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Food and literature go together naturally, but it wasn’t until 2013 that New York City had a regular series to sate the appetites of hungry bookworms. DISH! , a monthly “gastronomical adventure to feed your mind,” brings together chefs, food writers, critics, bloggers, and just about anyone with a story to tell about food to Housing Works Bookstore Café (126 Crosby Street) for an evening of eating and reading. Last Wednesday, DISH! celebrated its first anniversary with whiskey and pie, and it hosted a panel discussion, Q & A, and readings from an appetizing new book of poems.
Last year, Kimberly Wetherell was in the midst of establishing Spirited, a new business baking boozy treats, when she reached out to writer David Gutowski with an offer to cater readings that he organized. As the two talked, they realized that although New York is one of the foremost cities for both food and literature, there was no regular series bringing them together. And thus DISH! was born, a “food storytelling series” that welcomes all comers: memoirs, cookbooks, fiction, and more. Highlights from the past year included Roy Choi giving an emotional talk about his family and childhood in Los Angeles, and Matt Robicelli, speaking right after his bakery opened and taking a phone call from his chef de cuisine in the middle of his presentation. DISH! events are free but organizers encourage donations to Housing Works as a thank you for hosting.
Each event takes the form of a meal, starting with drinks, progressing onto an entrée, and finishing with dessert. Attendees actually do get to eat and drink as they take in the literary spectacle: Local producers contribute wine, beer, or spirits, and typically one of the evening’s guests brings in something tasty to nibble. On Wednesday, the crowd enjoyed single malt whiskey from Highland Park and Brenne alongside an array of pies from Four & Twenty Blackbirds.
Whiskey was the focus of the opening panel, a Q & A featuring Stephanie Ridgeway, Highland Park’s brand manager; Allison Patel, producer of Brenne; and Heather Greene, author and whisky sommelier at the Flatiron Room. The three discussed the challenges of working in the whiskey industry (e.g. maintaining a healthy lifestyle); what it’s like to be a woman working in traditionally-male field (you get asked about your qualifications a lot); and the “right way” to drink whiskey (answer: any way you want).
During the middle course, sisters Melissa and Emily Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds shared their story of engaging the local community through pie. Growing up in South Dakota, they worked in the family restaurant learning the secrets to great crust and filling. Four years ago, they opened their first bakery in Gowanus and it quickly became a hit. (In fact, DISH! co-founders Wetherell and Gutowski met at Four & Twenty Blackbirds to discuss initially starting the series.) Last year, the Elsens released a cookbook, and in March, they launched an outpost in the Brooklyn Public Library.They will soon open a production kitchen in Gowanus, boosting the neighborhood’s economic and gastronomic well-being.
The evening’s dessert featured poems by Kate Lebo, a Portland, OR, writer and pie enthusiast who observed that both pie and whiskey are social food forms. You bake and slice a pie for many eaters just as you open a bottle of whiskey to share with others. A Commonplace Book of Pie, published last October, is a collection of poems about — yes — pie. Lebo writes about different varieties, from rhubarb cream to pumpkin, imagining the sort of person who orders each one. One poem compares bananas to bras, while another traces a link between pecan pie and horror film Carrie. Lebo based the poem about coconut cream pie on a bar she used to frequent.
And just like other bars, DISH! welcomes regulars and strangers to its monthly feasts. The next one takes place June 4 and features drinks expert Maureen Petrovsky discussing her new book The Cocktail Club: A Year of Recipes and Tips for Spirited Tasting Parties and food writer Alyssa Shelasky, author of 2012’s Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen.