Seattle's Most Adventurous Chefs Cook a Feast in a Field
Watch Kelly O's video coverage of the Burning Beast bacchanal.
The bar at Burning Beast was bare bones, as a bar in a barn should be. Kegs of Manny's—which always sounds wrong when you're ordering: "I'll have a mayonnaise"—from Georgetown were nested in ice. Wine cost $4 a glass, with cases sitting unattended late at night. (Burning Beast, I owe you $16.) Bar ambience was provided by the eaves, assorted tools and machinery, a large anvil, a tree reconstituted from layers of plywood, and a sheet cake decorated with a tiny plastic gorilla wearing an "I HEART MEAT" T-shirt as it cooked four tiny plastic meats on a tiny spit. The logs for his fire: lengths of breadstick.
Outside the bar in the barn was a feast in a field: the first annual Burning Beast, a large-scale version of what was happening atop the cake (minus the gorilla). The site was Smoke Farm, a lovely place an hour north of Seattle where lovely oddities occur—incubations of theater, design charettes, philosophers' cabals, poets' poeting, etc. Burning Beast is a fundraiser for Smoke Farm in which teams of Seattle chefs cook whole beasts over open fires; the premiere sold out, a 250-person crowd paying $65 each for a carnivore's bacchanal. These were people profoundly comfortable with their relationship with meat. These were people who joke about vegans, people who wear T-shirts reading "MEAT IS MURDER/tasty, tasty murder," people who respond to a whole pig slowly spinning on a spit (its skin bulging and browning and glistening, its ears wrapped in protective tinfoil) by wondering who's going to get the tongue.
Throughout midday, different chef-crews occasionally dropped whole carcasses on burning hot racks into fires, cursing mightily and recovering clumsily. The two major cooking injuries—a deeply gashed thumb and a forefinger nearly severed at the top knuckle—had occurred prior to Burning Beast, while chopping onions and cleaning a candlestick, respectively; it's always the prosaic stuff that gets you. The most aesthetically pleasing teamwork was guided by Le Pichet's sous chef Tyson Danielson, who hung silver-and-black-striped mackerel over coals, like a mobile made of fish. Sardines impaled on cherrywood sticks glinted on an adjoining grill. Gabriel Claycamp—who'll be doing his second "sacrificio," a daylong pig killing/butchering/eating memorial/celebration, next month—confited lamb in giant pots over flames and cooked "gut relish" of ground organ meat, jalapeños, olives, capers, sultanas, and pine nuts. Maria Hines (Tilth) and Angie Roberts (BOKA) made duck even better than duck always is, under the open sky.
Most ingenious: Matt Dillon (of Sitka and Spruce/The Corson Building), for sewing two small goats into conjoined twins and stuffing the cavity with more meat. Most mentioned with the word "favorite": the rabbit sausage (not a whole beast, but no one objected) made and grilled by Dylan Giordan of Serafina. Closest resemblance to Anthony Bourdain while striding shirtless across a field: Dustin Ronspies of Wallingford's Art of the Table. Most voluble: the marvelously jovial Bill Whitbeck of Taylor Shellfish (from whence came oysters that were smoked under burlap sacks). Prettiest brush for brushing on marinade: the bunch of rosemary tied to a stick deployed by the rogue team of Jones Glassworks.
The pig—the centerpiece of all the hot grilling action—was tended by Brasa's Nick Albrecht. When asked about the contents of the spray bottle he was firing intermittently at his pig, he said, "It's a secret," while a compatriot of his simultaneously said, "Apple Snapple and water." Vegetables were also grilled, which entirely elude recollection. Seth Caswell (formerly of Stumbling Goat), working on the veg grills, admitted it wasn't very glamorous, but at least, he said, he'd be safe if PETA showed up.
Everyone milled, ate, drank, and reveled in glamorized savagery, with a set of attendees ostentatiously carrying around bottles of BYOB Veuve Clicquot lending a decadent, end-of-days frisson. People swam in the cold Stillaguamish River and/or camped under the rural multiplicity of stars (but probably not the Veuve Clicquot party). There was a bonfire. Charlie Hertz of Zoe's Meats brought a great deal of the world's best bacon for those smart enough to stay for the next day's breakfast; he said his friends routinely let themselves into his house and just start making bacon, and then refused to say where he lived. A gentleman going by the name Sly of Specialty Roast Coffee Company provided coffee; he told stories of taking his children to some of Paris's finest restaurants, and then refused to adopt anyone.
The engineer and dynamo of it all was Tamara Murphy, the chef famous for her blog about raising pigs to be eaten at her restaurant Brasa. She'd hit a deer driving in; it exploded on impact and wrecked the car. She wondered whether it was karma, or the deer protesting the underrepresentation of venison at Burning Beast.
This piece has been edited to reflect that it is Bill Whitbeck of Taylor Shellfish who is marvelously jovial, not Bill Taylor (who is reportedly rather subdued).