Planetary Sculpture – A Supper Club
Below us, cars drive along the back ways that encircle this SE industrial warehouse, but the diners are above it all and sit down to a meal that explores how we as humans sculpt the diversity, abundance, and distribution of plant and animal life on our planet by choosing what we eat. Zackery and Cathrine of The Center for Genomic Gastronomy put it this way: “Every time a food-secure eater chooses to eat one kind of food over another they make a small, downstream, but not insignificant selection pressure that privileges certain genomes to propagate on the planet.”
Bryon and Michael Malone, owners of Gorilla Meats Co., crafted a plate of three sausages for the main dish. Each sausage was made with genomes that would have been available before or after Columbian exchange, giving diners the chance to taste the increase in diversity of flavors that the exchange allowed.
Heather Julius of Special Snowflake Supperclub is the head chef for the night, and I speak with her about the considerations taken for each dish:
“The tomato dish is a vegetarian bouillabaisse. Genomic Gastronomy want to draw attention to the ‘search for the fish tomato,’ a tomato genetically engineered with fish genes in an effort to resist frost. This idea made them think ‘fish plus tomato equals bouillabaisse’, and that it would be a fun and interesting challenge to make a vegetarian bouillabaisse to underscore the tomato theme. It was a challenge to give it depth and flavor without any fish or seafood and that’s why I worked really hard on the finishing ingredients.”
What are the ingredients?
“The broth is all traditional bouillabaisse foundation: tomato, saffron, white wine, onion, celery, carrot, fennel, leeks. Instead of the traditional sauce rouille that accompanies bouillabaisse, I wanted to do something lighter and also linked thematically to the rest of the menu, so I decided to make a lemony aioli whisked by hand using Wag eggs and put that on a pa amb tomaquet with smoky spanish paprika. I was making an overture to the later Old/New World course of Gorilla Meats Co. sausages and polenta that I made. So I was thinking about Spain and cultural collisions. Spanish but a resistant subculture to the dominant Castilian power: Catalan. So pa amb tomaquet is a traditional Catalan dish, so simple, of toasted bread, scraped with a clove of garlic, rubbed with a cut tomato half and then drizzled with olive oil. The pimenton again is a nod to Christopher Columbus and exploration, as it is reported that Christopher Columbus brought pimenton to Spain after his second voyage. The smoky paprika also gives some depth of flavor to the tomato dish.”
The next dish looked fit for an underwater banquet, and was topped with a medicinal-looking pill. Heather elaborates:
“It’s tofu and pickled seaweed with Sichuan pepper salt, scallion oil, and a capsule of toasted rice powder with lemongrass and wild lime leaves. Genomic Gastronomy asked me to do a ‘superfoods’ course based on their research into Utopian & Intentional cuisines. We talked about soy, rice and algae/seaweed as superfoods. So from that challenge I started with a tofu base, and then it was fun to think about a rice powder instead of a mound of cooked rice. As an omnivore I was thinking about how to make tofu interesting and also aesthetically appealing. The green of the scallion oil is nice against the paleness of the pressed tofu. Pressed tofu is good to work with, it’s kind of like a steak. I liked the idea of making something lively for the tofu, so I toasted Sichuan peppercorns in a cast iron skillet and then ground the pepercorns with sea salt, which makes the tongue tingle.”
And the pill?
“The pill idea also comes from a Genomic Gastronomy prompt, as they thought superfoods may be presented as an all-in-one meal delivery system in the future, so we thought it would be fun to put the toasted rice powder in the pill capsule. There was a certain junkie pleasure that we had in stuffing the capsules, and then thinking of passing that along to our diners as we asked them to open the capsule and sprinkle the contents on their tofu; the opening of the capsule is also releasing the aroma of wild lime leaves and lemongrass, so there’s a sensory pleasure aspect of the opening of the capsule that wouldn’t happen if the diners simply swallowed the pills. Let’s hope we never lose that aspect of pleasure and the senses, whatever the future may bring.”
What’s next for the Special Snowflake Supperclub?
“Our next dinner is planned for the end of August; it will be ‘Lamb on Fire.’ Two lambs suspended from cast iron crosses, cooked over live flames for 6 hours. Flatbreads and side dishes from lamb-centric cultures, including the Arab and Israeli nations, Italy, Greece, the UK. There’s talk of bottarga, a tartare of lamb heart, and who knows what we’ll do if we can get brains, kidneys, and tongues.”
“We are also in talks with a vintage store in NE Portland about a Victorian rich/poor dinner, manor food and street urchin food; we are also in talks with a 100K Sq ft shared workspace in SE for architects and designers, about doing something thematic and conceptual based on member projects; we are also talking about doing a ‘pop up cafe’ there.”
From Zackery and Cathrine at Genomic Gastronomy: For the rest of 2011 The Center for Genomic Gastronomy will be in Bangalore, India. There we will be hosting the second Planetary Sculpture Supper Club, and be doing field research on agricultural biodiversity of eggplants, seed saving, space food (Like China’s Valentines’ Day Space Potato) and learning more about the Cuisine of Karnataka and South India in general.
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