Lights On In Baltimore: Food Lab@Light City 2017

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.

Pre-Conference Light Show

Pre-Conference Light Show

 

And speaking of pics, selfies were the order of the day.  The organizers started out with one.

Dionne Joyner-Weems, Vice President of Marketing, Visit Baltimore; Jamie McDonald, Founder, Generosity, Inc. & Co-Chair, Light City; Al Hutchinson, CEO, Visit Baltimore

Dionne Joyner-Weems, Vice President of Marketing, Visit Baltimore; Jamie McDonald, Founder, Generosity, Inc. & Co-Chair, Light City; Al Hutchinson, CEO, Visit Baltimore

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.

Chef Jeff Cooks

Chef Jeff Cooks

And the Stove Has a Close-Up

And the Stove Has a Close-Up

We Eat Chef Jeff's Maque Choux

We Eat Chef Jeff’s Maque Choux

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.

Rev. Brown's Church Garden

Rev. Brown’s Church Garden

Ms. Neirenberg and Mr. Huffman

Ms. Nierenberg and Mr. Huffman

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.

Spike Rocks the Spreadsheet

Spike Rocks the Spreadsheet

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.

Lunch and Lunch Menu

Lunch and Lunch Menu

Giselle, Ready to Serve Peach Cake

Giselle, Ready to Serve Peach Cake

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.

Badass Taharka Ice Cream

Badass Taharka 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.

Spike Gjerde and Others on Balcony

Spike Gjerde and Others on Balcony

Distracting Vista from Balcony

Distracting Vista from Balcony

The Ship Next Door

The Ship Next Door

Light City Volunteer's Light-Up Sneakers Charging

Light City Volunteer’s Light-Up Sneakers Charging

Foodie Sweater

Foodie Sweater

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.

Mr. Tahhan In Background, Samples in Foreground

Mr. Tahhan In Background, Samples in Foreground

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.

Chef Marcus Cooking

Chef Marcus Cooking

As a Background to Selfies

As a Background to Selfies

Addressing the Salmon

Addressing the Salmon

Showing the Audience the Fish

Showing the Audience the Fish

A Nice Piece of Fish

A Nice Piece of Fish

And Who's This Guy?

And Who’s This Guy?

After the conference ended, he stayed around to sign autographs and pose for selfies.

Chef Marcus Signing

Chef Marcus Signing

And Yet More Selfies!

And Yet More 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.

Food Innovators Happy Hour

Food Innovators Happy Hour

Neat Nicks Products on Photogenic Display

Neat Nicks Products on Photogenic Display

Planning for the 2018 Labs@Light City is now underway.  More information is here.

About Judy

I have been cooking and eating all my life. I help run the Olney Farmers and Artists Market in Olney, Maryland, arrange their weekly chef demos and blog from that website (olneyfarmersmarket.org) on Market matters. This personal blog is for all things foodie: cookbooks, products, restaurants, eating.
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