Planetary Sculpture Supper Club
One July evening as the brightest stars began poking out from the sky, a constellation of Portland supper clubs were lighting briquettes and pouring apértifs for arriving guests. Sitting on wood-slat sun chairs in the backyard of a North Portland bungalow, Heather Julius and I discussed the menu for that night’s Planetary Sculpture Supper Club. The club, putting on dinners since 2011, is a collaboration between Heather’s Special Snowflake Supper Club and the Center for Genomic Gastronomy—an independent research institute that “explores the genomes and biotechnologies that make up the human food systems on planet earth”. In other words, Heather and her flock of staff aim to fill the appetite of your brain as much as your stomach:
“When Zack Denfeld and Cat Kramer of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy approached me for this round of dinners, they shared several of their current research topics to use as prompts for creating each course.”
“As the discovery of genetically modified (GM) wheat in Oregon and the subsequent ban on US wheat exports by Japan and South Korea was a recent event and topic of their research, I chose to make a noodle salad composed of noodles from each of the three countries. That combination also shows how U.S. wheat growers have influenced traditional foods in Korea and Japan—wheat flour is now often added to both Korean noodles traditionally made with just sweet potato as well as to Japanese soba noodles that are traditionally made with just buckwheat flour. It’s interesting to note that the traditional foods are gluten free.”
“So we tossed all of the noodles with a Korean dressing that contains gokulchang—fermented soybean paste and chile—and also lots of sesame oil, ginger and garlic. We sprinkled black and white sesame seeds on the radishes and tucked some white kimchi (Korean) and an Allium flower inside of a shiso leaf (commonly Japanese).”
“I chose squab to help tell the story of the ‘de-extinction deli.’ Can we or should we return extinct species to live again on the planet, as in Jurassic Park? At this time, scientists are in hot pursuit of viable cells (ones that contain intact nuclei) from extinct animals. Dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, what are the possibilities? I chose the Passenger Pigeon as the extinct species to model because it’s the most accessible for the diner. We used a not-yet-extinct squab species that was closely related to the Passenger Pigeon and would closely emulate the experience of eating its extinct counterpart. We used roasted beets and painted the plates with beet juice that looks like blood to dramatize the search for blood or live cells needed to bring the extinct species back to life.”
“We also considered what the once-exintinct animals will eat when they return? This may not be a problem for pigeons, but may be a serious question for megafauna such as mammoths and mastodons. Will we return species only to put them in game parks or in feedlots or farms so we can eat them? On the plate, we put grains, seeds and berries (all things that the Passenger Pigeon could eat), freekeh, pumpkin seeds, pickled green strawberries and mustard seeds.”
Heather hurried back to prepare the plates. My interest piqued, I visited Ray and Cliff who were grilling squab (seen below), and then I returned and took my seat at the table.
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