Sweat dripped from customers’ chins into their mugs of Sixpoint beer. The fumes of grilling pork rose to meet the smell of close, hot bodies. And then it began to pour. This was the second annual UnFancy Food Show, a celebration of Brooklyn food artisans and small producers in a defiantly un-fancy setting in Williamsburg.
While big-name producers like Jelly Belly and Arizona Iced Teas chatted and networked in Manhattan’s Javits Center at the Fancy Food Show on June 29, hundreds of Brooklyn foodies crowded into the backyard of the East River Bar to drink beer, meet each other, and try some special food offered to them by the people who made it.
Some of this year’s hits were Salvatore Brooklyn’s fresh ricotta, served on slices of French bread and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and honey, and Park Slope’s NuNu Chocolates, especially the Earl Grey ganache.
Ice-cream cones from Blue Marble Brooklyn and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream were also melting fast, and people were literally pushing each other to get a piece of Jasper Hill Farm’s brie-like “Constant Bliss” cheese.
“Next year, we’re going to need a bigger venue,” said UnFancy Food Show co-founder Tom Mylan.
Food snobs, scenesters
Brooklyn food professionals Mylan and Sasha Davies started the UnFancy Food Show last year in response to the growing snootiness and expense of Manhattan’s annual Fancy Food Show. They wanted to promote small producers, to introduce food-lovers to those who make their food, and to cultivate the Brooklyn food community in a friendly, relaxed setting.
“[The Fancy Food Show] is really boring, mostly. You walk, like, miles, and see a ton of really boring crap. We wanted to do a show on the first day of the Fancy Food Show that was the exact opposite,” said Mylan, a butcher at Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg and writer of the popular food blog “Grocery Guy.”
Last year’s UnFancy show gained so much recognition that this year, organizers doubled the number of vendors.
“This year is ape-s–t,” Mylan said approvingly.
Mylan also wanted to counteract what he sees as self-righteousness among some of the local-food crowd in Brooklyn.
“It’s a reaction to the Greenmarket,” Mylan said, which he supports but said is “not fun.”
He comes across what he called “food scenesters,” who eat locally to be fashionable rather than philanthropic.
“Oh, I was into that farmer way before you were,” he said, in the derisive tone of a music snob.
Mylan tried to “remove that sort of stuff” from the UnFancy Show, which is why he thinks it has been so popular.
“It’s great, it’s fun, it’s like a farmer’s market with alcohol,” he said. “It’s a party more than anything.”
Bklyn’s ‘Food Network’
The benefits of bringing together a bunch of talented, creative food-makers became clear almost immediately.
By mid-afternoon, Blue Marble was offering “Drunk Me Floats,” by scooping their “Sweet Cream” ice cream into the cups of Sixpoint beer on tap.
And NuNu Chocolates, which produces unusual flavors like tea or absinthe, was already talking to Jasper Hill Farm about making a blue cheese truffle, to Boerum Hill’s Blue Marble about an ice cream chocolate, and to Tamarack Hollow Farm to work together on their already (surprisingly) popular chocolate-covered bacon.
“It’s great to all be packed in together here,” said Andy Laird of NuNu Chocolates. “It’s such a cool community, you get to know everyone in the industry. I’m friends with so many different vendors here,” he said, gesturing around the crowded backyard.
The kind of food community that could be found at the UnFancy Food Show really only exists in Brooklyn, many of the vendors said.
“There’s a hands-on feel of Brooklyn, an Old World feel,” said Carol McLaughlin, co-owner of Gorilla Coffee.
Whenever something goes wrong at her Park Slope coffee shop, McLaughlin said, she turns to the other businesses on the street, and someone almost always comes to help.
McLaughlin said that she likes the “vibe of supporting local businesses” in Brooklyn, but worried that Manhattanites who move here might destroy the balance that holds the businesses together.
“To take advantage of what Brooklyn has to offer, you always have to give more than you get, or the system doesn’t work,” she said.
Small fish in a big city
“There are no provisions for small producers,” said Gabriel Ross of Gabriel’s Handmade Food. “For such a big, food-centric city, New York City really doesn’t have a lot to offer small manufacturers, in terms of infrastructure or opportunities.”
Ross worked for years in the Manhattan food industry, at La Caravelle, Savoy, and for a “short, painful stint” at Gramercy Tavern, before starting his own charcuterie business in Fort Greene.
The strict health regulations that are “meant to protect us from large manufacturers” and the “shortage of manufacturing facilities for smaller producers” both cripple independent food-m akers, he said. “It should be a lot easier.”
“The dairy-town country is hanging on by its fingertips,” added Park Slope resident Kay Sera of Zippy Bee Kay Sera Honey. “The food industry is kicking the shit out of it.”
Some companies, like Jasper Hill Farm, have taken up the cause of small producers in an attempt to transform the food industry.
“We’re going to save the world, one cheese at a time,” said Jasper Hill’s Mateo Kehler, who built a 22,000-square-foot underground facility in Greensboro, Vt. to support small-scale, cheese-making operations.
“There’s no room for small producers. Our generation is shopping at supermarkets,” he said.
Kehler hopes to usher in a “renaissance” in the food world that will accommodate small farms and local producers and will ultimately be more environmentally and economically sustainable than the system in place today.
He came to Williamsburg to promote his idea because “this is the beating heart of the global cheese market,” and said that he’s been well received in Brooklyn.
“Everyone who’s here [at the UnFancy Food Show] is riding the wave. You can go over to the Javits Center, but you’re not going to find it there,” Kehler said.
That day, the members of that “new wave” were huddled under the tents that just barely held off the pounding rain of a flash summer thunderstorm.
From his post at the entrance, where he was letting people in free on what he called the “rain discount,” Mylan watched his guests and friends still eating, talking and drinking.
“I just really want to show these people off and thank them for what they do,” Mylan said. “Because what they do, it’s not easy.”
Blue Marble Brooklyn ice cream is available at Blue Marble Brooklyn [420 Atlantic Ave. at Bond Street in Boerum Hill, (718) 858-1100].
Gabriel’s Handmade Food is available at Stinky Bklyn [261 Smith St. at Degraw Street in Carroll Gardens, (718) 522-7425].
Gorilla Coffee is available at Gorilla Coffee [97 Fifth Ave. at Park Place in Park Slope, (718) 230 3243].
Jasper Hill Farm cheese is available at Marlow & Sons [81 Broadway at Berry Street in Williamsburg, (718) 384-1441].
NuNu Chocolates are available at Union Market [754-756 Union St. at Sixth Avenue in Park Slope, (718) 230-5152].
Salvatore Brooklyn’s cheese is available at Stinky Bklyn [261 Smith St. at Degraw Street in Carroll Gardens, (718) 522-7425].
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream will be available by July 19 at Ted & Honey [264 Clinton St. at Congress Street in Cobble Hill, (718) 852-2212].
Tamarack Hollow Farm products are available at the Union Square Greenmarket [East 17th St. at Broadway in Manhattan, (212) 788-7476].
Zippy Bee Kay Sera Honey is available at Marlow & Sons [81 Broadway at Berry Street in Williamsburg, (718) 384-1441].
For more information about UnFancy Food Show 2009, visit www.unfancyfoodshow08.tumblr.com.