December 2, 2014

Ditch the popcorn, grab the barbecue

The Food Film Festival is a weekend-long festival in which one watches multiple short films about artisan food while simultaneously being served the described food. It’s like a movie premiere, but with better smells. The event has been held at Kendall College, a culinary school close to the Grand Blue Line station, for the past five years. I made my way to the event on the Goose Island campus for the final Saturday, which was to be barbecue-themed. I may be a vegetarian, but I knew from looking at the menu that the getting would be good in the way of drinks, desserts, and guacamole. 

I began the night by standing in a quick-moving registration line, eyeing the copious Sugar in the Raw–sponsored swag bags positioned by the elevator, and was then ushered into the screening room. This room is a giant lecture classroom with a test kitchen at the front and tables giving out free wine, beer, and artisan ginger beer flanking the sides. After grabbing a beverage or three, I took my seat. Scoping out the room, most attendants appeared to be in their late  20s or 30s; one man rocked a tight stars-and-stripes onesie with a deep V-neck and lots of chest hair.

I soon learned that he would actually be the most appropriately dressed person in attendance—the night’s theme was The Food Porn Party, loosely defined as high-quality video shots of food “set to music.” This nebulous theme necessarily resulted in a few glorified music videos, though most of the filmmakers seemed to crave a story with their sensual, high-def shots of beef rib.

Judging by the level of applause after each, it seemed that the videos that retained an element of storytelling were the most successful. "Big B.L.A.T. (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, and Tomato)", "Gin Tonic Black, Lemon Muffins with a Sweet Surprise", and "1 Minute Meal: Su Propia Liga" all lacked dimension. The titles of the fan favorites—"Food Friends and Family", "Guacamole—A Gambling Recipe", and "Top Pot Doughnut Bread Pudding—For Every Occasion"—suggest something more behind the food, even if the extra substance boils down to the people who love the food (the woman who makes the Top Pot Doughnut Bread Pudding loves it so much that she imagines it becoming a vital part of every holiday tradition, from hiding bread pudding in Easter eggs to stuffing a turkey with it).

Then there was my old buddy Mr. Stars and Stripes, starring in perhaps the truest example of food porn of the night. The film was called "Balls!", and Mr. Stars and Stripes was revealed to be “the world’s first food porn star,” Larry Cauldwell. In the video, Cauldwell was again sporting his iconic onesie, either for consistency or because it’s the only item of clothing that he owns. He shared the screen with a similarly clad woman, and together they extolled the virtues of food that comes in ball shape. He also took questions after the video, although he reworded each one to include the phrase “my balls in your mouth.” In his own unique way, Cauldwell created a narrative at Food Film Fest, elevating the event to have a mythos of its own instead of presenting the backstories of others.

After the films came the reception, in which one could taste more samples and drink more booze. Mostly full and somewhat overwhelmed by the crowd, I then played a round of ping-pong at the inconspicuous table nestled in a corner, and left to grab my swag bags and go home. Apparently the event has become well established enough to become taxi bait (I had my pick outside), and I believe the event has enormous potential to continue on for years. One can only hope that next year’s Fest includes more tofu.