Saturday, July 21, 2012

Burning Beast aka Hog Heaven

Imagine yourself in a vast open space in the outdoors on a farm, among fields of tall grass and towering pine trees.  In the distant is a green carpeted landscape situated ever so peacefully on the mountain hillside.  Feel the sun as it kisses your skin with a few soft pecks before it hides behind the seemingly devilish clouds.  You feel a mild chill in the air as the wind picks up and in one breath your senses are captured by the concurrent smell of burning wood, charcoal and smoking meat.  You look around and you're suddenly aware you are completely surrounded by every meat you could possibly imagine being cooked, smoked and/or barbecued. This isn't any old farm, but a smoke farm.  Call it heaven or hell, but we found ourselves in our own personal heaven.  Surrounded by the beauty of remote Washington, some of Seattle's best chefs and a super-sized BBQ otherwise known as Burning Beast.

Burning Man photo courtesy Wikipedia
What is Burning Beast you ask?  Burning Beast is an annual fundraising event that benefits the aptly named Smoke Farm, which is a program center and event space and is affiliated with the non-profit, Rubicon Foundation.  The event is well past its infancy (2012 marks its 5th year) and is the child of superstar chef, Tamara Murphy (James Beard Award winner, owner of Terra Plata, and former owner of Brasa and Elliott Bay Cafe).  The concept of the event is to bring together owners/chefs of local restaurants, assign them a type of meat (sustainable animal) and provide them with local ingredients (notice a pattern?) in which to prepare a dish using their designated meat.  If you know Tamara, she relishes supporting local and sustainable food and the farmers that produce it, which seems to be main the driver of the event.  Tamara's inspiration came from wanting to attend Burning Man one year, but not making it.  She decided instead to create her own event here in the Northwest.  Burning Man is an event held in the Nevada desert every year that becomes a small city for the week it is happening.   Burning Man sets aflame an effigy of a man (see the tie to the burning beast)?  Burning Man has various goals but some of them include gifting, self-reliance, art, communal effort and leave no trace.

Our arrival with gear
Tamara has used that original inspiration and launched something wildly successful.  2012 was the Beast's 5th year and with every year it's gaining momentum and popularity.  According to our sources, only 400 tickets are issued and in 2011 the tickets sold out in 3 days.  In 2012, tickets sold out in less than 3 hours.  Ro just happened to hear about it within those 3 hours and scored two tickets.  Being Burning Beast virgins (BBV's), we inquired of our friend, Victoria (who is in charge of the event's social media) what we should bring and her must haves were chairs and wine and luckily for us we already had both.  

Finally, July 15th arrived.  We packed up our chairs, wine and beer (we like options) and our picnic table and set out on our trek to Arlington (only an hour + north of Seattle, but it felt like forever).  Thankfully we had cell service in the middle of no where, therefore our GPS worked and with every turn we kept thinking, "where the heck are we?"

Ro and FloJo with the Beast
We finally arrived at Smoke Farm, which is at the end of-- get this-- Smokes Road (a marketer's dream). We were immediately taken in by the scene before us.  It was unlike anything we'd ever seen.  A gaggle of people and camp chairs all haphazardly situated in an inner circle with rows of make-shift kitchens (of which most of them were emanating smoke indicating something was a cookin') around the outer perimeter.  Center ring was a not to be overlooked imposing, giant, statuesque elk (we suspect) made from scraps of wood.  This imposing statue stood tall, presiding over the event and was lovingly referred to as the Beast.  We later learned the Beast was going to be set on fire at sun down. A sacrificial offering to the food and weather gods, perhaps?  Or simply, just because we all love lighting things on fire.

After our bow and curtsies to the Beast, we set out and started checking out the various food stations.  As our journey was under way, we immediately bumped into our friend, Zephyr Paquette, owner of Skelly and the Bean.  Her station was lamb and we noticed that she was roasting one leg with coffee beans set over the fire (pictured below left) to provide a java flavored smoke (nice Seattle touch ZP).  We also noticed that she was having some fun while cooking (pictured below right), which is very important or else why do it?  It reminded Ro of Aunty Marialani's Cooking Show (if you're from Hawai'i, you'll know who "she" is).


After we visited with her for a hot minute, we continued our casual station hopping.  Rookie BBV mistake, we later learned that the vets eye each offering and prioritize a list of what to eat first (knowing that you can't possibly try everything).  We also learned by seeing our Burning Beast veteran friend's set-up (way to bring it Dan and Opie that we could make improvements for next year.

