Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Brief, interesting documentary about local restaurants: the Great American Cooking Story in Petworth and Park View


Here's a fascinating, short documentary about cooking in cities around the US, focusing on how restaurants fit into their communities. The series, called The Great American Cooking Story, is a six-part series by documentarian Clara Ritger, who lives in the DC area. (And was actually filmed during a cross-country train trip!)

Along with other cities, she did one episode on DC, specifically on DC Reynolds and Petworth Citizen in our area. It's an interesting look at how restaurants can be good neighbors, and is pretty inspiring. It really makes you like these places more! (And I can personally attest that these two are good neighbors: for example, I saw DC Reynolds owner Jeremy Gifford using a snow blower to clear numerous blocks of Georgia Avenue sidewalks during the blizzard, and Paul Ruppert of Room 11, Petworth Citizen and more has been great for the neighborhood too.)

I also had an opportunity to talk to Ritger about the series. Read on!

What brought about the idea for the series?  How did you choose cities and restaurants?

The Washington, D.C. episode of The Great American Cooking Story is the sixth episode in the series. Also available at youtube.com/clararitger are the other 5 episodes from the other 5 cities I traveled to: Los Angeles, Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans and Atlanta. Taken as a whole, the series examines the relationships between restaurants and revitalizing neighborhoods, and offers up some ideas for how restaurants can be (and already are) forces for good in their communities. 

I think what really inspired the series was D.C. I live here, and I saw the trend of restaurants being one of the first businesses to move into these types of neighborhoods, and I was curious about how the chefs and restaurant owners felt about the economic change that they were a part of. And I wanted to explore the idea that food is really something that brings people together, and perhaps these chefs can be community leaders bridging the gap between old and new by uniting people over food.

I spent a lot of time doing research to figure out what neighborhoods were most in transition in the six cities across the country. I wanted to make sure I picked the right neighborhood first, and then I found the chefs/restaurant owners from there. I read a lot of local journalism in the cities across the country and looked at Census Bureau data to determine where the most demographic change was happening. And then after I selected the neighborhood, it was pretty easy to find a handful of potential chef/restaurant owner participants. There's always a budding restaurant scene in these neighborhoods. 

Why Petworth and Park View and why those two restaurants in particular?
I did a lot of pre-interviews as well to figure out who to profile for the series. Regarding Paul Ruppert and Jeremy Gifford specifically, I think what drew me to them was their different commitments and interests in their neighborhood, which ended up being a big part of the story I told in the episode. Petworth Citizen and Reading Room isn't Paul's only restaurant in the neighborhood, and he's really thoughtful about the little empire he's growing there. It's not just about money and success for him, and it very well could be. If it was, he probably wouldn't be opening all his restaurants in Petworth. Jeremy's an interesting character too. He's really interested in being the community meeting spot, the place where local politicians can come and talk to people about new neighborhood initiatives. He actually was the one who suggested that Kent Boese, the neighborhood commissioner, be a part of the video

Was the train journey related?

The series was filmed over the course of a 10-day, cross-country train trip in May 2015. The train trip was pre-organized by the Millennial Trains Project, so I already knew what cities I'd stop in. The series was something I'd sort of thought about for awhile, but the train trip gave me an outlet to make it a reality. To get on board the train, I crowdfunded $5,000. The rest of the expenses for the project were out-of-pocket. I work full time at a corporate video production company in the D.C. area, and took vacation time for the train trip, so this was really a passion project for me.

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