Climbing the stairs to the second floor space of IMET Columbus Center, on a pier of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, I was worried that this event would be a generator of monotonous visuals – just one set of folks talking after another. It was, after all, a conference about food in Baltimore, with a program of mostly panels full of knowledgeable but possibly not optically varied folks. Might it be like others I have attended: interesting in the moment, but hard to transform after the fact into an article full of pictorial interest?
Well, silly me! This was part of Light City Baltimore, the annual extravaganza of installations, fireworks, and illumination (in all senses of that word). The venue was all tarted out with a stage backdrop that flashed, glowed, enlarged, and projected. No boring pics here.
And speaking of pics, selfies were the order of the day. The organizers started out with one.
Then Chef Jeff Henderson, a former drug dealer who became a Food Network chef and author, cooked Crab and Andouille Maque Choux while relating his inspirational story of how cuisine became his way up from prison. “The kitchen has always been the place of transformation for me.” His food was delicious.
And speaking of inspiration and transformation, the next two speakers had some to spare: the Reverend Dr. Heber Brown III on the beneficial effect of a garden in his church’s front yard, and then, expounding on growing the scale of those gardens and other urban agriculture, was Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank.
Just before lunch, Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen told us about the meal we were about to consume. It was produced for about the price of a typical school lunch, and Spike had the spreadsheet to prove it.
Then we ate that lunch. It was a bowl full of good things: grain, radish kimchi, eggs, spicy cabbage, microgreens. Even the kale was rendered edible. And peach cake for dessert.
If the cake wasn’t dessert enough, there was ice cream by Baltimore’s own Taharka Brothers. They’re very badass, and make delicious ice cream.
After lunch, I have to admit I wasn’t in the mood to sit for another bunch of panels, so I roamed around the venue a little. There was a balcony, for a nice change of perspective, and two great views out the windows. Also some interesting sights inside the hall.
Drawing my attention back to the presentations, Antonio Tahhan, a Fulbright scholar and Syrian-American food blogger, talked about the cuisine of Aleppo. Pomegranates, Aleppo pepper, quince, pistachios – and “War is the opposite of food.” A profound motto.
He had food to sample, as well: tahini and grape molasses served with pita.
And then, the undisputed star of the show – Chef Marcus Samuelsson. The energy from both chef and crowd was high as Chef Marcus butchered a salmon and smoked a fillet on stage, while he chatted about his life and philosophy, and a continuous loop of stills played in the background. Sampling the fish was a high point of the conference.
After the conference ended, he stayed around to sign autographs and pose for selfies.
The day wrapped up with a public tasting and purchasing opportunity for local food businesses. The quality varied, as one would expect at such an event, but it was a fitting close to a day full of insights and ideas about food issues in Baltimore and beyond.
Planning for the 2018 Labs@Light City is now underway. More information is here.