Dylan Giordan, Bin on the Lake - Chicken

Adam Hoffman, Adam's Northwest Bistro and Brewery - Duck

Brandon Karrow, Staple and Fancy - Salmon

Chalres Walpole,  Blind Pig Bistro - Sheep

Ron Jones - Pig

Ron Jones - Pig

Lindsay Herschlip, Maria Hines, Tilth/Golden Beetle - Cow

Jon Rowley, Taylor Shellfish - Oysters

Matt Lewis, Where Ya at Matt - Lamb

Mike Easton, Il Corvo - Goat

Aaron Matson, The Copper Hog - Bison

Linda Di Lello Morton & Tamara Murphy (Burning Beast Founder), Terra Plata - Beef heart with Inca Cola
Dinner was set for 5pm, but we noticed other Beastonians suddenly swarming the shucking station near the Taylor Shellfish oyster shack (come to find out a Burning Beast Mainstay).  This was an obvious sign (even for BBVs) that the party had started. Ro got in there (now an experienced oyster shucker) and scored us two nice sized oysters, which paired well with our wheat beer.  We then started mapping out our game plan for which stations we wanted to hit...uh try.  We decided we had to try the hostess's station, Terra Plata's anticuchos, a Peruvian street food of beef heart skewer with a spicy green sauce (it looked like chimichurri but wasn't) served with Inca Kola that tasted like cream soda (great idea Victoria).  We then wanted to try the most intriguing meat of the evening, Aaron Matson's (The Copper Hog) bison prepared two ways.

Oyster aftermath at the shucking table
Freshly shucked oysters with our wheat beer


Clockwise: Beef heart skewer, bison sausage, bison meat and Inca Kola

Clockwise: Lamb, ram skewer, goat



Try and guess what's what
As BBVs we thought the smart strategy was to pace ourselves. We approached Beast as a 10K and not a sprint.  We slowly moved on to Round Two, which include Matt Lewis' lamb, (of famed Seattle food truck, Where Ya at Matt) then onto Mike Easton's  (Il Corvo) goat and Josh Henderson's (Skillet) ram.  Lamb, goat and ram...oh my! 

In our third and final round, we threw our slow pace out the window and held nothing back as our eating went into high gear (we've coined it "Getting into Beast mode").  We hit up as many stations as our limited plates would allow.  You name it, we got it - cow, salmon, chicken, lamb, lamb balls, salted pork, chicken, sheep and corn on the cob.  The only thing we missed out on, but were dead set on trying, was the duck (we must have been in a protein coma). It was a devastating miss (not really).  We washed down what we could with a spin-off of a Dark and Stormy (a drink FloJo learned to make while working in Bermuda) with pork infused vodka, grilled pineapple and maple syrup from BathTub Gin.  It was pretty amazing that even the drinks incorporated meat.  We couldn't taste the pork, but the drink was delicious.  We topped off this feast of carne with FloJo's favorite item of the night made by Trophy Cupcakes.  A chocolate cupcake that was topped with a nugget straight from heaven, a bourbon infused piece of candied bacon.

FloJo with the Dark and Stormy spin-off
We really liked the concept as a whole, but to be brutally honest, we encountered a lot of dishes that were either overcooked or undercooked.  However, under the circumstances we figured we would cut the chefs some slack since they are not within the comforts of their respective indoor kitchens and probably aren't used to cooking in the outdoors over an open flame.  Even in meat centric diets, Asadors train for years to master the craft.  We were pretty forgiving given the vibe, the company and most of all the carefree atmosphere.  We did have our personal favorites (in no particular order) which were Where Ya at Matt's lamb served in a flavorful sauce with zucchini, squash and pickled onions, Taylor Shellfish oysters - what's not to love about BBQ oysters you suck down and throw down the shells, Trophy Cupcakes and the Dark and Stormy spin-off (non-meat favorites).  We stayed through the small rain storm and witnessed the long awaited burning of the Beast.  It was a bit medieval as the ceremony began with a woman dancing around the beast with fire fingers and another woman wearing a fire crown singing opera.  Everyone gathered around to watch as if it was truly a sacrifice.

We really enjoyed ourselves at our inaugural Burning Beast and are making plans for next year's event where we will be BBV's no more.  We're even considering camping overnight because it was a drag driving back to the city and getting up for work the next morning.  Anyone have a trailer for sale by any chance?

Aloha and good cooking.  May the Beast be with you.  Live life with flavor and fun!