By Charles Lyons | Thompson on Hollywood January 22, 2012 at 6:06PM
Park City, UT— Not long after I saw about a dozen teenage girls sprinting up Main Street, in hot pursuit of a stretch limo that apparently had someone famous in it, the thought occurred to me that Sundance is no longer Sundance.
Sundance, of course, has been changing for years. But now it’s clearer that there is one event for and about movies, and then there is pandemonium--America laid bare, partying it up as though the recession or depression never happened.
One might wish to remain aloof and critical of the scene, after only twenty-four hours in its midst, but it’s hard to look away from the celebrities, and would-be celebrities, and paparazzi rushing to get the shot, any shot, of Paris Hilton.
On Friday night, the bars and restaurants were teaming with boisterous crowds waiting to get into private parties for which one definitely had to be on a list. Main Street, the dominant thoroughfare, was peppered with live bands performing in the snow; and some women I saw traveled in packs, parading their slick leather pants and fur jackets, all part of a show that could give Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras a run for its money.
But one of the offerings turned a growing cynic into a fan. It goes by the name Chefdance, and the idea is simple: for five nights in row during Sundance, the organizers of this foodie off-shoot invite the cast and crew of two films premiering at Sundance to be guests of honor, and feted as such at a banquet prepared for roughly 250, which includes financiers and selected others.
“They asked me—do you want to bring your cast and crew and have a four-course meal? And we said, ‘hell, yes,’” said writer/ director Ava DuVernay, whose “Middle of Nowhere” had premiered several hours earlier at Sundance.
DuVernay was beaming as she stopped by the cozy booth where I was seated overlooking some four long tables facing a broad kitchen in full view of the guests, a la Top Chef. After a meal that included Sea Urchin Ceviche, Black Cod Confit, Pork Cheeks, and Elvis-PB pot de crème with burnt banana paper, who wouldn’t be in high spirits? It also didn’t hurt that her film had played well and, she said, there was distributor interest. (The second film honored Friday night was “Compliance,” directed by Craig Zobel.)
The event, now in its ninth year, takes place in the former site of Harry O’s, at 427 Main Street, a space Kenny Griswold, its owner, recently had renovated. Griswold, who launched Chefdance with Mimi Kim, said the thrust of the event was to invite quality conversation in a relaxed environment featuring quality food.
Friday’s chef was Chad White, who flew in from San Diego, where he’s owner and chef at the Sea Rocket Bistro. I complimented White. Like nearly everyone else in Park City, he has a compelling backstory. After 9/11, he joined the Navy as a cook. He used his ship’s stops in ports along the Pacific rim to expand his knowledge of food. White said he had always had artistic aspirations, but he just couldn’t find the proper medium. One day his mother told him, “You wanted to be an artist, use the plate as a canvas…. Paint on it, with food. See the colors, the textures.”
Of Friday night’s meal, White said he had strategically tried to touch every taste bud, mixing spicy with sweet, and sour with acidic. It worked on me.
But on to the desert.
Corporate Pastry Chef Jeff Bonill explained what he was aiming for: “I like people walking away saying, ‘how did you do that, why did you do that, and when can I come back?”
Such creativity has not gone unnoticed. William Morris Endeavor is apparently considering taking Chefdance on the road. That’s something Sundance already does well—and ought to do more of. After all, in Park City at least, it’s being co-opted by some tastier offerings.