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FoodTalk: A conversation about people and food

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Food isn’t just for foodies. It’s the one thing that unites us, according to Maryellen Burns, one of the creators of June’s upcoming FoodTalk series at Cafe Bernardo, which will feature four different workshops with an emphasis on food culture and community.

The FoodTalk series will include four workshops each Saturday in June. Each $15 session will include conversations about food. Food and beverages will be provided by Cafe Bernardo.

“The one thing that brings people together across economics, across politics and religion is food and this desire for community,” Burns said.

“It’s something that everybody can be an expert on. Everybody likes food. Everybody has an opinion about it, and anybody can voice it.”

The first two workshops are a blind tasting of Cafe Bernardo’s food, and fun things like jellybeans on June 4, and a conversation with blogger and author of “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” Hank Shaw, which will be moderated by journalist and cookbook author Elaine Corn on June 11.

The final two will be Kitchen Diaries, a workshop where participants will create their own cookbooks with artist Joy Gee and writer Janice Kelley on June 18, and a cookbook sale and swap on June 25.

Burns said she chose these four workshops because she wanted to be able to continue with more workshops in the future. They plan to replicate or build upon these workshops in the future, using different senses, different authors and different people coming together to talk about food.

“One has a writing component, one has a talk component, one has an art component and the last one is just for fun,” she said.

For the blind tasting, participants will be partnered and blindfolded. It is said that “we eat with our eyes, and taste with our nose,” according to Burns, who will lead the workshop with Lynn Gowdy.

She said the senses become heightened, but so does discourse, because people become forced to describe how things taste and feel rather than how they look, Burns said.

She said the reason for blind tasting was to develop a vocabulary about food, whether you are a foodie, a food writer, blogger or just a person who enjoys eating and talking about food.

She said the intention is to be able to taste a series of things and write or say what immediately comes to mind. To do so, there will be a series of exercises to facilitate different ways of describing food by flavors, textures and taste.

Author Hank Shaw will engage in an interactive conversation with Elaine Corn and participants about his food philosophy and his new book, "Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast," which was released Tuesday. He also has a blog, “Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook,” which was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010.

“He’s a great speaker,” Burns said. “His facility with language and ability to uncover the hidden truth is really appealing.”

“There’s been this whole movement toward foraging and looking at sustainability, so he’s a great person to be able to have because he’s been a hunter, a forager, a fisherman, and a line cook, but he’s also a trained journalist,” she said.

For Kitchen Diaries, food and craft come together. People can bring in their own recipes, clip art, anecdotes and stories to tell, and they will leave having created a handcrafted cookbook supplied by FoodTalk.

Burns said she is most excited for the cookbook sale and swap, and it has received the most interest.

Participants can bring up to five food books and swap with any of the other participants. Burns said she hopes people will leave with some new cookbooks, food memoirs and maybe even a signed copy by one of the local cookbook authors present, and perhaps a new friend.

Burns said she expects the blind tasting and Kitchen Diaries workshop sessions to be the smallest with about 15 participants because she wanted them to be more intimate and hands-on.

“The idea was we wanted to have hands-on workshops where people actually are a part of the process and create,” she said.

The Hank Shaw and the cookbook swap workshops will mostly likely be the largest. She expects as many as 40 for the Shaw talk, and double that for the swap.

Cafe Bernardo Manager Jamie Marcus said this is a wonderful opportunity for the restaurant and Sacramento food lovers.

“I think just for us to be a part of it gives us a chance to showcase in a different venue, not just for diners, but for a series like this to showcase our food in a unique fashion,” Marcus said.

Burns said there has been a food movement booming in Sacramento and across the country.

Cafe Bernardo Chef Shannan Berg said she believes that people are becoming more conscious of food and their environment. She said her food philosophy has always been about choosing food that is local, seasonal and sustainable.

“I think there’s more awareness and people are more interested in what they’re eating,” Berg said.

“The more information that people gather, the more conscious they are about what they put in their mouths. When more people get together to talk about food, it opens up another world. I think it’s a good starting point,” she said

The FoodTalk series is just a starting point for Burns and her food crew, Burns said. They plan on doing more workshops in the future and other food-related projects – working on a cookbook, talking about food agriculture, kids in the kitchen, library talks and a food forum website.

“We’re more than just the talks. We have a pretty big vision, and this is just the first step,” Burns said. “Food will always be involved. We believe in the things that unite us and divide us, and we want to concentrate on things that unite us, and food is the simplest way to (do that), for anybody.”

The FoodTalk series is sponsored by MatrixArts, a nonprofit organization that blends the visual, literary, performing and culinary arts. All proceeds from the series will benefit Friends Around the Table, Friends of the Ella K. McClatchy Library and upcoming free workshops at the library in the fall.

For more information, visit their website.

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