February 14th, 2011


Mixed Grill

I've never been an event quite like it. It wasn't a conference really. It wasn't really a performance. It was a whole conflation of people, ideas, performances, presentations, and tastings with an audience of 200+ in Conway Hall. The event sold out in advance.

Fire and Knives is an English food magazine. It's not commercial, so far as I know, and it's not academic. It's somewhere in between everything, and Mixed Grill, its first large-scale event, was designed to reflect the magazine's diversity, with presentations all done in 10+ minutes, with a Bompas & Parr ether bar for the first break and lunch by the underground supper club host Ms Marmite Lover. There was a magician with a balloon and a bartender, a juggler and sword-walker with fruit, and a gorgeous transvestite who cooked a pancake while dancing along to a Christina Aguilera song. (See photo above.) There was a sex blogger who fed us chocolate mole, a t.v. presenter who fed us jellyfish and MSG, and a reader of fiction who fed us dark chocolate-covered chestnuts.

A marketing analyst dressed in a fabulous coat told us about surveying products for Innocent. A historian told us eighteenth-century tableware, complete with silver tableware. A comedian told us about cookbooks, including how many strands of spaghetti one should serve one's guests. (25) A well-spoken food writer surveyed food in detective novels, a curator advertised an incipient food museum named MOCHA, an academic predicted food trends for the next couple of years, a blogger ranted against fixed-price menu supplements, and another one told us about his favorite bacteria, with crisply black-and-white slides.

The event was far more hit than miss, but there were pieces which didn't work as well for me as they could have. An artisanal baker's rather classist plea for everyone to shop at artisanal bakeries, and who would want to work in a supermarket? had me singing the praises of industrialization. A reading of Swift's "Modest Proposal" would have worked better if there had been an audience planted in the audience to heckle; not everyone seemed to realize it was historical satire. An art historical survey was overly prescriptionist for my tastes. A waiter's otherwise good rant curiously featured a moment in which he declared that in France and America, waiting is treated as a "real" profession. A graduate student or recent graduate presenting her work was so clearly from a literary department, failing to point out that the trends she discerned in Austen's novels are, in fact, largely typical of the period rather than idiosyncratic.

Leaving aside the tasty and entertaining lunch (about which more in a different post), the highlight of the day, for me, was a talk on German Foodcamps. The speaker began by defining "nerdism", and explaining how all the attendees present were clearly, by the fact of their presence, food nerds. Nervous laughter pervaded the room, and I suddenly realized that there were likely large numbers of audience members who had never before been called, or thought of themselves, as nerds.

All in all, it was a really nifty day. It was highly ambitious and run by people who hadn't run anything like it before: thus structurally, its major flaw was running really late, firstly because of technical problems, and then through failing to limit performers to their assigned ten minutes. I suspect the next one - and a next one is intended! - will run a little closer to time. Also, a schedule would have been nice; but not having one meant the entire day held more surprise than it would have otherwise.