Sticks and Stones and Soup From Bones: Brothfest Recap

On a rainy, muggy Saturday, a crowd of NYC’s most enlightened eaters (or should I say slurpers?) journeyed to South Street Seaport for the Battle of the Broths, determined to find the one in seven that would warm their bones and their souls. Planned as a collaboration between FAME by Alex Mitow and Greg T. Spielberg’s Imagination in Space with additional backing from Yelp and the Howard Hughes Corporation, the event appears to have been a soupy success. The famous Katz’s Delicatessen offered a classic chicken-matzoh broth dating from the restaurant’s earlier days in 1888. It was a smooth, simplistic throwback with little artifice that carried a great deal of salty and umami flavor.

I had a chance to meet Jake Dell, Katz's current owner, and a proud legacy of a deli dynasty taking over for his father and grandfather.

I had a chance to meet Jake Dell, Katz’s current owner, and a proud legacy of a deli dynasty taking over for his father and grandfather.

Using their Magic Bullet (only like my favorite as-seen-on-TV product), Belle Reve whipped up a Blackened Butter Bone Broth splashed with a shot of Wild Turkey bourbon. It was intensely creamy and decadent with a harsh, smoky aftertaste, and one of my favorites.

Paula Deen would be proud of all the butter in this broth!

Paula Deen would be proud of all the butter in this broth!

FAME by Alex Mitow had the  “Sake to Me,” a concoction of Kobe Beef broth dressed up with lemongrass, herbs, dry sake, and chive oil. The ingredients were fresh and well-chosen, and they all noticeably popped, but I found this elixir too over-the-top for my appreciation. Baz Bagel prepared its own variation of a chicken matzoh ball soup that was salted nicely and came with an adorable baby matzoh. It was definitely the most recognizable broth in the bunch, and a safe choice. Bone Deep and Harmony gave out both beef and chicken broths, allowing visitors to choose their own spices and condiments to customize their cup. I tried mixing in some chimichurri, but turned out to be a poor judge of how much to mix in. Spur Tree brought in its “Fish Tea,” a fish-based broth with garlic, scallions, and even a little bit of tropical fruit. It managed to be fiery and sweet at the same time with very delectable bits of boneless fish that melded swimmingly with the broth. There were even some crispy wonton chips  for a crunch with my slurp.

The Fish Tea was well-stocked with fish, veggies, and flavor!

The Fish Tea was well-stocked with fish, veggies, and flavor!

Caracas Arepa Bar had a traditional Venezuelan San Cocho  with beef shanks on the bone. The heat and the spice were overpowering in contrast to the tender morsels of beef. It wasn’t really my cup of broth, but the beef was absolutely delicious and it slid right off.   Sancocho Spur Tree’s “Fish Tea” ended up scoring the most votes (including mine), followed by Belle Reve (my second choice), who was just four shy. I seldom think of my tastes as conventional, but my picks apparently were the consensus.

Spur Tree was the winner!

Spur Tree was the winner!

Between cups, there was plenty of beer, clothing boutiques, and live music provided by gypsy band Sylvana Joyce and the Moment and DJs Andrew Andrew. Alex Mitow even took the stage at one point to spin a few playlists of his own as DJ Mouthlove.

Oddly enough, I didn't hear any Bowling For Soup

Oddly enough, I didn’t hear any Bowling For Soup

With this year’s weather remaining as hostile and chilly as ever, it doesn’t look like the bone broth trend is ready to simmer down just yet (and neither is Shailene Woodley). Broth Fest was a fun way to fan the flames of this fad, and I’m excited to see what’s up next. Hopefully Spring!

Photo with Alex Mitow and fashionista Leo Gugu. Photo by James Miille.

Photo with Alex Mitow and fashionista Alotta McGriddles. Photo by James Miille.

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Interview with Chef Alex Mitow: DJ, Caterer, and Broth Brahman!

This exceptionally biting winter has birthed a new foodie craze in the form of bone broth by the cup. While I have yet to fully immerse myself in this soupy tradition, I’ve always found that a little meat stock and a lot of love does wonders for the body and soul.

