The Food Lab at Southampton Hosts Conference This Weekend

The college campus at Southampton has long been a haven for writers and marine scientists, with those two graduate programs riding the change in ownership from Long Island University to Stony Brook. But, except for the shared facilities, those programs always remained quite separate. The Food Lab, which is part of a growing food studies presence on the campus, may be the bridge that connects the two.

After all, food is a great connector, and as distinguished panelists line up to discuss everything from food writing and media to the wellbeing of the ocean as a food source, it seems like the two departments have found their common ground.

The Food Lab is a weekend long conference, June 5 through 7, that features heavyweights from the food community of the East End and elsewhere. They come together to approach a discussion of food in three ways: through food education, food media, and food enterprise.

“This event is like our coming out party,” said Brian Halweil, the director of the educational arm of the Food Lab and editor-in-chief of Edible East End and Edible Manhattan. “It’s our first public event. What’s exciting is we’ve pulled together entrepreneurs, educators, farmers and others who can come and talk about how they might want to collaborate in the future. Because this is just the beginning.”

Joe Tremblay, of Bay Burger, will be talking about running a small food business like Joe and Liza’s Ice Cream. Sara Gordon from Sylvester Manor will talk about what’s going on there, including a massive wetlands restoration project that is connecting farming to wetlands. Sean Barrett, of Dock to Dish, will discuss the importance of getting fresh seafood in an accountable way. There will be a panel on the business of drinking with Channing Daughters, a local distillery, and a local brewing company.

“The focus of the Food Lab is on the East End,” Halweil said, “but the relevance is global.”

He points to the strides our local schools have taken in terms of gardens and greenhouses, and that they can be held up as a model for other communities. Or the impact the Peconic Land Trust has had on the landscape of our region since it began in the late ’60s, and how other areas can look to that preservation effort as an example.

“We want to be a convener,” Halweil said. “One of my dreams is to have another conference where we convene leaders of food studies programs from all over. How do we foster food literacy?”

He believes that the East End has a unique reservoir of resources that make it ideal for this type of summit.

“The East End has the complete gastronomic experience,” he said, “at the land and sea border. We have wine country, and produce all sorts of other spirits and drinks. We also have an interesting media connection because of our proximity to New York City. We are sort of a multi-headed monster, and as a result, we are a perfect place to convene people, especially in the summer.”

With dozens of presenters throughout the weekend, this is an opportunity for food businesses, educators, chefs, and others looking to better understand how food impacts our society to network and learn. People can attend the entire conference, or they can just drop in for the dinner on Saturday night, which will showcase female farmers and food purveyors. Seven of them will be featured on the menu.

Jason Weiner, executive chef of Almond, will cook a mushroom and chicken fricassee using a Browder’s Birds chicken and mushrooms from the North Fork, and Carissa Waechter will bake her fresh bread. Speakers will talk about what the crowd is eating and the consciousness behind the menu.

But, Halweil said, “The medium is the message.”

In other words—with the freshness of the vegetables and the tenderness of the chicken, the body of the wine and the crust on the bread—those attending the dinner or the tastings throughout the weekend won’t need much explanation as to why eating this way is so good.

For more information or to get tickets to the Food Lab, go to stonybrook.edu/southampton.

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