Arts & Entertainment,  This Week's Paper

EEEEEATSCON ’18: West Coast food festival comes to New York

This month, the food festival EEEEEATSCON came to Forest Hills Stadium on Oct. 6, bringing with it a wide variety of creative, delicious and picturesque meals for its numerous attendees. Being something of an eating enthusiast, I decided to buy a ticket and check out the event myself. Despite my adoration for all kinds of food, however, I had personally never been to a food festival before – my only experience with large-scale events like this had been things like New York Comic Con, which coincidentally took place that same weekend, leading me to wonder how much of a turnout I would actually find. Seemingly, that overlap had little effect; the massive, anxiety-inducing crowd I had to navigate throughout the day gave me the impression that the turnout was just fine.

I chose not to eat anything before heading to the event, so naturally, the first thing I wanted to do was find some lunch. There were plenty of stands around with teams from restaurants across the country serving up all kinds of different dishes; the one I ended up going to first was Maketto, based out of Washington, D.C., and for $8, I got a large plate of their ramen fries. It remains unclear to me how or whether ramen was actually involved in any way, considering the fries themselves tasted no different than standard ones to me. The various toppings, however, gave the fries a distinct and delicious flavor, and the large portion left me feeling satisfied.

The next thing that caught my eye was a hot dog truck within the stadium that had one of the longest lines of anything else I had seen there. The truck was from Walter’s in Westchester, and after roughly 20 minutes of waiting in line, I got the chance to see how accurate some of their displayed rave reviews were. I had ordered a “Puffy Dog,” which came with mashed, grilled puffs of potato on the hot dog in a pretzel bun with mustard for $6.50. Though I certainly wasn’t disappointed by the taste, I somehow found it to be less filling than the ramen fries from earlier.

In addition to the food and drinks available around the area, several panels were also being held throughout the day. The first one, “Food As Empowerment,” was my next destination. It featured people from different organizations working to make a positive impact in the city through their work involving food, with each person sharing stories and information throughout the 45-minute panel about themselves, their lives, their motivations and their work.

Moderator Deepti Sharma, CEO of FoodtoEat began the panel, saying “Food is one of the most universal forms of storytelling.” She continued: “People translate their experiences, culture, traditions and emotions onto every plate, and then they share those with everyone outside in the real world.” As noted by the panelists, New York City’s thoroughly diverse population makes it the perfect place to experience aspects of cultures from all over the world through dishes from their various culinary traditions. Manal Kahi of Eat Offbeat, a catering company employing refugees to create and prepare authentic dishes from their native cultures, remarked that “New Yorkers, people are open, they are ready to try anything.” She continued to praise New York Foodie culture, saying that “Not only do they try it, they are actually excited about trying it!”

About an hour later I attended a second panel, “How the West Was Won,” with the Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, creators of Los Angeles-based Jon & Vinny’s, among others. The pair told their story of meeting in culinary school and working their way into the LA restaurant scene, opening various places of their own with very distinct menus and styles and learning valuable lessons through their experiences. “The number one thing that goes the farthest is that we say hello to everybody,” mentioned Shook in regard to employee retention. “No matter who they are, no matter how their day is going, what their culture is, what position, any of that, it’s always hi.”

With the end of that panel, I took a last walk around the area of the festival before heading home, seeing plenty of stands selling fries, ice cream, liquor and anything in between around the stadium. Though I chose not to buy anything else, I was still satisfied with what I had eaten and seen at EEEEEATSCON, and imagine I may find myself attending again if they return to the city. The mix of taste, spectacle and informative discussion is well worth the price of admission.

 

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