnered with Brooklyn Brewery chef Andrew Gerson to concoct a menu that includes trey angh (grilled catfish wrapped in banana leaf), plea (Khmer-style beef carpaccio), domlong (steamed yucca with coconut milk and chives).

While the Fair’s keynote conversation features some old guard heavy hitters like Mario Batali and Frank Bruni, Food Book Fair organizers told Paste that “the majority of the Fair’s programming this year is consciously focused on amplifying voices from people of color, women, immigrants and chefs who are challenging mainstream food culture.”

Multiple events on the program address the challenges of tracing food identity across continents and generations. One Saturday morning, Michael W. Twitty, award-winning blogger behind Afroculinaria and author of the forthcoming book The Cooking Gene, will lead a discussion-based workshop on how to investigate the food history of one’s family, despite, as he puts it, “the brick walls, bad cooks, dead relatives and lapsed interest.” Later that day, in a session titled “Food Beyond Borders,” Homa Dashtaki of White Moustache, Chakriya Un, and cookbook editor Jenn Sit will discuss making and writing about food that transverses languages and diasporic identities in a conversation moderated by Cooking Solo author Klancy Miller.

Also in Saturday’s lineup is a salon called “Have You Eaten Today?” Literaryswag Book Club founder Yahdon Israel will be joined by special guest Jessica B. Harris in a conversation on James Baldwin, food and self-care. According to the event’s description, “To ask someone if they’ve eaten is expression of care, love and intimacy. When we consider how much food for thought that Baldwin has given us, this event is a way of given thought to how food made him a better writer, better thinker and human being.”

As it has in years past, the Food Book Fair will showcase some of the most achingly gorgeous books and magazines out this year. On Sunday morning, Julia Sherman will dish on her book Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired By Artists with Bon Appetit editor-at-large Christine Muhlke. Throughout Saturday and Sunday afternoons, fair-goers can browse a bevy of independent food magazines at the “Foodieodicals” (food periodicals) zine fest and book fair. This year’s participants include Ambrosia, Food City and Mouthfeel.

One of the Fair’s final sessions is a panel discussion addressing the need for more diverse voices at all levels of food media. While lack of diversity is far from a new issue, last year’s “pho-gate” thrust conversations on representation and appropriation in food into the spotlight. Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, Mayukh Sen and Kenzi Wilbur of Food52, Khushbu Shah of Thrillist, Stephen A. Satterfield of Whetstone Magazine, and Food Book Fair co-director Kimberly Chou Tsun An will tackle some of the industry’s big questions: “How are publications protecting people of color, women, queer or other minority writers from dealing with harassment? How do people in positions of editorial power respond to demands that food is an apolitical space?”

Indeed, this year’s Food Book Fair promises fierce conversations, beautiful books and exceptional snacks.

Tickets to individual events are on sale now.

Molly Jean Bennett is a writer and multimedia producer based in New York City. Her essays, poems, and strongly worded letters have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atlas Obscura, VICE, and elsewhere.