Sugar and Spice Summit

By Haley West

Sugar, spice, and every health food coupon, ever. These bags, chock full of goodies, sweets and stickers of all kinds, were given out to all Sugar and Spice attendees. Photo by Audrey Valbuena.

“Hello YouTube, welcome to my haul!”

Fellow Northwestern student and food lover Alex Schwartz dove into one of the many sample bags awaiting the attendees of the Sugar and Spice Summit, narrating his findings to me for an imaginary audience of YouTubers.

“Smoky barbecue cheddar almond flour crackers — great for when you want that smoky barbecue, but also that cheddar, but also that almond flour.”

For the record, I wanted all of these things. I ate the whole box in one sitting, along with most of the other snacks I found. The tote bags (which were super cute, by the way) also contained a copy of Cherry Bombe (pronunciation: Bombay? Bomb? Bum? Bamba? The jury’s still out), a food magazine by and for women and SCORE, a ton of Sugar and Spice Summit laptop stickers. At the bottom of the tote were a ridiculous amount of coupons for health food brands like Nuttzo — which Alex described as “peanut butter, but like with seven different nuts in it — and who doesn’t love a good nut.” Amen to that, Alex.

After pouring literally everything from our bags onto the floor of the auditorium (and then promptly eating half of the samples), I headed out to the lobby to check out what other health food I could stock up on — and immediately bee-lined to a desert table with placards bearing the name “Hungry Monkey.” Hell yeah. I scarfed down, like, three brownies and looked up to give my compliments to the chef, a presumed adult. Instead, I was surprised to see a beaming elementary-school face in an apron on the other side.

“The company is named after me!”

Lily and her mother, the masterminds behind Hungry Monkey. Photo by Audrey Valbuena.

Lily, aka the Hungry Monkey is 8 years old, and already better at baking than I’ll ever be. She, alongside her mother, makes some bomb brownies.

“I like helping my mom out,” said Lily. “I don’t really bake that much but I love to bake and I got to help my mom make these.”

I asked if she wanted to be a baker when she grew up.

“I don’t know, I’m only 8!”

Businesses like Hungry Monkey are what drew Kerrie Vila, a Spoon freshman and self-admitted junk food addict, to Evanston. “It’s great to be able to support these small things instead of just the expensive restaurants that a lot of college students can’t afford.” Kerrie designed the Sugar and Spice logo and served as bouncer during the event, but was quick to bow to Spoon member Lauren Goldstein, the mastermind behind the event. Lauren began working on the event during her study abroad in Copenhagen, which is truly incredible: most people at this school can’t get it together long enough to plan lunch, much less an entire summit. And from Copenhagen? Forget it. Gesturing to the buzzing auditorium between bites of a cupcake, Kerrie laughed: “Most of this has all been one woman.”

Spoon University CEO and Medill alum Mackenzie Barth answers questions of business and beyond, as creator of Sugar and Spice, Lauren Goldstein, moderates. (Also pictured: Alice Cheng, founder and CEO of Culinary Agents). Photo by Audrey Valbuena.

Speaking of Spoon, the summit boasted founder Mackenzie Barth, a former Northwestern student and an avid fan of raspberries. Since Mackenzie had essentially transcended to god-tier status after starting, oh, you know, an international social media platform for college foodies everywhere, I knew I had to come up with hard-hitting, insightful questions worthy of her time.

“I have to know — best drunchies memory at Northwestern?”

To her credit, Mackenzie had an answer ready immediately.

“Very specifically Papa John’s pizza dipped in garlic butter. So good.”

To say I didn’t make a mental note to try that some time would be an absolute lie. Mackenzie no longer subsists on 3 a.m., post-Nevins pizza anymore, however, having recently moved to New York City, and subsequently, to a new culinary scene. She raved about a trendy cookie dough cafe and its inventive dough-based confections, which presented me with a dilemma: how to enjoy things like cookie bombs (read: cookie dough filled with NUTELLA (oh my god I can die happy)) without dropping $300+ on airfare to NYC. Her response?

“You can just eat cookie dough straight out of the package — I did and still do”.

She might be a Medill alum, but that’s some whole-brain engineering if I’ve ever heard it.

Aarti Sequeria of Aarti Party (yes, on THE Food Network), spoke of that one time she and her friend Guy — that is, Guy Fieri — hung out. Photo by Audrey Valbuena.

Mackenzie wasn’t the only legendary Medill alum in attendance. Cue P!nk’s “Get the Party Started” (or, as she would later confide to me “any song by the band Fool’s Gold”) for Food Network star Aarti Sequeira’s energy-charged panel, a giggle-fest punctuated by deeply heartfelt notes. Aarti hosted the appropriately-named show Aarti Party, and now judges with the likes of Aarón Sánchez on various cooking competitions. After her panel, I waited for the line of adoring fans to dissipate and introduced myself as a reporter. After assuring her that my questions would be more interesting than Daily-style queries (no shade, she brought it up in her panel), I grilled her for a crucial party-planning tip:

Me: “Okay, If Aarti threw a party, what would be the signature drink of the night?”