No stranger to the funky food fads of New York, Chef Alex Mitow has masterminded a melting pot of epic proportions in conjunction with Greg Spielberg and fellow NY pop-up star Imagination in Space. This Saturday, March 14th, the inflatable Sugarcube pavilion at South Street Seaport will be transformed into a bouillon cube to host Broth Fest, a toasty warm pop-up that joins several eateries like the famed Katz’s Deli. Other participants include Baz Bagel, Caracas Arepa Bar, and Spur Tree.

Last year, Alex thrilled me with his All-American Diner pop-up, and on separate occasions, I’ve been wowed by his work at events like The Big Cheesy and The Thrillist Taco Knockout! His Taylor Swiss Grilled Cheese with Truffled Duck Mousse was proof that one can teach an old concept new tricks.

Previously the owner of Colombian Hot Dog restaurant Los Perros Locos, Alex has recently shifted to promoting his event planning company FAME and hosting art shows and fairs at his LESpace pop-up.

Recently, I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview Alex despite his busy schedule.

1. Why broth?

Broth is the hottest (no pun intended) NYC food trend this season, and there is a lot of debate about it. Is it just glorified soup? Is it a magical elixir? The new Gatorade? We decided that rather than just speculate, we’d hold a pop-up around the broth craze and let the public decide! No matter what the outcome, the eight chefs we have involved are sure to whip up a delicious spread of broths!

2. What’s your favorite dish that you’ll be serving at Broth Fest?

Of course I’m excited for FAME’s “Sake To Me”, a dry-sake based broth with kobe beef bones simmered with lemongrass and other assorted herbs. Besides that, we’re super psyched for the new TriBeCa spot Belle Reve’s Blackened Butter Broth as well as the old school matzoh ball soup version from Katz’ Deli.

3. How did you first find yourself in the world of cooking?

I grew up sleeping in booths at my family’s restaurant in Florida and cooking just sort of came about as a natural consequence. These days I’m spending more time behind my laptop and on my feet about town than in my commercial kitchen, but I still experiment at home and play with ideas on paper that our FAME team turns into reality.

4. How do you experiment with flavors/choose combinations for your dishes?

I’m a big eater and have been exposed to so many tastes. With cooking and flavor combos, a lot of the time I’m not so much trying things physically so much as putting together ingredients and combinations that sound like they’ll work well together on paper or in my cell phone’s note pad. The New York Times quoted me as saying that I wrote the menu for Los Perros Locos “in fifteen minutes on my cell phone” but I’m not that big of a douche. It was more like an hour.

5. What made you shift from Los Perros Locos to FAME/ LESpace?

I’ve spent ten years on and off doing brick and mortar restaurants and it’s kind of an addiction. It’s hard for me to walk by an empty space and not see it as some type of concept restaurant. LPL was one of those. However, the day to day grind and constant worry of a restaurant combined with the astronomical costs and questionable city policy in NYC wore on me. At the same time, I was producing more events and enjoyed that more, as well as getting deeper into the arts and music world (I own a gallery and also DJ on the side) so I decided to transition into something that capitalized on my F&B background while allowing me the creative freedom to do what I enjoy.

6. Got any funny kitchen/catering nightmares?

Way too many to list! People think the events business is glamorous, I beg them to imagine the owner of the events company biking through the Lower East Side with a suckling pig on the handlebars looking for an oven to cook it in because the oven at the pop up venue isn’t working.

7. What’s next?

FAME stands for Food, Art, Music, and Events and we have events coming up in all of these spheres. Food-wise we’re big fans of single-food festivals like Broth Fest and have a whole bunch more up our sleeve in the coming year, spread all around downtown. We’ve also been planning a monthly Night Bizarre* event that would combine food, fashion, as well as live art and musical performance, into a one night extravaganza at a yet to be named downtown space. Besides that, we’ll be continuing to provide bespoke catering for the arts and theatre community, as well as producing some awesome art events and gallery shows in the next few months. As I always say, big things poppin’, lil things stoppin’!

* Yet another clever pun!

Photo by James Miille of Irisism Photography.

Photo by James Miille of Irisism Photography.

Tickets for Broth Fest are available at this link with tastings selling for $33 in one hour chunks: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/broth-fest-at-south-street-seaport-tickets-15880705618