BY JOE DISTEFANO
As a kid, I was always fascinated by the World’s Fair.
It all started when I first saw the glittering stainless steel Unisphere out the car window on the ride back to Long Island from my grandmother’s house in Glendale. When I asked my mother about it, she’d fondly recall taking my brothers to the 1964–65 World’s Fair.
Many years later, I would move to Queens and wholeheartedly embrace its diverse cuisines and culture and come to love the Unisphere — a sculpture originally commissioned as a tribute to the Space Age — as a symbol of the diversity of the World’s Borough.
So when Joshua Schneps, CEO and co-publisher at Schneps Media and founder of LIC Flea & Food, approached me a few years ago to tell me of his plans to pay tribute to the largest event ever to take place in the history of New York City with a culinary and cultural festival with 100 vendors representing 100 cultures, I jumped on board immediately.
The second annual World’s Fare, which will be held on May 18 and 19 at Citi Field, features many of my personal favorites from all over the world, including the Arepa Lady, the crown jewel of Colombian street food in New York City; Indonesian desserts from Moon Man; as well as Italian arrosticini, succulent lamb skewers from D’Abruzzo, which won first place in the savory division at last year’s Fare.
Newcomers this year include Chef Troy’s Table representing Jamaica with their nutritious and delicious I-tal Rastafarian vegetarian cuisine, Balkan Bites flying the flag of Kosovo with flaky savory burek and sweet baklava, Cafe Escencia representing Spain with scrumptious sourdough churros wheel, and a thoroughly modern take on ancient Eastern Mediterranean frozen confection from the Republic of Booza.
There will also be a dessert classic that many attendees of the iconic 1964 World’s Fair may remember: Belgian waffles as prepared by street food sensation Wafels & Dinges.
In addition to Schneps, this year’s culinary committee features a trio of female culinary powerhouses: Gael Greene, Chef Alex Raij, and Chef Anita-Lo.
These days, the Detroit-born Greene is best known as the Insatiable Critic and co-founder of Citymeals-on-Wheels, but as restaurant critic of New York Magazine from 1968 to 2002, she changed the way Americans think about food. One could trace the evolution of New York restaurants on a timeline that would reflect her passions and taste over 30 years from Le Pavillon, which has its roots in the 1964–65 World’s Fair, to nouvelle cuisine to couturier pizzas, pastas and hot fudge sundaes, to more healthful eating.
Chef Anita Lo, author of “SOLO: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One,” has appeared on “Top Chef Masters,” “Iron Chef America,” and “Chopped.” In 2015, she became the first female guest chef to cook at the White House.
Chef Alex Raij began her lengthy love affair with traditional Spanish cooking at Meigas, an ambitious Spanish restaurant in Tribeca, after completing her formal culinary education at the Culinary Institute of America. She now owns and operates four restaurants: Txikito, Chelsea’s acclaimed Basque restaurant; El Quinto Pino, named the Absolute Best Tapas by New York Magazine; La Vara, exploring Jewish and Moorish influence in southern Spain; and her latest, Saint Julivert, a petit fisherie inspired by ports of call near and far.
I am truly amazed that the World’s Fare has managed to assemble a lineup of cuisines that almost rivals the diversity of the World’s Borough. In the coming weeks I’ll be profiling some of my favorite vendors. Check back next week to learn how the Sainted Arepa Lady got
This is the first edition of a weekly column written by Joe DiStefano, a Queens-based food writer, culinary tour guide, and author of the bestselling guidebook “111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss.”