Adventures in food

For New York City alums, the tenth month is called Foodtober.

Say hello, Day of Service. Make room, Feb Club. Yalies in the New York City area have another annual point of alumni connectivity: Foodtober, a monthlong cornucopia of panel discussions, tastings, urban-farm tours, and classes, with a dollop of networking.

A celebration and examination of our relationship to what we eat, the series of October happenings was founded five years ago by Billy Kolber ’86, a board member of the Yale Alumni Association of New York (or Yale.NYC). Kolber, who also chairs Foodtober, says the event has several purposes. It helps Yale.NYC engage with other community organizations. It educates Yale alumni about food—its creation, preparation, history, and sustainability. And then there’s the aspect of fun. As Kolber says, “there are a lot of Yalies doing interesting food stuff.”

By now, some of Foodtober’s educational and culinary activities are proven hits. The visit to Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm “sells out the fastest,” Kolber says. It brings city kids and parents up to a literal rooftop to see carrots growing and chickens laying. Attendees can sip a cappuccino as they get their hands dirty, check out the state-of-the-art composting system, or enjoy the beehives and the stunning Manhattan view. The tour attendees are typically shocked, says Frank Raffaele ’95, to find a “full city block, a one-acre farm” that produces tens of thousands of pounds of organic produce every year atop an urban roof. Raffaele is the founder of Coffeed, a restaurant and coffee bar chain that cosponsors the tours. In turn, the tours—like all Foodtober events—raise funds for the Yale Sustainable Food Program and the nonprofits Just Food and City Growers (which runs the rooftop farm).

The intellectual side of Foodtober is always popular. The Metropolitan Museum of Art itself has participated, with after-hours talks on, for example, food symbolism in Netherlandish art. But most Foodtober discussions start with a group of panelists. Sustainable eating has been a hot topic for several years, with participants such as the Billion Oyster Project and Marion Lear Swaybill, author of Oysters: A Celebration in the Raw. (A happy hour followed, with hors d’oeuvres supplied by Luke’s Lobster.) Rafi Taherian, head of Yale Hospitality (see page 34), and Mark Bomford, director of the Yale Sustainable Food Program, have taken part in a panel on how to feed the world without destroying the planet. Food entrepreneurship was explored in a panel featuring the founders of several different ventures: two restaurant chains, a cheese supplier to restaurants, and a high-end event-planning business—Plate and Decanter, founded by Marissa Ain ’04.

There are always service projects during Foodtober, says Ilona Emmerth ’98, senior director of volunteering and community engagement at the Association of Yale Alumni. Volunteers serve meals at a soup kitchen or provide meals for the homebound, among other projects. “You get to know people you wouldn’t otherwise,” she says. “It’s not just sitting in a lecture taking information in; it’s working side by side.”

New for 2017: attendees can sign up for dinner with Yale history professor Paul Freedman (see page 54), author of the 2016 book Ten Restaurants that Changed America. He’ll discuss his own deep dive into the culture of food. Also on the menu for this fall is a benefit dinner to raise money for the MAD Yale Leadership Summit, in which leading chefs visit Yale to discuss the future of food. (MAD, a nonprofit, works on food issues.) That’s in addition to the generally sold-out Foodie Networking Dinner, a vegan feast held at the Natural Gourmet Institute.

Yalies who want to stretch their own food skills can sign up for designated group classes at the De Gustibus Cooking School in Manhattan. “Every big chef you’ve ever heard of has taught there,” Kolber says. “It’s a display kitchen classroom, so it’s like food TV—but live. You watch chefs do what they do, and then each course is plated for you. You can ask questions and go back and forth. You’ll see the food stars of the future.”

Emmerth says she would love to see Foodtober’s mix of camaraderie, learning, and public interest expanded to other cities. “Food is everywhere and universal,” she adds. “Maybe that’s why Foodtober is so compelling.” For some, it’s also a resource. Henry “Hank” Tibensky ’03 opened Hank’s Juicy Beef, a sandwich shop in downtown Manhattan, after a few years of research at Foodtober events. And the networking helped when he made the choice to quit his job in financial planning and go into business on his own. “The Yale experience,” he says, “never stops.”

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