Our Town downtown
May 14, 2007
Adding food to the videos we rented in our sleepy suburb on weekends seemed like a decent way to enhance the experience, in high school. Bruce Lee met takeout from Happy Wok. “Donnie Brasco” was accompanied by plates of pasta. But it didn’t last beyond the second of such two-dork film festivals.
But The Chowdown, a food-media event with a slightly higher profile, had several runs before friends and co-founders, DJ/designer Joe Encarnacion and Flavorpill editor Anna Balkrishna, brought it East with them when they moved here.
The first New York Chowdown took place last month at APT in the Meatpacking District, and paired Little Owl chef Joey Campanaro with DJ Brennan Green.
The second Chowdown brought Kampuchea chef Ratha Chau together with DJ James F!@#$%^ Friedman, for a night of Cambodian street food and back-alley New York electro and techno.
How did you come up with this concept?
A little over a year ago, we started having a dinner party in my apartment [in San Francisco]. It was mostly just an excuse to hang out with a lot of our DJ friends out there, and to record their mixes. I’m kind of a music hoarder, so I like to collect a lot of music and things that are specifically mixed for certain occasions. It was pretty quaint back in San Francisco. It was a very intimate vibe. It was a dinner party and us just kind of bullshitting on the mike. But, when we posted the mixes online and started kind of promoting it, we had a really great response, you know, hundreds of hits a day. And people really liked the mixes and the vibe we were going for – this impromptu kind of radio show, dinner party thing.
So, when I came out here, Justin Carter from APT happened to get a hold of me through The Chowdown Web site, and he said ‘hey, let’s get it going here. And let’s boost the production value. Let’s bring in some good chefs.’
Can you compare it to San Francisco in terms of music?
In a lot of ways they’re similar. San Francisco, the only difference is it’s like a small town. There’s a lot of [kinds] of different music out there, but it’s very similar. There’s hip hop DJs, there’s electronic DJs. In San Francisco, I was definitely more immersed in the electronic music scene. It just so happened that all my friends out there spun that type of music. Out here, you get a way larger city, a lot more diverse kind of tastes.
What types of DJ music are popular here, right now?
The New York fixtures [are] like from the DFA [Records] camp and pretty much anything coming out of France right now. But the point of being a DJ is to develop your own sound, and when you’re just paying attention to what’s popular, it’s very hard to do that.
How do select the type of music and the chef for a Chowdown?
I think, in general, electronic music, dance music or DJ-type music is you know, a little bit of a stretch if you try to pair it with food. But then again, these are two of the things that kind of seemingly go together, just because people obsess about both of these things, constantly, like me. So we try to do a regional theme or like, let’s say Chicago house and Chicago old school acid classics. Next month we’re having a kind of dirty south, soul food pairing. And maybe, I don’t know, German techno versus German foods, schnitzel (laughs) or whatever. It’s all in good fun. We’re not trying to really push the theme that much. But any kind of ties we can kind of use as fodder for the little radio show is always fun.
What is the radio show about?
You can download the little podcast. Basically, we just record the whole event. It’s us hosting the thing. It’s me as kind of the MC, and Anna as the hostess, like I said, just bullshitting on the mike while these guys play music. And we’re not formally trained radio DJs. But, we can get on there and just talk about the food, talk about the DJs, talk about the tracks, just talk about the vibe. And we encourage people to get up maybe, on the mike, if they have something clever to say. But, at the same time, it’s not an open mike night. We still want to have the music be the forefront of the quote unquote radio show, the podcasts.
Are the chefs preparing things that wouldn’t ordinarily appear on the menus of their restaurants?
Generally we pick the musical theme first and then see if the chef is into it. And if they are, we have a good event. Generally, it’s good because both food and music are an easy sell to DJs. We can get DJs to come in easy, because like ‘hey, free meal,’ you know?
Do the chefs get paid?
We pay the chefs a little bit. It’s nothing substantial. We give them a fixed budget for themselves and for food. Truthfully, we’re not making any money. This is just all for the fun.