For some people, Washington’s numerous monuments, museums and other attractions present a real problem: how can you possibly see and do everything in a weekend? Inevitably, you end up having to prioritize. You promise yourself that you’ll be back to check out the things you missed, but it makes disappointing experiences sting that much more.
In our case, replace “monuments, museums and attractions” with “restaurants, food carts and other dining establishments.” Just as tough as deciding what to see and do in a new city is deciding where to eat and drink. After all, you’ve only got a finite number of meals in any given 24-hour period…
The premise is simple enough. While most of us tend to plan brunches, lunches and dinners (as well as the occasional bar crawl) when visiting other cities, Blount refuses to be constrained by mealtimes. He powers his way through 24 eating and drinking venues over the course of one day, filming everything for posterity and then cutting it down into something of a gastronomic travelogue.
After cutting his teeth on Boston, he has now turned his attention to Washington and will be going strong from 6 AM Saturday morning until 5 AM Sunday (at which point, we suspect, he’ll lay down and hibernate to sleep off all that eating and drinking). His agenda is ambitious…and not without some controversy. He actually reached out to local bloggers via Chow last month, looking for recommendations and foodies who might want to participate in some capacity. Thanks to a friendly recommendation from Elyssa at State Dinner, we connected with him and helped him to refine some of his destinations. We may even join him at one or two stops.
But before we meet up with him, we asked him a few questions about his movable feast. Check it out after the jump (and be sure to say hi if you happen to cross paths with Hagan this weekend).
Capital Spice: What was your inspiration to start this project?
Hagan Blount: I was talking with one of my friends on my way to Lake Anna for the Fourth of July weekend, and we were brainstorming ways to try do something unique to review restaurants. I said that I could go to different cities and just do the top 25 restaurants in each city . . . my friend (I think he’s an admiral in the Navy) in a stroke of genius a la the “7-Minute Abs” piece from There’s Something About Mary, said to do the top 24 instead, in 24 hours. It was born.
CS: Why choose the cities you have so far?
HB: I am from Boston, was living there before DC, and have lived in DC for the longest I’ve lived in any place (and it was easy to find drivers for the shoots in these places).
CS: If money were no object, what would your next destination be?
HB: Tokyo. I would say Hong Kong because of the greater cultural diversity, but I have never been to Japan, and I am dying to try some real Japanese sushi.
CS: How many total are you hoping to do?
HB: As many as I can afford to! I was shooting the bull with the owner of the Brookland Cafe in a Starbucks and we came up with the idea to charge to shoot these two minute segments for restaurateurs so they could put them up on the restaurant’s home pages. I try to freelance write in my ‘spare’ time, but that isn’t much these days.
CS: Would you want to see this commercialized? Maybe a food/travel television show or some kind of series?
HB: Absolutely. I would love for someone to pick up the concept and have me host, but if a network thought this was a great idea but they wanted someone with more chef cred to be the host, I would happily produce it and interview the chefs/GMs/owners myself. Really, that is the most fun part of the process, meeting all these awesome people.
CS: How do you make your restaurant selections?
HB: In Boston, it was fairly easy. I had been to 90% of the places on the list. There was one place that I went to for the second time that I ended up not being super psyched about, and it will show in the review. The place wasn’t bad, it just didn’t have that ‘wow’ factor. In DC, I used some of my own selections, as well as those of a few friends, and then took the advice of foodies that were helpful in steering me in the right direction. I posted a few times on Yelp.com and Chow.com to perfect the list. A bunch of people have told me to go to Fogo De Chao, and I love that place. The problem there is that it’s a chain, and 24 in 24 is about locals who are passionate about food, so it doesn’t really fit.
CS: How do you work with the restaurants once you’ve confirmed that they want to participate?
HB: I set up an interview, drop in, film the “B-Shots” (pictures of the restaurant, people eating, interesting flavor of the place in general), and do a 20-30 minute interview with the person the restaurant wants in front of the camera. The day of the shoot, if they need to reserve a place for me, my driver calls them and lets them know exactly when we’re going to be there. We go in, sit down and enjoy whatever the chef wants to give me for however long we can afford to sit there timewise, and then move on to the other place. Usually, we don’t finish the entree and we take it with us, and the homeless population of the city is usually very happy to partake in the event.
CS: How much time do you spend working on each of these trips, in terms of set-up work, travel on the day of shooting (24 hours, obviously), post-production, etc.?
HB: Confirming the restaurants is like herding cats. Most of the places are really excited to be in on the shoot and are thankful to be included. The newer, higher-class restaurants are the ones that are the quickest to respond positively. The older, more established restaurants are slow to respond, but they often have a marketing person that handles inquiries like this, so it’s one more layer that you have to go through to talk to the chef, so the only problem is syncing schedules.
I spend two weeks interviewing the restaurateurs leading up to the day of the shoot, then my videographer stays where I am the night before, and we get an early start. 24 hours and a red bull later, we’re done with the shoot, then the hard part starts. I have about 24 hours of footage that I need to cut down to 48 minutes. It’s a huge job that is taking a lot longer than I expected. I gave myself two weeks to get the Boston edit done and realized that it was going to be more like a month, but I’d already set up a lot of the DC shoot, so I am working on it simultaneously now. I think it will take a month to edit the whole thing, so it will be a month and a half before I shoot the next city.
CS: Which local foodies (besides us) are you working with here in DC?
HB: I talked to Rebecca Cooper and Jaime Liu of DCist and Kevin, the Yelp! community manager in DC. I just e-mailed Tim Carman at the City Paper at the suggestion of Teddy Folkman at The Capitol Lounge.
CS: Where is home for you? Any recommendations for someone who wanted to experience the best of what’s around?
HB: For the last two years, I called Boston my home, a designation I think I’ll ultimately reserve for NYC. I would have to suggest if you are ever near the New York State Capital Area that you make a pilgrimage to I Love NY Pizza in Troy, NY and get a slice of chicken marsala pizza. Then go to The Ruck and get an order of wings. I have a friend from Buffalo who lives in NYC right now, and we both agree that it is a sad anomaly that both the best pizza and the best wings in the world are in Troy, NY.
CS: What has been the most impressive part of your prep work so far? Anything really surprise you here in DC?
HB: Absolutely…it’s amazing what they’re doing at the Capital Area Food Bank. They move over 20 Million pounds of food a year through their tiny NE location. They are looking for a new place and have the city’s blessing, but they need all the support they can get. Over 80% of the recipients of food from the food bank are under 17 years old. That was something that hit me when I went in there, and I think should resonate with the audience. You and I and our audiences watch shows like No Reservations and Man vs. Food and imagine what it would be like to taste what they’re making in the locales they’re filming in, those are our aspirations. We put aside the thought that every day on the Metro we pass under hundreds of kids who aren’t getting enough food or are malnourished and can’t be bothered to think about food quality but would be ecstatic to get well-balanced, hot meals consistently.
CS: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Hagan. Best of luck on your twenty-four hours of eating and drinking!