Social Justice, Food, Drink Converge at Three Day Blow Fest

By McKay, Gretchen | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 24, 2016 | Go to article overview

Social Justice, Food, Drink Converge at Three Day Blow Fest


McKay, Gretchen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Some of the food world's biggest thinkers, writers and innovators are descending on Pittsburgh for a three-day conversation about how the region's food culture has helped remake a city.

The Three Day Blow Festival, which runs Thursday through Saturday, brings together such heavy hitters such as Michael Solomonov of Zahav fame (owner of the Philadelphia restaurant and the 2016 James Beard Award-winning cookbook) and award-winning chef/food activist/author Bryant Terry. They'll talk about how food and drink don't just celebrate one's heritage - they also cultivate community and support the systems we depend on, such as farming and the arts.

"Pittsburgh is progressing in real time," says Mr. Solomonov, who grew up in Squirrel Hill. He started to cook as a teenager in Israel and after his brother, David, was killed in 2003 while serving in the Israeli army, embarked on his journey to define modern Israeli cooking in America. "It's moving and changing and innovating."

Other presenters include drinks writer (and Western Pennsylvania native) David Wondrich, who will kick off the event Thursday night with a talk about Pennsylvania rye at the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland. Editors and writers from national publications such as Eater, Serious Eats, Martha Stewart and Wine Enthusiast also will participate in more than two dozen "brainy breakout sessions and quirky programming" and participants will get to interact with local food experts, too.

The event was organized by Meredith Grelli, co-owner of Wigle Whiskey in the Strip District, from an idea hatched last July at the Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans. Her presentation on Monongahela Rye, a type of whiskey made in Pennsylvania before Prohibition, "was such a nerdy talk, and ill-suited for the crowd," she recalls. It got her thinking about planning a different kind of food and drinks conference - something more regional and reflective - and host it in her hometown.

"Pittsburgh proved a really easy sell" in light of its recent string of accolades, she says. So starting in January, she set about finding partners and sponsors for a food-centric gathering that would examine "who we are and what we want to be going forward," and how food intersects with important topics such as politics, social justice, health and corporate influence.

"It's the right place at the right time," she says. "Pittsburgh is a perfect Petri dish of reinventing itself using food and drink as a means to explore character and identity."

More than 200 people from around the country have signed up for the conference, which will feature sessions ranging from how to pitch a food story to the evolution of the food critic. (Tickets are still available online and at the door.) There also will be author readings, city tours and food and drink events featuring homegrown eats. On Friday at the Wigle distillery on Smallman Street, there will be a pierogi pop-up with local booze and dumplings from Piccolo Forno, Apteka and Spice Island Tea House. …

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