If the Food Book Fair is “the Coachella of writing about food,” then their new Food Book Party series is the equivalent of a food writing concert. The kick-off party in October was titled Gay Food 101, and featured the makers of Jarry Mag and Mouthfeel Magazine in conversation with Shannon Mustipher, beverage director at Glady’s, the James Beard Award-winning writer John Birdsall, and Sarah Keough, editor of Put A Egg On It discussing the intersection between LGBT communities and hospitality. Last night, the second party highlighted Food Network Star Justin Warner in conversation with expert wine entrepreneur Andre Mack of Mouton Noir.
Warner’s first book The Laws Of Cooking: And How To Break Them came out in the middle of last month, and our own Sarah Zorn interviewed Warner about the release back in October. After a brief discussion of the writing process with Mack last night, he demonstrated one of his laws by cooking a recipe out of the book for the audience in the private back room of Crown Height’s enormous new beer and food hall Berg’n. The chance to sample some of Warner’s deeply weird, delicious food was a drawn in itself, as his flagship restaurant Do Or Dine recently closed.
Justin Warner’s food pedigree is long and varied: He studied under Danny Meyer working as a server at The Modern, he brought a Michelin star to Bed-Stuy as a chef and co-owner of Do Or Dine, and he invented the infamous foie gras donut. But perhaps he’s best-known for winning Season 8 of Food Network Star, and that experience certainly radiated last night. He’s quick and clever as a speaker, parrying questions from Mack while simultaneously preparing food and bringing everything back to the principles he teaches.
Warner’s laws hinge around specific combinations of distinct flavors, and though the book extends those combinations into a variety of recipes, the base laws are named after commonly recognized dishes. Last night he demonstrated The Law Of Bagel And Lox, an examination of the relationship between fat, smoke and acid. Using a recipe from the book for Smoked Gouda and Rauchbier Soup, Warner walked the audience through the recipe, with Mack’s occasional attempts at help.
“My dad used to say every good meal begins with an onion,” Warner deadpanned, while dumping coarsely chopped onion into the pan and delivering his kicker: “He also had terrible breath.”
Another memorable anecdote from his days as a server at The Modern emphasized the importance of breaking rules every so often. Recalling a kid dragged to a fancy three-course meal by his parents on the day of a painful braces tightening, Warner heard the boy complain “I just want a fish sandwich!” Empowered to go above and beyond, Warner raced to a nearby fast food joint, obtained a single buttered roll, and ceremoniously plated the boy’s forthcoming flounder on the roll, tableside.
It’s the kind of story that illustrates the difference between hospitality and service, and as Mack noted in response, the importance of listening. Right after though, one of the evening’s only sour notes rolled in–Warner punctuated the story with an offhand comment about how difficult it is for him to learn to listen to his wife. Really? For how refreshingly modern and brazen his cooking and writing style, this kind of remark felt wildly out of place, and was, frankly, disappointing.
The finished soup could cleanse any inequities, though, it was cheesy and silky with the slightest hint of smoke (provided by smoked beer) and especially delicious when topped with fried capers and some succulent brisket from Mighty Quinn’s BBQ. The brisket functioned as sort of a rule breaking element, but seemed right at home atop the decadent, comforting soup. As Warner noted, food should either be comforting or interesting, and he’s most interested in dishes that straddle those two poles. Food Book Party functions in a similar way, bringing the written word and the actual process of cooking together in sweet harmony.