Aarti: “Oooooh! As far as a drink goes, I think some kind of spicy, serrano chili mojito would probably be what I would serve!”

If only I had money and a birthday before 1995.

After we chatted about her daughters, her favorite dishes to make (spoilers: it changes on the day), and the difficulty of making 24 recipes a week (“That’s a lot of ding dang recipes!”), I couldn’t hold my tongue on a certain divisive man with a distinctive hairstyle any longer.

“So, I know you mentioned working with Guy Fieri and judging for his grocery games. If Guy were a dish, what would he be?”

(You thought I was talking about Trump, didn’t you?)

Aarti didn’t bat an eye.

“I can see a big plate of pasta with like, spicy potato chips crushed over the top but the pasta would be cooked al dente, and the sauce would be huge and robust and flavorful and fiery. Guy Fieri as a dish sounds awesome”.

Note: When making a bowl of Guy Fieri, don’t forget the parmesan for his swoon-inducing frosted tips.

Pastry legend Gale Gand takes the stage to share her wisdom and witty, feminist spirit with the crowd. Photo by Audrey Valbuena.

And finally, she might have gone first, but I had to save the best for last: badass pastry chef and Food Network legend Gale Gand. After blessing the audience with memorable one-liners like “And the head chef said, ‘Uhhh, you’re a woman’, and I’m like, ‘Uhhh, yeah’” and thoroughly roasting Bradley Cooper’s pastry chef character in Burnt (“Can I beef for a second? The cake in that movie was overbaked. And the piping sucked!”), I knew I had to talk to her one-on-one. I muscled my way to the front of the crowd amassed in front of her table and introduced myself. She asked if I wanted to be a pastry chef, and I chuckled, admitting that I didn’t even know what I wanted to eat later that day.

Gale, as I found out, was all-too-familiar with that feeling. She majored in silversmithing, worked as a musician, a bookkeeper, and a waitress before delving into the world of pastries.

“When I had to take French in high school I was like “I don’t wanna! How is this gonna help me?” and then fast-forward and I go to culinary school in France. Whatever experiences are coming to you, they may not seem like they’re gonna matter, or like they make any sense, but they will later”.

Of course, now Gale spends her time rocking the socks off of whatever pastry she makes and operating her Michelin-star restaurant, TRU. I asked her what pastry she had the most fun making, and she chuckled.

“Well, it’s probably because I really like eating them, but just chocolate éclairs. And honestly, I’m really proud of myself that I was able to make them start to finish on my show in 22 minutes. All the camera guys were like, ‘she’s never gonna make it’ and at the very end I was like ‘YES! Finish line!’”

Damn. Now I wanted an éclair. I asked for any sage advice on how to make an éclair using the meager cooking accoutrement I had in my possession (read: a microwave and plastic cutlery).

“I would buy one. I would buy the chocolate éclair!”

It’s official, folks, I want her to be my mother, spiritual guide, getaway driver, and life coach. I know that sounds like a lot to put on one person, but I think she can handle it.

After all, if she can make an éclair in 22 minutes, she can do anything.

Photo by Audrey Valbuena.

In the spirit of the Sugar and Spice Summit, which celebrated equality in all parts of the food industry, I asked interviewees one final, introspective question.

“The Disney Pixar movie Ratatouille says that ‘Anyone can cook’. Would you eat a five-star meal if you knew it was prepared by a French rat?”

Alex Schwartz: “If you knew how many times i had been asked this question…and how many times I had said yes…”

Kerrie Vila: “I would eat it. Absolutely. Without question. If it had good reviews, I’d eat it. But I’d also eat, like, food off the floor”.

Lauren Goldstein: “I feel like I would eat it if it was cooked by a French rat…but no one else. I think I’d rather eat food cooked by a French rat than by the average American. If it was just the average American, it’d just be like…bacon. You know? French rat above average American in terms of cooking”.

Aarti Sequeira: “I would eat it because — I tell you why — because I’ve often thought of myself as the French rat of the Food Network, because I’m not like super trained, I still consider myself a home cook. I know there have been some crazy dishes I’ve made on my show that people wrote off completely, but the people who have tried them have loved them and that’s why I would try Ratatouille’s dish”.

Gale Gand: “I would. I sometimes feel like I was that French rat, so you know how I told that story about how I got thrown in the kitchen and somehow like, I know all the recipes, I know what has sage in it, I know these mushrooms are sautéed, like how do I know all this stuff — and I felt like the guy in Ratatouille, like am I divine? No, the waitress in me knew how to describe every dish to customer who were allergic to like, pistachios, so I knew the ingredients. Yeah, I think I would try it.”

If that doesn’t give you hope for the future of culinary equality, I don’t know what will.