On Saturday, May 5, Wesleyan hosted FOODSTOCK—an all-day festival of all things edible with an emphasis on contemporary culinary writing and cooking. The day was made up of a variety of panels, interviews, lectures, and book signings with food personalities like Ruth Reichl P’11, Eric Asimov ’79 P’13, and Dorie Greenspan P’01.
The idea for FOODSTOCK came about from a conversation between Kim-Frank Family University Writer in Residence Amy Bloom ’75 and some Wesleyan students about their shared passion for cooking and the interest in food and food-related activities—blogging, writing, sustainability, and, of course, eating. On top of that, a number of people and departments were behind FOODSTOCK, including Bloom herself, Academic Affairs, the Allbritton Center, Alumni and Parent Programs, The Center for Community Partnerships, the Shapiro Creative Writing Center, the Wesleyan Career Center, the Wesleyan Writers Conference, and Writing at Wesleyan.
The registration closed early when it reached its capacity of 400 attendees, including both Wesleyan-affiliated students and faculty and visitors from Rhode Island, New York, and other surrounding states. The campus bustled with a celebratory atmosphere, and an array of aromas wafted from the food trucks in Parking Lot C .
After four months of planning, the conference raised over $1,200 for Middletown’s Amazing Grace Food Pantry through raffle donations and T-shirt sales. In addition, many non-perishable items for the Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown were collected during registration for the event as part of the event’s raffle.
In one lecture, “The Jewish Love Affair with Chinese Food,” food columnist for SeriousEats.com Chichi Wang discussed her motivation for creating “Woks and Lox,” a culinary compendium of Jewish-Chinese fusion. Because of the stereotypical tradition of Jewish families eating Chinese food on Christmas Day, she wanted to create a menu that fused these two cuisines. The results include dishes like General Tso’s tofu deep-fried in an egg-matzo batter and red bean rugelach.
In another panel, former New York Times food editor Raymond Sokolov spoke about his experiences as a food reviewer in his lecture “Steal This Menu.” He had the audience in stitches as he discussed his early days dining incognito in both heralded and obscure restaurants.
“I’m all in favor of drinking wine and not tasting it,” he joked.
Bloom said she was committed to bringing a selection of varied and appetizing comestibles. To this end, she researched the best food trucks in Connecticut and her efforts led her to the dozen vendors who provided attendees with a variety of tasting options. Participants could select from American and ethnic main courses—meat-based, vegetarian, and vegan—as well as noshes and desserts.
Perhaps unsurprisingly on Cinco de Mayo, Lucky Taco had the longest line of all the food trucks. Fusion cooking was a big hit among food cart visitors; the Lucky Taco cooks noted that their Kung Pao Chicken Taco with peanuts and Asian slaw was their most popular dish of the day.
Ethnically diverse cuisine played prominently at the food trucks. Ariel Lesnick ’14 couldn’t stop raving about Lalibela’s siga wat—prime beef smothered in onions, ginger, garlic, and berbere.
Other vendors offered a variety of snacks, treats, and desserts. Sticky-Nuts, the less-than-one-year-old creation of Zachary Butlein ’09 and his wife Rebecca, had a large presence at the festival. Their four varieties of trail mix—Choco Spice, Morning Grapefruit, Asian Fusion, and PB Fig—are produced and packaged in Ridgefield, Conn., and distributed at local farmers’ markets and retailers.
Liz Rueven, creator of the blog Kosher Like Me, attended the event and said she was excited about the roster of speakers.
“What really impressed me was the illustrious line-up of speakers—Ruth Reichl, Eric Asimov,” she said. “As a food writer, listening to anyone involved in your industry helps stir creative juices.”
Reflecting on the day’s activities, Bloom noted that, though she didn’t expect to repeat the event, she had ideas for potential additions including musical acts and picnics on Foss Hill.
“It’s hard to imagine doing this again, but I do find myself thinking [that] we can do it, and make it even better,” she said.