Tell the truth. Your newsfeed is clogged with how-to-cook videos and articles on where to find the best Hot Chicken in Brooklyn (it’s at the Commodore, btw). Netflix has started suggesting obscure cooking shows to you because of your recent Chef’s Table binge. You’ve Snapchatted a pic of your Smorgasburg snack with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, and Seamless ads on the L always make you crave cheeseburgers. That’s OK, you’re not alone. Everyone in Brooklyn is obsessed with food media, and that’s the way we like it.
That’s where Amanda Dell and Kimberly Chou come in. They’re not just food media mavens — they’re the new directors of Brooklyn’s own Food Book Fair, coming back this year on May 1 at the Wythe Hotel. Now in its fifth year, FBF is part food festival, part media conference, and totally delicious. Recently, I got this girl boss duo to dish about event producing, waitressing, and why they decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to expand the fest. Before this, Dell worked in restaurants and Chou worked for the Wall Street Journal. So how’d they get this cool job?
How’d you get into the food world?
A: I got into food by working in the restaurant business. I was a maître d at Gramercy Tavern— it was my job to know everyone and I took that pretty seriously. I still draw on that hospitality training in everything that I do to this day. Eventually, I realized that opening a restaurant or going into restaurant management wasn’t my end game. I had to figure out a way to combine all of my interests—food, beverage, restaurants, wine—in a place that I could be. That helped me forge my path forward.
K: I like to say I’m a reformed journalist. I worked in more traditional media for several years at places like the Wall Street Journal or Microsoft. In between media jobs, I worked as an art model, I freelanced…I’d written about food a little bit and considered food to be an interest of mine. And then I met Elizabeth Thacker Jones, the founder of Food Book Fair.
So that’s how you got involved with Food Book Fair?
K: I’ve been with Food Book Fair for two years. I met Elizabeth through a mutual friend when I’d just lost my job. She signed me on to produce Foodieodicals, our indie food magazine fair-within-the-fair, the main event. And then I started doing more and more. I met Amanda the second year—she just kept emailing us.
A: I was working for a new foodieodical coming out called Smalltime Cooks – the first-ever culinary activity book. I loved what was going on and felt really inspired. I basically hounded Elizabeth and Kim to get involved—and it worked out.
K: Eventually, Elizabeth started working on other projects that were taking more of her time. That turned into incredible opportunity for Amanda and I. As of two months ago, we officially took over all FBF ownership and operations!
Why do you like doing food events more than being a journalist or toiling away in kitchens?
K: Being a reporter, a lot of the time, you’re not actually out on the field, you’re on the phone doing interviews. It felt rewarding to work in events and see things happening in real time instead of words coming out of the ether and showing up on the internet, never knowing how people interacted with it. Here, you’re interacting with a real live physical person. It was really exhilarating to build up to something and then actually see people respond to it. That’s why I love doing this.
A: There are a lot of challenges to running an event, but there’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end. The most exciting thing for me is the chance to bring all these people together under one roof and to feel that energy.
To use a bad pun: we bring it off the page. We give people a chance to meet up in real life, to put a face to a name. It’s really valuable, because honestly, those chances don’t come around that much. We hope other people will see that value.
Food Book Fair is five years old, but this is your first Kickstarter. Why now?
K: We wanted to reintroduce and re-crystallize Food Book Fair as something that’s truly about food media – magazines, books, film, radio, all of the great stuff that people write and talk about. There’re so many general food festivals now. We wanted to say this is really something nerdy and unique. It’s special in that way.
The idea is to raise some money so we can produce FBF 2016, it’s actually the fifth annual event, but also to help build towards a becoming more sustainable so that we can continue FBF going forward, in New York, in 2016, and beyond. We want to try to set ourselves up in a business structure that helps us do that—and to be less broke.
How’s the Kickstarter going?
A: We’ve been overwhelmed by the support of our community. We’re really fortunate to have great rewards, like presale tickets or things like a one-on-one adult beverage tasting from Corkbuzz’s Laura Maniec.
K: When we first started it, we were like, is anybody really going to donate? Or if they don’t know how seasonal events work, they could say, why should I pay for this? But it’s actually been really fortifying.
Lots of people probably feel like working with food beats staring at a screen all day. Any advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
K: Everyone should work in a restaurant. You learn how to deal with people, how to manage your time, how to manage resources, and just accountability. I’ve worked as a barista, in cafés, as a server in an Indian restaurant. No matter the experience, it teaches you humility. It really conditions one’s character, and how much shit they’re willing to take.
A: Restaurants provide a very unique experience. On one hand, it can be extremely sophisticated and aspirational. On the other hand, it’s super down to earth. It’s about seeing that food get delivered and prepped, it’s taking reservations in a basement closet. There’s almost nothing else that combines those two things.
K: And if you want to get involved in events, you should find something to volunteer at. Be willing to soak it all up, be open to new experiences, and never be too proud to try anything – within legal limits.
A: Don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
K: Also go to lots of events. In New York there are a lot of free ones. Now that we do this, I’m always looking at how the catering is going.
A: I think we’ve lifted the veil permanently.
K: Event production isn’t that glamorous. Don’t be too proud to do other work to support what you really love doing. I’m still an art model and a cater waiter. Less than I used to be, but I still do it.
Food Book Fair will be held May 1 at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. Find their Kickstarter here (ends March 17).
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