A bit more than a week ago, I went to Brooklyn for the Food Writers’ Workshop. I learned more than a few useful things, but those aren’t what struck me most. At the last wine bloggers’ conference I attended, plenty of people there looked like me – a gray-haired, middle-aged white guy. But the food writing workshop was a gazillion times more diverse.
Of the 100 attendees in Brooklyn, about two-thirds were women. Nearly half the attendees were African-American. Maybe 20 percent were white, and the rest were Asian, Latinx, and other people of color. And the crowd skewed younger in general than the wine writers do. Although it’s difficult to tell for sure, I was one of only three gray-haired, middle-aged white guys in attendance.
I was really happy to see some openly queer people there, too. One of them, Elazar Sontag, moderated a panel on food and activism. I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone like him at any discussion of wine writing.
So, why haven’t I?
Before thinking about why, I had to check to make sure the wine writing conference/workshop world hadn’t changed since my last foray a few years ago. I asked a couple of people who attended more recent wine bloggers’ conferences. They told me that the attendees are nearly evenly split by gender these days. This makes sense – according to surveys, women drink more wine than men do, so there ought to be plenty of women writing about wine. But if you look at the racial make-up, it’s as white as I remember it.
I should note up front that this discussion is about events dedicated to food and wine writing, not gatherings or meet-ups to talk about food and wine with some writing discussion thrown in. I also have to note that the food and wine writing events I’m discussing here are very different from one another. The Food Writer’s Workshop is one-day long with a $15 entry fee and thousands of potential attendees who live within a couple of hours’ train ride. The Wine Bloggers’ Conference is a two-day conference that takes place in a different wine region each year. Even with registration scholarships and discounts for non-industry bloggers, there are significant expenses for transportation, lodging, and food for most of the attendees.
Perhaps neither of these gatherings is truly representative of either wine or food writers. Maybe there are smaller, more diverse wine writer meetings I don’t know about. I met more African-Americans who write about wine at the food writing workshop than in all my years in the wine business, so it’s possible that the actual wine writing world is more diverse than the conferences that purport to serve them. And while currently there are many popular mainstream (not necessarily cuisine-specific) cookbooks written by people of color, I’d have been hard-pressed to name more than a few of them even five years ago. The tippy-top of the food writing world is less white than it used to be, although there’s room for improvement. And according to some of the (racially diverse) higher-echelon panelists at the workshop, continuous diversity improvement is a goal for their industry.
But still, really? Why hadn’t I recognized this difference before now? I hadn’t questioned the uniformity of what I’d seen of the wine writing world in the past, even though other people have written about it in recent years. I’d even seen some pushback against it at the 2012 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, but didn’t think more about it after the extremely limited post-conference discussion ended.
No excuses on my part. But I still want to begin to understand the why, even in a limited way. In the next couple of posts, I’ll look at the barriers to entry for wine writing vs. food writing, and how the wine and wine writing communities may – however inadvertently — contribute to the problem. Obviously, I’m not the only person who has tried to discuss this topic, and I’ll likely make mistakes. I’ll try to do my homework first and include other people’s perspectives. And please e-mail me or comment with your experiences and opinions, too. The more voices, the better.
The food writers’ workshop included lunch, and it’s a challenge to feed 100+ people with different dietary goals. The organizers settled on samosas, and they’re a good choice since they’re easily made vegan (although these weren’t gluten-free). I like the idea of samosas, but not necessarily the frying part. Not because I don’t like deep-fried goodness (or even shallow-fried goodness, for that matter), but it’s difficult to make the samosas ahead for a party or dinner if you’re going to fry them. Either you’re stuck in the kitchen before serving them, or they’re reheated and lose some of their magic.
So I use pie pastry instead of samosa (or empanada) dough and bake them like turnovers. They’re easier to reheat, or to pop in the oven when your guests arrive. I came up with this recipe for cauliflower and potato samosas for a group dinner. The hosts picked flower/flour power as the theme and we all had to make our assigned courses. Cy and I made appetizers, and we thought that samosas with pie dough (flour) using cauli – flower would fit both parts of the theme.
The light spiciness of the filling makes a more robust white wine a good pairing. Château d’Assas Blanc ($16) is from the Languedoc and it’s a blend of Viognier, Vermentino, Roussanne, White Grenache, and Marsanne. It’s typical to find white blends like this in the region, and although the blend may change slightly from vintage to vintage, the aim is to provide flavor and balance. This one pretty much has it all!
Chilled dough for 3 9-inch single crust pies (see note below)
3/4 pound Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
3 cups cauliflower florets cut into pieces no larger than ¼-inch (or use packaged cauliflower rice)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
1 serrano chile (or 1 small jalapeño), stemmed and finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
Juice and zest of one lime
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Tamarind chutney for serving (optional, recipe is here)
For the filling: Boil the potato cubes in 2 quarts of salted water until nearly tender. Add the cauliflower and continue to boil for 5 minutes. Drain, then spread on a baking sheet to cool and dry out a bit.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the cumin seed for a few seconds until you start to smell the aroma, then add the onion and sauté until the edges of the onion pieces start to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and chile, and cook for 30 seconds or so. Stir in the salt, garam masala, and turmeric and cook for a minute. Then add the potato/cauliflower mixture and stir to coat everything. Cook for 3 minutes, then add ¼ cup of water and scrape up anything sticking to the pan. Cook for about 30 seconds more, then stir in the lime zest and juice. Taste for salt, then spread on a baking sheet to cool completely.
Pastry: On a lightly-floured surface, roll out each pie pastry into a square roughly 10 inches on a side. Cut into fourths.
Assembly: Divide the filling into 12 portions. Arrange each piece of pastry on the counter with one corner facing you, then put the filling below the midline of the diamond shape, leaving a border. Brush the inside edges of the pastry with water (or use a wet finger to do it), then fold the top down over the filling. Press to seal, then press with a fork to seal even more (and make them look pretty). Using a dry brush, brush the excess flour off each turnover. Place the completed turnovers on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for a half hour.
While the samosa turnovers are in the fridge, place two racks evenly in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Arrange the turnovers onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment, and brush them with the egg/water mixture. Cut a small slit in the top of each turnover to allow steam to escape. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven to 350 degrees F and bake for another 25 minutes or so. The samosas should be golden and the pastry cooked through.
Let the samosas cool for 15 minutes, then serve with the tamarind chutney or any sauce you like.
Note on pie pastry: If you’re making your own, shape the dough into a square before you chill it. That makes it easier to roll out. If you’re using prepared pie dough, start by folding four rounded edges in to make a rough square. Then roll it all into a larger square. Dust very lightly with flour, fold in quarters, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Then take it out and proceed with the recipe.