Last year Tom Mylan and Sasha Davies went head-to-head with the Fancy Food Show, held at the Javits Center, with their first Unfancy Food Show, held at the East River Bar in Williamsburg...and this year they're back for seconds. Expect everything from pickles to cheese to beer (including Hop Obama) this coming Sunday (more details here). While Davies left the city to explore the craft of hand-made cheesemaking, Mylan is still in town, occasionally airing his grievances about NYU students, and serving as the butcher at both Diner and Marlow & Sons.
How did the idea come about for the Unfancy Food Show?
Tom Mylan: Sasha came up with the idea as a reaction to the Fancy Food Show that happens every year at the Javits Center. It's basically where huge grocers go to buy Parmigiano-Reggiano for 500 stores so we decided to do the opposite: local people who make small amounts of very good stuff. We also thought it would be a great to get all of these local producers in the same place with a drink in there hand and see what happens. We weren't sure if anyone would come to the first one last year but they did and this year is almost twice as big
Sasha Davies: Basically the actually Fancy Food Show made me depressed. Sure there are likely to be some good products there but none of the great, local stuff that inspired a number of us to get into the business in the first place. Even if we got into the business because we liked to eat, for a number of us the reason we stayed in the business was because we tasted something amazing and met the person who made it. I was also over the idea that good food was being made available at events that only certain people could afford- so I wondered if we could create an event that was basically free where all kinds of people could meet people who make food on a small scale. Luckily Tom was into it too and made the key connection that it should be held at a bar to help keep the vibe convivial.
What can one expect to find at there this weekend?
TM: Artisan cheeses, pickles, hand made chef knives, ricotta, lots of chocolate, plus books and magazines all produced by small local producers. It's like shopping at the greenmarket with a beer in your hand.
SD: A shit ton of good food. Tortillas, cheese, chocolate, honey, wood fired pizza, pickles, great food writers, amazing meats. It's like that. Wait - and beer too. It will be a pleasure fest of eats.
What foods won't you eat?
TM: Chicken sashimi, bad BBQ or any place that is just retarded expensive. I'm sure Per Se is delicious but I wouldn't know because I can't bring myself to eat at a place like that.
SD: Oysters - they make me ill - and pretty much anything that smells like it came out of my own body. Oh - and I won't eat cake that is wet.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?
TM: I don't know about "ever" but lately I have eaten more testicles than the average straight man. Lamb testicle kebabs in Rego Park and bull testicles at the Fleisher's Meats Butcher Blackout in Kingston.
SD: Tom will totally kick the shit out of my answer here... but here goes: a goldfish but it wasn't prepared as a dish, it was more of a dare so maybe that doesn't count.
Why is the nose-to-tail thing so popular these days?
TM: Because the chefs have finally won. For years cooks everywhere have been trying to get people to eat more adventurously and now there is a surprising number of people that actually want to order braised beef heart Pot-au-Feu, smoked trotters or headcheese. Also nose-to-tail just makes sense now that more and more restaurants are buying whole pigs and lambs. If you don't use all the pieces of the animal you're losing money.
SD: I hope it is popular because people are aware that animals come in wholes, not in cuts like chops, tenderloins, etc. I hope it is because of a mounting respect we have for the animals we are eating and an interest in becoming less wasteful. But honestly I think it is partly that these cuts and parts are a new medium- that it is providing chefs and eaters with new experiences in the kitchen and on the palette.
You don't seem to be grossed out by cutting open animals. Is there anything that makes you squeamish?
TM: Just to clairify: I don't cut open animals, they do that at the slaughterhouse. When I get animals they are gutted and skinned (except for pigs which still have their skin). I have killed and gutted a pig and it was pretty rough. The smell of the slaughter stays with you a long time.
Anyway, I freak out at the sight of my own blood. I shanked myself pretty good the other week. I mean I sank a knife an inch into my forearm! I thought I was going to throw up and pass out at the same time. I try not to cut myself very often.
I also fear creepy bagged chickens at C-Town. I swear I can smell the Salmonella.
It's your birthday and you can have any chef in the world make you any dish. What are you ordering?
TM: I like to eat what my friends decide to make me whether it's Liza at the Queens Hideaway, Kevin at Momofuku, or Sean and Dave at Marlow and Sons. That said I think I'd have the lollipop chicken at Tangra Masala in Sunnyside. It's fried chicken coated with spicy pakora batter and dipped in a chili mayo sauce, holy shit! I love everything they make there.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story.
TM: When I worked at Dean and Deluca uptown I saw an old woman with a tiny dog in her purse and wearing a $30K fur coat fall over and take out a whole floor stack of $40 a bottle olive oil because she was drunk and high on pills. Her lip stick looked like it was put on in the dark with her left hand. Yikes.
Also last week Marco Pierre White came into Diner for cheeseburger. He then canceled his order, torn hundred dollar bill in half and threw half of it at the bartender and walked out. I guess he's got a reputation to keep up for being crazier than a shithouse rat.
Which New Yorker do you most admire?
TM: Robert Lavalva. He's the guy who is trying to convince the city to turn the old Fulton Fish Market building into a permanent indoor market like they have in San Francisco and Rome. It's a shame that in a city that loves food as much as this one we can't seem to get this market funded.
SD: Anyone who has owned a small business in NYC for more than 20 years. I don't know how they did it and come to think of it maybe I don't want to know how. But my hat is off to them.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
TM: Besides getting a permanent market I think the city would be a much nicer if there were less new condos and more transportation like the Velib public bike thing they have in Paris.
SD: NY will work itself out- I wouldn't change anything.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York?
TM: New York is the best place on earth but we are planning to leave the city in the next five years to move upstate. I want to start a pig farm and a whiskey distillery. If anyone wants to give me some start up money I'll move there now!
SD: I left at the end of April. It was the whole I could live here for ten more years and still have saved no money and be renting this 400 square foot apartment that I share with my husband OR we could move and see what else is out there.
What's your current soundtrack to the city?
TM: NPR. I listen to WNYC all day long, five days a week. I was listening to all these old cassette tapes my friends gave me: Back Sabbath, Primus, the Lemonheads, Donovan but then I had to switch to NPR because my internal monologue was getting way to loud. It was just me, thousands of pounds of dead animals and the second side to Paranoid. I started to get pretty weird. Now I'm much more well adjusted.
Best cheap eat in the city.
TM: Roti Boti. It's a curry place that caters to South Asian car service drivers. It's the best food for the cheapest price I've eaten. They grind their own spices and it tastes fresh and distinctive. Four people can eat a lot of food for under $20. Plus they have two big screens up on folding tables and when a big Cricket match is on the place is packed.
Also the morning tamale lady (the short one on the bus mall side of Broadway) at the JMZ Marcy stop. She's only there till about 9 AM but the $1 green tamales are worth getting up for.
SD: My favorite is Thiru's Dosa Cart (NY Dosas) in Washington Square Park. That dude is like sunshine and I have eaten those dosas with so many of my favorite people I met in NY.
Best venue to see music.
TM: The McCarren Pool in Williamsburg. I quit going to shows for a long time but the pool makes seeing shows fun again. I don't even mind if the band sucks because the spot is so beautiful at dusk and they serve pretty good beer.
SD: Planet Rose Karaoke on a weeknight. Hands down.