Geoffrey Drummond spent 35 years doing television production for such food stars as James Beard, Julia Child and Jacques Pépin when the focus was on homemakers who wanted to learn new recipes and basic cooking skills.
But the food world has evolved since then — and so has the conversation around it.
“Over the past 50 or so years, we’ve gone from how to cook to how and what we eat,” Drummond said. “Food has become a central theme in daily conversations about everything from fitness and health, travel and entertainment, even climate and sustainability.”
These topics triggered conversations with his longtime friend Robert Reeves, associate provost of the Stony Brook Southampton Graduate Arts campus. Stony Brook Southampton already offers entrepreneurial programs in creative arts and media, such as the Southampton Writers Conference, so creating a food-related center or program at this location was not a far-fetched concept, Drummond reasoned.
“I wanted to create a hub of conversation where people could commune with each other and share their interest, curiosity and knowledge about food and drink,” Drummond said, “especially as it relates to our region of Long Island, steeped in a tradition of farming, fishing and now winemaking, beer brewing and distilling.”
What was needed, he and Reeves decided, was a culinary social impact center. And so, four years ago the Food Lab was baked into the campus, with Drummond as its executive director.
The Food Lab has a media component to create, document, archive and distribute culinary content through television, film, digital and audio. A partnership with the Amagansett Food Institute and its South Fork Kitchens incubator program helps provide small-batch food production space, entrepreneurial training and technical assistance to food businesses and related enterprises. And the education initiative is driving innovative programs with local food pantries, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and the Faculty Student Association at Stony Brook University.
But the main ingredient is the annual Food Lab Conference, now in its fourth year. This year’s focus is “Eat Global … Cook Local,” and features speakers who have created businesses, such as The League of Kitchens and Emma’s Torch, that provide new food-based opportunities for newly arrived immigrants.
The conference, which will take place on the Southampton campus September 14–15, is expected to draw about 150 people.
According to Reeves, the annual event attracts top national talent, from chefs to journalists, authors to TV personalities, farmers and fishers, winemakers and distillers.
“This year’s conference is especially exciting, addressing from a local perspective some of our most important national issues — globalism, diversity, immigration, assimilation,” Reeves said. “Once again, we’ll explore the basic question of what we eat and drink, with whom, where it comes from and who produces it — and how these questions connect to our health and wellness.”
The keynote speaker is Pati Jinich, a James Beard award winner and Emmy nominee for her series Pati’s Mexican Table. A live cooking demonstration features Chopped champion chef Nicholas Poulmentis, who said the conference theme “gives me goosebumps.”
“There are so many interesting ingredients and cultures that have been combined and become one great flavor,” Poulmentis said. “To combine recipes and ideas to create dishes is an important thing. I believe in it and that’s why I cook with a connection with all of the cultures on the plate.”
There are also several panels, including “Nutrition + Health: Old Ways, New Science,” which will include Chrisa Arcan, assistant professor of nutrition at Stony Brook University, and Shawn Cannon, chief academic officer of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
Tickets to the conference are $150; student price $75. More information and to buy tickets, visit https://thefoodlab.org/2018-food-lab-conference/.
— Liza N. Burby