I brought it to this month's PST (the salon I cook for where different people present a talk each month and the meal relates to the talk.) This month featured Lincoln Bickford, a PhD, MD whose talk (in part) was about his journey across the world seeking healing, and spiritual healing techniques that enhance Western medical practice. Lincoln suggested I look to Taoist or Ayerverdic recipes for inspiration- and I did make Kitchari, a spiced basmati and mung bean "pilaf" recommended for easy digestion, paired with organic chicken broth & matzoh balls (from my own ethnic healing traditions) with a scoop of alphabet noodles to represent the healing power of words. This was served with iron rich sauteed greens, high in antioxidant blueberries and dark chocolate (and the fruit leather.) It was an amusing contrast to last months meal that focused on the fortifying properties of "comfort" foods- that meal was a butter, egg and cheese feast while this months was lightness and simplicity, but both aimed to taste of nurture and well-being.
Another cool thing this week was to lend a hand to friend Mihir Desai, who was preparing a collaborative performance/meal with Natalie Jeremijenko at Postmaster Gallery, focusing on climate change and agriculture. The five course menu was laced with the tastes of smoke, ash and soil. I got to nibble as we sculpted, squirt and scattered ingredients into gorgeous array, but found a number of the tastes overly intense for my palate. Mihir's food is a festival of Modernist cuisine. An engagement with sensation that in ways places sense experience over deliciousness, but the attention to detail and aesthetics are phenomenal. One fantastic dish was a slice of ash coated goat cheese aside a button of pineapple, ginger and caper geleé, paired with a scallop that lay under a smoke filled glass, which when lifted allowed charred applewood and orange peel scent to waft to your nose. Mihir has this great smoke gun that looks like a hot-glue gun, and all sorts of foamers and dehydrators and digital water-bath thermometers.
I'm trying to explore the gap between Mihir's work and Communal Table's, not by way of judgement, but because I want to understand the vastness of food's possibility. Mihir's work, more than many of the chef's working with technologically based cuisine, is content driven, layered equally with theory and narrative- so I'm baffled by how strongly I feel it diverges with ours, though we too try our best to layer these things. There is something about the demand of focus on isolated sensation, something about the technological showmanship, something masculine vs. the feminine focus on commensality and nurturance Deena and I tend towards. Perhaps it's highbrow vs. low/pop, excitement vs. comfort, or perhaps this is hopelessly cliched and the binary hopelessly simplistic. While I was so happy to have been able to see, smell, touch and taste a bit, I admit I was pleased go home and eat a big bowl of pesto noodles and chicken parmesan with my son.
In contrast, this past week Communal Table cooked for the NES conference @CUNY which was also about climate change and agriculture. http://opencuny.org/nature/blog/ The food organizing committee was committed to "walking the walk;" offering a "sustainable" meal to conference participants. We sourced local (Bed Sty. chicken's egg salad sandwiches,) used organics (grain salad with watermelon radishes) and seasonal (homemade beet, carrot and onion pickles.) Offered vegetarian, with vegan and gluten free alternatives, and served everything on recycled or compostable "paper-goods" that were actually brought to a community garden in Queens for composting. There was soup too, and dessert and home steeped herbal iced tea-- The meal was colorful, healthful, tasty and full of love-- everyone was thrilled, yet it was far from sustainable! Why? Because there's no way to charge enough for Deena and I to earn anything even near minimum wage producing such a meal. Mihir's extravaganza served 20 in a fancy Chelsea gallery for a price I couldn't afford-- and his costs and equipment are underwritten by arts grants. Communal Table put out quality food for 125 guests@ under $10 a head, which stressed the Academic's coffer... it's hard making sense.