1 Minute Meal Pop-up at MOFAD
“If you get to feed someone and they tell you they love it… that’s success,” explained Michael Rogak of JoMart Chocolates during the opening reception of the “1 Minute Meal Pop-up” at Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD). Rogak is the self-proclaimed “son of a son of a candymaker” who has been helming his family’s East Brooklyn-based chocolate company for 42 years, and just one of the dozens of stories showcased in James Boo’s documentary series 1 Minute Meal. The series explores the lives and communities intertwined with the diverse food of New York City, and is on display at MOFAD now through September 3, and on NYC-area Edible magazine websites (Edible Queens, Edible Manhattan, Edible Brooklyn, Edible Bronx, and the Staten Island Advance) through September 1.
Queens, of course, is home to many such emblems of the NYC food scene. One film showcases the tradition of Ganesh Chaturthi, a multi-day Hindu festival honoring the deity and "remover of obstacles” Ganesha, hosted by the Ganesha temple in Flushing, Queens. Golden modak archana -- sweet dumplings fabled to be Ganesha's favorite food -- are shown being freshly prepared then carried off to offered to the deity. Another focuses on Elmhurst resident Jeannie Ongkeo, a 65-year-old retired chef who brings Lao cuisine to life when she partakes in tak bat, a simple ritual of feeding Buddhist monks who are forbidden from feeding themselves, explaining “You feel happy to feed a monk from your heart.”
Helen You, founder of celebrated Flushing dumpling house Dumpling Galaxy (who recently spoke with Edible Queens about her new cookbook) stars in another film, and later joined chocolatier Rogak and Brooklyn-based chef Lina Chavez of El Atoradero on a panel (moderated by Boo) to share what making and sharing food has meant to her and her family.
“My family’s kitchen was my playground,” explained You. “Making dumplings was a big part of my family’s tradition, and I started when I was twelve. My father lived in a Labor Camp twenty hours away, and I would make and bring him dumplings, to bring him a connection to home.”
You left her corporate job and decided to open a dumpling business because she knew she could make better dumplings than the ones she had had in New York City. Chavez created her Mexican restaurant for the same reason -- she knew she could make better authentic food for her community.
“Some people make food for selling. I make food for eating,” explained Chavez. Everyone on the panel smiled and agreed.
Although each film in the 1 Minute Meal series is short by definition, it is evident Boo put in an abundance of time with each of his subjects. There is an intimacy and familiarity that shines through, as if Boo has known each subject for twenty years. He captures the vibrancy of the people and their food with technical skill and thoughtfulness, and images of tortillas puffing and a Greenpoint chef affectionately nuzzling his dog linger long after the minute is over.
Following the panel discussion was a live performance of traditional Mongolian folk music, featuring a vocalist and a performer on the cello-like two-stringed instrument morin khuur (the celebration of Mongolian ancestry during an annual picnic on Roosevelt Island is the focus of another of Boo’s films), and samples from Chavez’s El Atorado, Rogak’s JoMart Chocolates, and You’s Dumpling Galaxy. Guests shared food while talking to the stars from the films/panel, the musicians, and Boo. The culture shown on screen was brought to life and back into the community, where it belongs most.