Apr 25, 2017
Q + A with Kimberly Chou & Amanda Dell

If you’re looking for a place where everybody you admire (small and big) in the food world are gathered under one roof, we would highly recommend attending the Food Book Fair. (Think: Amanda Hesser, April Bloomfield, Frank Bruni, Elisabeth Prueitt, Homa Dashtaki, and our very own, Alison Cayne.) This year’s fair alone, which will be held at the Ace Hotel from May 11 to 14, can make your mind dizzy with the breadth and depth curated speakers, workshops, and independent food media. The two women behind the four-day event, Kimberly Chou and Amanda Dell, run a tight ship to make this happen each year. But they are driven by the hope that FBF will continue to nurture new connections, satiate the curious, and ultimately, inspire.



Amanda Dell (left) and Kimberly Chou (right) (Photo by Mackenzie Anne Smith)


How did you two meet?
Kim: We met through Food Book Fair! I started working on the third annual fair in 2014, with the event’s founder Elizabeth Thacker Jones. I was producing Foodieodicals — our signature food magazine festival within the fair – and Amanda was repping Small Thyme Cooks, “the world’s first culinary coloring and activity book” at the event, on behalf of a friend and now client, Andre Hueston Mack.

We got to know each other because where other folks would simply email about event logistics, questions, zine needs, and what not, Amanda would pick up the phone and call — and she kept calling, and started working on Food Book Fair related projects later that year. Two years later, we took over the whole damn thing as business partners.

Amanda: Very accurate recounting of events! Quick shoutout to Andre: We’re serving his amazing Mouton Noir wines at our Friday night “New Americana” dinner. If you’re not down with O.P.P. (Other Peoples Pinot), you will be after the dinner.


For people who have never been to the Food Book Fair – what can they expect to see?
Kim: Food Book Fair offers something for everyone, but with a specific vision of what that is. The Fair overall is inspired by great food media — books, of course, but also independent magazines, TV, film, radio, visual art, performance — and aims to elevate and provide space for emerging and lesser-recognized voices and entities. We’re especially hyped to showcase and support folks of color, women, queer folks in the food space, and emphasize independent publishing and zine making through Foodieodicals. Though we certainly have a few splashier events and chefs or authors who are household names involved, and certainly the former and latter are not always mutually exclusive.

There are tons of magazines from all over the world, dinners, hands-on workshops and intimate salon-style stalks, Literary Speed Dating with top agents and editors, guest chef breakfasts and dinners, parties, good music, a pop-up book shop with our partners Kitchen Arts & Letters. And of course, lots of food and drink.

Amanda: We also hope you’ll see a lot of friends and colleagues too, plus those that you have admired or followed from afar and now have the opportunity to make that in-real-life connection. Nothing makes us happier than when Food Book Fair gives our community the chance to take a relationship off the page and into a face-to-face meet-up.


FBF2016_Credit-Liz-Clayman_700Photo by Liz Claymen 

How did the Food Book Fair start?

Kim: Elizabeth Thacker Jones, Food Book Fair’s founder, started the event as her graduate thesis project when she was in New York University’s Food Studies program. There were two tracts in the program: food systems, or food culture. And she thought, what about an event that merged both and explored the intersections between them? And, voila.


What was that “aha” moment for you — what did you feel had been missing from the food world?
Kim: As Elizabeth described it, at the time when Food Book Fair started, there wasn’t really anything that mixed food culture and food systems into one big event. The event is also equally inspired by other big creative expo events like the New York and LA Art Book Fairs as well as the pop-up Scholastic book fairs we used to have in elementary school. (Tangential shout out to Troll book-order form.) I think Elizabeth was a nerd, and I know I was a total nerd, and my sheer joy when the school library would be setting up for the book fair in the days in advance? I try to think of that when we’re deep in the middle of load-in or load-out …


What’s essential in a creative and productive partnership? What makes Food Book Fair run?
Kim: We each know our strengths and play to them, as well as recognize what each partner prefers to do and would rather not do — like, if I handle X soul-numbing-to-you task and I don’t mind doing it, and if you handle Y task that I would really rather not have to handle, great.

I think we’re eternally working on being better listeners (I don’t think you can ever stop improving on that). We lift each other up. We always make sure there are snacks.

Also, we’re friends outside of work! It can be hard to remember that if you like to hang out and go to events, or check out new bars or restaurants with people you work with… because that’s sometimes what we do for work, anyway! But we try to remember to take the work hat off when it’s time, or do fun stuff together we both like that isn’t, say, checking out the latest pop-up.

