If you pay attention to just about any scene in Pittsburgh, then you likely know the name David Bernabo. The man is a force of nature. A prolific musician since high school, Bernabo is also a choreographer, visual artist, filmmaker and a few dozen other things. His latest project, entitled Food Systems, is an ambitious three-part documentary examining Pittsburgh’s food ecosystem from a variety of angles. The first chapter, which chronicles the history of Pittsburgh restaurants, is set to debut early next month.
Food Systems grew out of a previous documentary that looked at the creative processes of several Pittsburgh artists and craftspeople. One of the subjects of the film was Kevin Sousa, who expressed an interest in a movie about Pittsburgh’s restaurant history. Bernabo was off and running. Though he initially set out to answer a few straightforward questions (when did sushi first appear in Pittsburgh?), the project quickly grew into something considerably larger. While Food Systems, Chapter 1: A Night Out—the title of the first section—charts the last four decades of Pittsburgh’s restaurant evolution, it grapples with much bigger issues along the way.
“One of the goals I had was to try to make it different from a lot of the food and culture shows out there,” says Bernabo. “I wanted to let the people talk and have the story form itself.” To that end, Bernabo’s documentary has no narration, no explanatory text blocks and no dramatic reenactments. The entire film is made up of interviews with a fascinating collection of Pittsburgh chefs and food luminaries, peppered with archival images and hectic sequences of buzzing kitchens. The stories, which range from conversations about server wages to a handy breakdown of restaurant kitchen slang, are tied together by a pulsing, rhythmic soundtrack mostly recorded by (who else?) Bernabo himself.
The film is a welcome respite from food coverage that is often ultra-slick, overly produced and disappointingly homogenous. The first chapter of Food Systems attempts to portray restaurant life as it truly is: a messy, diverse and chaotic world where a wide range of stories are written and rewritten on a daily basis. “A lot of the people were so excited to share their craft,” explains Bernabo. “Especially the people who aren’t covered as much by the media.”
The second part of Bernabo’s series is a short film on farm dinners, and the third, which he is currently filming and editing, will focus on other pieces of the food cycle, tackling issues like farm operations and Pittsburgh’s struggles with equitable food access. Though Bernabo is more than conversant in food and cooking, he sees the project as a huge learning experience. “I was impressed by how wrong I was on a lot of things,” he jokes.
Several screenings of Food Systems, Chapter 1: A Night Out are scheduled for the fall, including two at Lawrenceville’s Row House Cinema. Dates and tickets are available here. If you can’t make it to a screening, watch the website for information on online rentals and an eventual DVD and Blu-ray release.
In other news…
After being closed for several months due to liquor license issues, Lawrenceville’s Round Corner Cantina will hold their official grand re-opening on Tuesday, September 1st.
On Saturday, September 19th, Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh will celebrate the first day of Oktoberfest with a party at its rooftop Biergarten. The festivities include traditional German beer, food and music. Tickets available here.
After a series of delays, Bakn is now open in Carnegie. The restaurant serves an array of sandwiches, flatbreads and breakfast items, many of which are built around (you guessed it) bacon.