Monday, October 6, 2008
American Traditions Picnic II
The second annual American Traditions Picnic was held on Sunday at Daybreak Start Cultural Center in Discovery Park. Even though the rains held off, we decided to host the event indoors this year, which we were happy to do since the structure is so beautiful with its design of whole reclaimed logs and plenty of natural light. This annual event is cosponsored by Chefs Collaborative and Slow Food Seattle. It is a derivative of the RAFT (Renewing America’s Food Traditions) picnic that was the brainchild of Professor Gary Paul Nabhan. The RAFT event was the culmination of three years of discovering America’s lost food traditions, distributing the seed to farmers, growing the new “old” produce” and finally getting chefs involved to cook these ingredients for the public to taste and savor.
The food and chef combinations this year were fantastic. Author and chef instructor Kären Jurgensen brought several students from Seattle Central Community College to assist in the preparation of freshly shucked Olympia oysters with a sage and huckleberry granite. Top notch restaurants Tilth and La Medusa made creative uses of Makah Ozette potatoes and eggplant, respectively while Oliver’s Twist and Taste at SAM made wonderful seasonal combinations with heirloom tomatoes and apples. I translated last year’s salad into a new presentation of Speckled Trout Lettuce and Foraged Lobster Mushroom Vinaigrette with Estrella Family Creamery’s Alderwood –smoked scamorze. My personal favorite (and I can speak for most of the crowd, was Dustin Ronspies’(Art of the Table) Pulled Churro Lamb. He told me he braised it for 18 hours and added lots of season goodies. The flatbread, chickpea puree and relish were perfect compliments to a well thought out dish. Dustin’s kitchen help (Phil) grilled Riley Stark’s reefnet sockeye salmon to perfection with the fire prowess of Lance McCune by his side. Homemade birch beer was concocted by private chef Lesa Sullivan using her grandmother’s recipe.
Riley Starks spoke to the crowd about the privilege and pleasure he derives from his reefnet salmon fishing operation. The chance to pay homage to ancient fishing techniques, and the ability to share the fishery with chefs, fishermen and the public makes the reefnet program very special for Riley. I have been one of lucky folks who spent time on the reefnet gear fishing for sockeye, catching and then cooking those awesome Fraser River-run salmon. Any and every chef should have this opportunity.
Mary Hunter is a storyteller visiting Seattle from the Makah tribe via Neah Bay. She shared some of the family traditions that are important to her, her family’s history and the significance of maintaining these stories. The meaning in eating traditional foods is transferred through family recipes, annual rituals, and the telling of stories. Mary came in contact with the Seattle Chefs Collaborative a few years ago when member Ashlyn Forschner visited her at her home on the Olympic peninsula. The stories and recipes the Mary shared with Ashlyn and with the crowd at the Daybreak Center on Sunday put our event into perspective. As a culture we eat what is familiar and comfortable to us; if we distance ourselves from our traditions were are sadly alone, but by remembering and honoring those traditions were are happily together as a culture.
An important feature of the picnic, which certainly should not be dismissed as a footnote to the day, was to delivery of our picnic foods to the homeless tent city in a nearby field. The residents of “Nickelsville” were grateful to accept the meal and the participating chefs brought the dishes into a large teepee that served as a makeshift buffet station. I addressed the folks who were living in the temporary city and some of the Slow Food members who joined us in our procession. I was very fortunate to be giving the food to a group of fellow human beings who would appreciate the meal for its warmth and strength. I know my fellow Slow Fooders appreciated the meal as well, but I don’t think they were without alternatives. To know that you will be taken care of by someone at all times is something we take for granted. When you do not know where you will live in the coming days or where you will get the next healthy meal, there is a greater level of appreciation for human good will. Mary Hunter then thanked the residents of the tent city for being brave enough to endure the resistance they often must face. The hope of some can be the fuel for others.
On occasion, one event can really sum up a lot of what I am trying to accomplish as a chef in Seattle. Sunday’s American Traditions Picnic delivered for me on many levels. I was able to source produce and feed a concerned and involved public group a dish that represents what is best and delicious right now in the Puget Sound. I was able to bring a group of chefs together who think similarly about ingredients and the dishes they create. Finally, and most importantly, I was able to feed a group who think of food on a most basic level – that of nutrition and subsistence. I am thankful for this event to be able to make a contribution to the food community on all of these points.