Jane Black Talks Cake Icing, Edible Institute and Where She Likes to Eat in New York

You may know Jane Black’s work as an influential food writer. What you may not know about Jane is that she’s also a Brooklynite on a mission to crack the perfect birthday cake icing code.

jane black
You may know Jane Black’s work as an influential food writer and Edible contributor. What you may not know about Jane is that she’s also a Brooklynite on a mission to crack the perfect birthday cake icing code.

Leading up to Edible Institute on May 10-11, we caught up with Jane to learn about which panel she’s most looking forward to, as well as any food-related projects that she’s pursuing beyond her publicized work.

You can still join Jane and other food and drink leaders at Edible Institute where she will be leading a panel asking: “Can the food ‘revolution’ cross geographical, cultural and class boundaries?”

Edible Brooklyn: Why are you joining us at Edible Institute?
Jane Black: I am a huge fan of Edible Communities. I am a dedicated reader of Edible’s magazines wherever I travel; I find it a fantastic resource for those of us traveling with a food-focused perspective. I also love the warm fuzzies of this conference; everyone here has so much in common because we all love food.

Still, one of the reasons I wanted to come to Edible Institute is to try to encourage a new conversations and even disagreements about food. It’s fun but not particularly productive to go to a conference where everyone agrees. These days, I’m more interested in hearing conversations from different perspectives. I think the Edible Community is ready to have these deeper conversations, and is coming to terms with the realities of what it is really going to take to move the food movement forward.

EB: What speaker or session of the Edible Institute lineup looks particularly interesting to you?
JB: I’m particularly interested to hear Danielle Gould speak on Saturday about the expanding Foodtech space — I just think she’s one of the smartest people out there. Years ago, I jumped out of covering technology for food, which, let’s face it is much more fun. But I still think about those tech days. Her work bringing food and tech people together is really crucial — we need those tools to drive our progress.

Oh, and of course I’m excited about hearing Allen Katz talk about drink in the food movement. I always like people telling us why we should drink more.

EB: What topic or conversation stands out to you as powerful?  
I think that what underpins a lot of the things I see on the lineup, and I don’t know if this is just a projection of my lens, is how we make this work at a larger scale. For example, Paul Greenburg’s talk on small-scale fisheries: what he’s proposing isn’t providing a job for one guy, it’s changing an entire system so that we can all access fresh food. It’s exactly the same with the food waste conversation.

Independent journalism is close to my heart, so of course I’m excited about Sam Fromartz’s presentation on finding a way to make the economics of food journalism work.

EB: Tell us about a personal food-related project you’re working on, outside of your publicized work.
JB: I’ve noticed that you can cook an incredible meal for people, but it’s really the desserts that stop people in their tracks. I’m more of a cook than a baker; I like to bake, but I really get mad that if it turns out badly, I can’t fix it afterwards. So I’m trying to develop a file of go-to, absolutely reliable recipes for wonderful desserts that I can make or share. I’ve developed my own perfect sugar cookie recipe: chewy, with a hint of cardamom so it has that “OMG” factor, a perfect gingersnap recipe I won’t dare share, a birthday cake for my kid — I won’t even go into my tale of woe about the perfect birthday cake frosting!

EB: It sounds like a lot of fun!
JB: It really is. Because people who love to cook are always so critical of themselves. I have some friends who host a rotating Sunday night dinner and it’s funny: whoever is cooking will put together this really incredible, stunning meal. But at the end, the person would always say, “Well, I should have used snap peas, added a bit less spice, done this or that…” You can’t help wanting it to be perfect. With these recipes, I know I’ll be happy with the outcome.

EB: Where is the “food world” headed?
JB: Yeah, that’s kind of a big question. I’m tempted to leave it for Mark Bittman to answer! I could answer it in two different ways, one positive and one negative, and that scares me a little bit. Overall, I believe the concern about food and interest in good food is growing and will become more mainstream, but I worry that if we don’t find ways to communicate it in terms of equity and health, we’re going to end up with a two-tiered food system. We are already starting to see it.  Our food system reflects the society that we have, which is an inherently unequal one. The people who have the means, the money and the time go to farmers markets and intentionally source from one food chain (we call it the alternative) and everyone else gets their food from an industrial food system. I think that we have a growing interest in a more sustainable system, but it’s very important that we try to bring everybody in so that we don’t feed this inequality.

EB: Tell us a few of your favorite places to go in New York.
JB: My current obsession is Pelzer’s Pretzels up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn — may be a bit out of the way, but worth the trip.

I also love the breakfast at Court Street Grocers. They were a little grocery in my old neighborhood. You can get smoked sausage from Edwards, the perfect bread, amazing buttery scrambled eggs for 6 bucks. There’s a new one at Gotham West Market way on the West side so maybe folks staying in Manhattan can make the trip.

I’m slightly hesitant to give this one up: there’s a restaurant just off the Bowery called Il Buco Alimentari — a café not that far from those places you go to see and be seen, and to me, it’s the antithesis. It’s a perfect place to go sit, drink coffee, and read the paper. I love their Swiss chard tart, and the big boules of bread with ricotta.

Up in Queens, I only have one place: Ayada. It’s just the best Thai food I’ve had in NYC. It’s cheap and hot and amazing and if they ask if you want Thai spicy, you probably don’t — unless you want your head blown off! Get the drunken noodles. I know, that’s one of those dishes that you hear people say, “Who gets that at a restaurant? It sucks!” — but once you have it here, you’ll understand. Drunken noodles isn’t typically comfort food to me, but this dish absolutely is.  If I’m sad or cold, this is what I get.

Of course, everyone knows about Chelsea Market. Go to The Green Table.  For brunch, Mary Cleaver does this amazing chicken pot pie, or get the grilled cheese. It’s made with raw cheddar and this amazing chutney. Or get the soft scrambled eggs with grilled capers. Honestly, you can’t go wrong here — I just love it. She catered my wedding.

Join us at Edible Institute on May 10-11 to hear Jane Black lead a panel addressing the question: Can the food ‘revolution’ cross geographical, cultural and class boundaries?”

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