Amanda: The ability to have open and sometimes wacky brainstorms. Often our best ideas have in some way started as an off-the-cuff thought that we have morphed into workable next steps.

Dividing and conquering is key, as well as delegating. We’re in the stage where we both want to be involved as much as possible, but have begun to realize how much more we can do by trusting each other implicitly and staying in the lanes we have devised for ourselves.


PopupBookshop2_ClayWilliams_700 Photo by Clay Williams


How do you curate your speakers? How have you been able to get such an all-star roster of speakers and presenters?
Kim: Amanda was in hospitality for a long time, and before this I worked in media and journalism. And working on this together, we’ve met more and more people. You get less shy — or try to. And you simply reach out. A lot of different chefs, writers, artists, designers, and wine makers from our past lives have also resurfaced in this current situation we’re building together, which I think speaks to an ability and continued desire to build real relationships and friendships that last.

We make a long list of dream participants every year. Then we ask, and we see what happens. We also make a long list of books, recent publications, trends, historical topics, news, etc., and look at that as we build the program.

That said, for me as a woman of color working in food, I’m especially moved to create space for other folks of color and other folks whose voices have been historically marginalized in mainstream food and media spaces. Here’s the thing: Queer folks and folks of color are making the most vital, boundary-pushing, straight-up interesting contributions to art, culture, food and media today, in my opinion. We’re making the dopest shit! Why not amplify that as much as possible?


Has Food Book Fair evolved over the past five/six years? And where would like you like to see Food Book Fair five years from now?
Amanda: We think so! It’s been super exciting to build on the foundation that Elizabeth started by expanding O.G FBF events like Foodieodicals, while having the chance to create new events like Literary Speed Dating and our guest chef collaboration meals.


Any major plans on the horizon for the both of you?
Kim: We’re trying to take Food Book Fair on the road and figuring out how to do that with purpose and intention, and in a financially-sound way!

In June I’ll be in Detroit for the Allied Media Conference, part of a group of fellow travelers coordinating a food track. This is a gathering of media organizers and is all about people using print, technology, music, and art to build a more creative and just world.


Copy-of-LizClayman_041015_074_700Photo by Liz Clayman 


What do you do to recharge/reset?
Kim: I sit in the steam room at the McBurney YMCA on 14th Street for as long as I can stand it, drinking water and sometimes deep conditioning my hair. If I’m really lucky on the time-front and feeling leisurely, then I swim — all my best ideas come when swimming — and then get back in the steam room.

Amanda: I love visiting my friends at The Pantry in Cold Spring, NY — they have an incredible cafe, roastery and bottle shop. It’s so rejuvenating to immerse yourself in the fresh air and treat your eyes to a brand new set of visuals.

In the summer and fall, the locale that helps me relax the most is Kismet, Fire Island. From the moment you step on the ferry in Bay Shore, your blood pressure automatically drops. My happy place is spending the weekend there, cooking every meal from scratch and not wearing shoes once.


What’s the most-used cookbook in your home right now?
Kim: The Saltie cookbook, and Amy Chaplin’s At Home In the Whole Food Kitchen. It changed my life, and my pantry.

Amanda: Dinner at the Long Table


What book/media (food related or otherwise) is your current obsession?
Kim: My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris. Grub Street Diet, always. Sweetbitter author Stephanie Danler’s literary Instagram posts, specifically poetry.

Amanda: At Balthazar by Reggie Nadelson, Vice Munchies “Chef’s Night Out” video series, the New York Times’ culture podcast Still Processing with Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris


WytheFBF_LizClayman_700Photo by Liz Clayman


What do you want people who come to Food Book Fair to come away with?
Kim: Inspiration. Concrete knowledge. Strategies for building the kind of food media world we wish to see. Lots of new books from Kitchen Arts & Letters, magazines from Foodieodicals, and other cool swag.

Amanda: Food Book Fair has also turned into an incredible, and genuine—I say that genuinely—place for friends, accomplices and peers in our food community to gather and meet — sometimes for the first time. We hear often of writers meeting their agents or editors, or epistolary relationships between food bloggers that are actualized IRL at our event. We love that.

Ali will be in conversation with Amanda Hesser, co-founder, Food52 on the topic of “finding community” moderated by Charlotte Druckman, author, Stir, Sizzle, Bake. 
Friday, May 12 at 11am •  For tickets, click here. Friends of Haven’s Kitchen get 10% off with the code: HAVENSKITCHEN