Author: Robert Stepanek

2015 SOFI™ AWARDS

The first time I laid eyes upon the statuette given to the winners of the SOFI™ Awards – the annual honors recognizing outstanding achievement in the realm of specialty foods – I detected a distinct familiarity about the form, but couldn’t immediately place it. While the figure is fundamentally modeled on ‘Oscar’, the three-dimensional logo of the Academy Awards, in that it is bisymmetrical, golden, standing erect, and holding an object (appositely a serving platter instead of a sword), there was another aspect to it that struck me as reminiscent of an iconic predecessor – namely, the head. The SOFI statuette, you see, is apparently wearing a chef’s toque, but not one that is clearly delineated; rather the sculpting is more evocative than realistic, so that the abstracted headwear resembles as much a bulbous projection extending the cranium as a hat sitting atop it.

And then I had it – the SOFI statue is a Kanamit!

TARTAN WEEK 2015

While so many aspects of Scottish heritage have influenced North American culture that it’s easy to take them for granted, it’s always a grand occasion to celebrate them during Tartan Week, which will be unfolding from April 6-11. The expanding slate of events, featuring daily concerts, parties, and of course capped off by the 17th Annual Tartan Day Parade down Sixth Avenue on Saturday, April 11th, was announced at St. Andrews restaurant, at 140 West 46 Street – a site of a number of the events in store.

BEER, BOURBON & BBQ FESTIVAL 2015

Lots of folks dread the winter, spending the colder months on the calendar biding their time and pining for the days when they can once again venture out of doors without layer-upon-layer of clothing to protect them from the lower temperatures and occasional inclement elements. Poor souls. Even though that doesn’t describe me, as I prefer colder weather, there is something I have in common with many of those with a more delicate constitution even during the short days and longer nights of January – an appreciation for the heartier fare in food and drink both more available in and more apropos to wintertime.

THE 65TH NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS

It’s traditional for the National Book Awards Dinner and Ceremony to be hosted by an emcee who straddles the worlds of publishing and celebrity, and often these luminaries will have had a book of their own released during the previous year – which enables them a good opportunity for cross-promotion, as their books may be included along with the finalists’ titles arrayed on the dinner tables for attendees at the gala to take home with them after the proceedings. Recent previous hosts have included actors John Lithgow and Eric Bogosian, and while the 2014 master-of-ceremonies Daniel Handler isn’t as known for film or stage performances as the aforementioned, his literary alias as Lemony Snicket is the publishing world equivalent of a character role. Of course, he also publishes under his given name, and it was in that guise he carried out his duties on the evening of November 19th.

2014 NEW YORK CITY WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL

Every October there are many traditional rituals marking the Autumnal season, and some of the most satisfying of these celebrate the Summer harvest by offering an array of foods and drink meant to be enjoyed communally. For the last several years a highlight of this season in New York has been the New York City Wine and Food Festival, an offshoot of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival; from October 16-19 countless events scheduled as part of the Festival took place in various sites in New York City, enabling New Yorkers the chance to sample a dizzying assortment of gustatory delights.

NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS 2014 – SHORTLIST & 5 UNDER 35 ANNOUNCED

The Longlist for the 2014 National Book Awards, announced last month, has been pared down to the five titles in each category, which comprise the finalists for prizes this year. Along with the previous announcement of the lineup for the 5 Under 35 event, which leads off the annual 3-day celebration organized by The National Book Foundation to honor the best in American publishing, this brings into focus the authors who will be at the center of the festivities of National Book Week next month.

MONTCALM PORTFOLIO TASTING

It’s not altogether unusual for wine tastings in New York to take place in venues that often boast a unique atmosphere, whether one is considering aspects of ambiance, architecture, history or grandeur in a setting. Nonetheless it’s rare when an event space features a combination of all of the aforementioned elements – particularly when the history in question has been earth shaking and is yet still evolving. Such was the case on the afternoon of September 15th when Montcalm Wine Importers, Ltd [www.montcalmwines.com] had a portfolio tasting at the 7 World Trade Center address where the firm is located. The tasting floor overlooked from the north the pit of Ground Zero, where one could glance out and see the progress of the memorial and other developments there that are at long last replacing the downed towers.

NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS 2014 – LONGLIST ANNOUNCEMENT

With the announcement this week of the Longlist for the 2014 National Book Awards, the previous year of outstanding achievements in American publishing, as adjudged by writers and peers in the realm of letters, has come into focus. The National Book Foundation, which presents the annual awards, has assembled panels overseeing the four categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Young People’s Literature, and after reading all of the submissions – which must be written by American authors and published by American publishers, and typically range in number from approximately 150 titles in Poetry to over 500 in Nonfiction – the respective panels have settled on 10 titles from which in mid-October they will cull the shortlist of five finalists in each discipline. Thereafter, there will be a public reading of the finalists’ work on November 18th, and the following day the four winners will be chosen by the respective panels over lunch prior to the announcement of their selections at the evening gala awards ceremony on November 19th.

JERKY BOYS

Among the number of specialty food niches one could survey at the International Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center this year I was particularly struck by the expanding varieties of packaged dried meat products – and this was only in the North Pavilion annexed to the main building of the Javits. Certainly I have noted more and more different brands of various beef and other jerkys on offer in the supermarkets, delis and specialty food shops around the city, but the International Fancy Food show, as always, featured varieties I had no prior knowledge of. After sampling a number of these over the time since the show, I can offer an account (by no means exhaustive) of notable products in this area.

USTA FLAVOR OF THE OPEN

Each year when August comes, New Yorkers can count on several annual rituals that mark the waning days of Summer. The movers and shakers who’re determined to wring every last bit of hard-earned relaxation from the season decamp even more fervently to the Hamptons and other points east (and north, for that matter), and this in turn leads to an events calendar in the city drastically pared down from the typical hurly-burly. As September nears, however, the human tide flows back to the metropolitan area, and perhaps the biggest happening signaling this shift is the US Open tennis tournament, the showpiece event of the USTA (United States Tennis Association).