Here’s a math problem for you: what do you get when you combine Mario Batali with Danny Bowien, a Williamsburg hotel and hundreds of food-crazed New Yorkers? The answer is pure genius. Last weekend we took a quick trip across the river to Williamsburg to attend the second-annual Taste Talks Brooklyn event. Presented by the All-Star chef Batali and curated by bi-coastal Mission pop-up genius Bowien, the Talks boasted a number of engaging and relevant panels staffed by an extremely impressive cast of talent.
The Taste Talks crew hit the event off in style with a brunch of chicken ‘n waffles, creamy grits and collard greens, potentially because it’s a widely known fact that our generation is obsessed with brunch. I mean, we all know brunch is the best meal ever, but regardless, we were super grateful for some tasty fuel before a long day of panels.
Our first panel, titled “Do Restaurant Reviews Matter,” included representatives from OpenTable, Taste Savant, Yelp, our fave Mad Sq Eats pizza people, Roberta’s, and famed New York Times Food Critic Sam Sifton, moderated by Adam Sachs of Tasting Table. The topic hit a little too close to home for consumer-based review website Yelp who is currently in a bit of a pickle (God Bless), but shed light on an issue we’ve all been wondering about: how much clout to amateur restaurant reviews really have? A good thing to know when deciding whether to take an amateur review to heart is that most professional newspaper food critics are required to go to a restaurant at least three times before they write about it, whereas the common Yelp reviewer is typically basing their score off of one single interaction.
The next panel was packed to the brim, but appropriately so, as Mario Batali moderated a discussion about what “buzz” really is and what “the kids want these days.” Yeah, we’re assuming we’re the kids but we’re okay with it. The panel topic was greatly influenced by the rise in social media, especially Instagram, and how social media can really make or break a restaurant’s reputation. Ken Friedman, owner of several NYC favorites including The Spotted Pig, provided a lot of insight by stating social media is the reason why a person goes to a restaurant the first time, but it’s up to the restaurant itself to make sure the customer keeps coming back.
Other panel highlights included a talk about TV chefs being lifted to “cult status” featuring our bestie Alex Guarnaschelli, a discussion on whether “Brooklyn is the New Manhattan” in terms of trendy restaurants, an informative discussion about tequila and mezcals accompanied by extremely generous samples, and the coolest tasting lab featuring Danny Bowien and Momofuku’s Christina Tosi creating dishes from dollar-store ingredients like Ritz Crackers.
While we love talking about food, we love eating it more, which is where the All Star Barbecue really came through. This concluding event, hosted at the beautiful East River State Park in Williamsburg, treated us to small dishes created by fifteen celebrity chefs, including the team from Russ & Daughters, Ivan Orkin from Ivan Ramen, Brooks Headley of Del Posto, and more. The cinnamon babka from Russ and Daughters and Danny Bowien’s potato and egg taco were some of the highlights, along with some obscure cuts of meat we’ve never really tried before like lamb tongue, duck hearts and pig head.
To see the full list of events, check out the Taste Talks website here. And if you live in Chicago, make sure you grab your tickets! Taste Talks will be coming to Chicago for the first time ever October 3-5.