1 Minute Meal Films Highlight the Unseen Forces that Shape the Lives of New Yorkers

By Sari Kamin

Anita Romero arrives to her six-seat Bronx cafe at five o’clock each morning to begin simmering stews, braising meats, and boiling beans that will be part of the Dominican lunches she’ll serve that afternoon. A group of Indonesian women—their heads covered in colorful jilbab—serve spicy beef rendang and fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk at a food bazaar in Elmhurst, Queens. At rotating locations around New York City, Alex Koones curates pop-up dinner events for LGBTQ women and gender non-conforming people who gather for good food, safe space, and nourishing dialogue.

These are the stories of home cooks and chefs who will never be featured on Bravo or The Food Network, and that’s exactly why filmmaker James Boo was drawn to them. Boo is the creator of 1 Minute Meal, a documentary web series that highlights New Yorkers—often minorities and marginalized people—who use food as a means to enterprise and connect with community.

Boo, a former writer for Serious Eats, was frustrated by the lack of diversity represented on internet and television food programming. “It was pretty much garbage,” he says. “Stuff on the web in the late 2000s had a disproportionate focus on artisanal and personal food stories. It would be like this twee white collar dream thing that didn’t match anything that made New York an interesting place to eat for me.”

Equipped with nothing more than an SLR camera, Boo set out as a one-man film crew to capture stories that had little in common with the elite world of celebrity chefs and mainstream food media. Boo’s goal was to highlight the kaleidoscopic nature of New York City—a patchwork of ethnicities and flavors that intersect to reveal compelling truths about community and culture.

Take Lufti for instance, a gay Syrian refugee who started a dinner party series in the Lower East Side as a way to meet people and rebuild his life after emigrating. In Boo’s 60-second portrait, we see Lufti assemble bowls of cashew-studded rice and grilled eggplant. But we also watch as his dinner party attendees—and presumably new friends—hug him warmly after their meal and clap in appreciation of his cooking. Lufti speaks in his native Arabic as a voiceover throughout the short, explaining that for the first time in his life he feels accepted and unafraid of living as an openly gay man. It’s a lot to pack into a one minute video, yet the film is uncluttered and as elegant as a poem.

Food is the common thread that connects each film, but the stories are designed to reveal more about humanity and the unseen forces that shape the lives of New Yorkers. Boo hopes that his films will inspire viewers to explore their own neighborhoods in a more meaningful way, and to visit new parts of New York City. “I want people to walk away with more of a picture of city life than an experience of food,” he says. “I see so many people who come [here] to be successful and none of their experiences involve getting to know the people who live here their whole lives. That’s what great about cities—that you can walk around and hear people’s stories and they are so open about sharing their struggles and their challenges. That’s what I want people to realize they’ve been missing.”

1 Minute Meal: Stories of Food and Community in New York is currently playing at MOFAD as part of a pop-up exhibit through September 3rd, 2017. The sixty-second films can also be seen online at www.oneminutemealfilms.com. New episodes will be released each week through the end of August as part of a distribution collaboration with Edible Manhattan, Edible Brooklyn, Edible Queens, and SILive.

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Photos: Donnelly Marks