Corn stalks are few and far between in New York City, but the importance of maize, from Aztec staple to chiffon corn flour cake, was the focus of a comprehensive corn-centric conference held at Manhattan’s New School and various locations around the city on September 8th and 9th. Organized by Topic 48, a food consulting company that produces educational events, the symposium brought together a wide range of prominent chefs, farmers, anthropologists, and cultural historians for talks, demonstrations, and tastings devoted to all things corn.
In her keynote address, Corn Politics, 2019: From Indigenous Grain to Icon of Industrial Agriculture, NYU Professor Dr. Marion Nestle pointed out that corn is now the most widely grown food crop in the world, but used more for feed and other products than for human consumption, and provided an overview of the politics and current controversies about topics like genetic modification and environmental degradation.
For attendees working with corn products, there were talks and demos by Jorge Gaviria of Masienda on stone grinding and tortilla making from dry kernel to swelled nixtamalized corn to fragrant tortilla, and tastings with Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills of his heirloom grains. Anthropologist Francesco D’Angelo offered insights into the culture of the Peruvian corn beer, Chicha, a mild, slightly sweet/sour beverage enjoyed during the conference lunch break.
Pastry chefs flocked to the Saveur test kitchen for a baking with corn session led by acclaimed cookbook author Alice Medrich, who prepared recipes from her Beard Award winning book Gluten-Free Flavor Flours. Along with sweet/savories like crunchy corn fritters and cranberry scones, Medrich demonstrated techniques for making a lemon tart with corn and rice flour crust, that she spread in the pan with fingers as it is softer than other tart doughs.
For a handsome re-imagined version of the famous oil-based chiffon cake, baked in a tube pan, she poured a honey and orange flower water syrup on the freshly baked cake and topped it with shredded halvah and strawberries.
One of the country’s foremost experts on chocolate, Medrich’s interests have expanded to other areas of baking. consulting on products for emerging baking, chocolate and confectionery companies. “I’ve continued to experiment with new ingredients and techniques,” she says, “and I’m still learning and evolving.”