Saturday, November 1, 2014

One and Done

Still firing, still flouring, still forking.

In a repeat of yesterday, my friend shows up at the crack of 9:30 so we can walk over to the Library of Virginia for day two of food curiosity. The weather has turned noticeably cooler and the sky threatens rain so I bring along my umbrella.

Our first course offering today is "At the Counters," a screening of two documentaries about lunch counter sit-ins in the '60s.

"If We So Choose" chronicles the non-violent sit-ins ("You can't put out a fire with fire") at the Varsity Grill in Athens, Georgia.

"The Richmond 34" told a story much closer to home about the VUU students who staged demonstrations and sit-ina (resulting in the first mass arrest of the Civil Rights movement) at Thalhimer's lunch room.

A marcher's protest sign said it all: "Don't blame the police. Thalhimer's swore out the warrants." Truth.

A panel of four - the Athens documentarian, a VUU history professor, a Thalhimer and an original member of the Richmond 34, Elizabeth Johnson Rice - each gave their take on the events for a fascinating look from all sides.

My next stop was "Founding Foodies" with author Dave DeWitt, who took numerous tangents ("And then there was a scandal" about dating a student when he was a college professor) in talking about how Washington (a farmer with money), Jefferson (a gardener with debt) and Franklin (retired at 30 after creating the post office system) all had vigorous interest in food and wine.

Among the interesting food topics he discussed were the history of barbecue (begun as a cheap way to feed crowds at political rallies), how Jefferson was the first to import a pasta machine, and how peacocks were the "feast" bird before turkeys.

Among the tangents he took were Jefferson vowing not to remarry when his wife died (hence the affair with 16-year old Sally Hemmings), how De Witt got a free pellet smoker out of Yoder Company and how using a conventional wood smoker cut into his sports-watching time. Yawn.

Leaving FFF behind, we walked over to Lucy's for lunch where a cheeseburger salad was just what I needed after yesterday's all-day small bite eating. The music was funky, a Doris day movie was on the screen and the crowd was low-key. Perfection.

My last class, "Getting Gnudi," was with Mike Isabella of Graffiato whom I'd never heard because I don't watch TV so haven't seen "Top Chef" (which he claimed was a nightmare fueled by over-drinking by the judges and crew).

His plan was to make a quick and easy meal - Ricotta and goat cheese gnudi with shallot/tomatoes sauce -that we could make at home that would taste as good as his.

Being from New Jersey, he pronounced onion as ung-yin and meatball as meat-bowl. He told a story of a line cook under him using a dull knife to chop chives and throwing that knife in the garbage and telling the guy, "We don't use dull knives here. Get out!"

That line cook now works at the French laundry, for which Isabella jokingly took credit.

His advice boiled down to two things: with cooking, all you need is love and pasta water should be as salty as the ocean. Got it.

Once through with his Italian wisdom, Friend and I made one last stop in the big tent for coffee (her) and chocolate (me) before walking home in a fierce wind, light rain and uncomfortably cold temperature.

It's hard to believe that only four days ago I was in the ocean in a bathing suit.

And so my Fire, Flour and Fork foray comes to a close. I'll give its creators credit, they did a fabulous job of planning, organizing and executing two days and nights of varied and mostly compelling programming.

One thing that came up again and again with people I talked to was that this event is going to be huge next year while this year, everything was manageable, interesting and easy to navigate. The consensus is that next year and going forward will be overcrowded and far less enjoyable as attendance grows.

It makes me glad I got to be an FFF virgin. Hats off to the inaugural weekend of what's sure to become an unwieldy monster with time.

That said, it was a distinct pleasure to be fired up and forked.

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