Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dinner as capital E Experience

You probably know by now that I find food endlessly fascinating, particularly the trends that nudge us happy consumers of the dining out experience in one direction or another. As I read blogs, articles and tweets that come my way, and talk with like-minded friends, I see a couple of interesting things happening. One is flourishing as a result of our revived interest -- especially is this neck of the woods -- in eating food that comes as directly from the producer as possible. The second seems to be a combination of the cult of personality and the mish-mash of different entertainment elements into one Mega Experience.

I’ve raved about Kurtwood Farms in a previous post and I think that it’s an outstanding example of this first genre of food experience. Hosting at his farm on Vashon Island, Kurt Timmermeister does an extraordinary job of connecting city types (some of us who don’t even have an urban garden -- gasp!) with where our food comes from and producing a simply delicious meal while he’s at it. Another in this vein is Outstanding in the Field, which I’ve not done but would like to the next time it comes to the Seattle area. The OitF folks pick a location, usually a farm so it really is farm-to-table, and partner with a local chef. Last summer they did two dinners in Carnation, at Full Circle Farm and Oxbow Farm, as well as an event onsite to benefit the Seattle Youth Garden Works at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

Interestingly, it’s a short hop from farm-to-table to the second genre of food experience I’m seeing, as both leverage the cult of personality that can form around a talented chef. Look no further than Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain or even the beloved Julia Child. As food lovers we eat at their restaurants, buy their cookbooks and watch their television shows because these are easy and accessible ways to tap into a little bit of that talent and personality.

In Seattle we certainly have our version of the celebrity chef, Tom Douglas and Ethan Stowell among the most visible of the empire-builders. Or one of the chefs who connects the farm-to-table and cult of personality genres for me, Matthew Dillon of The Corson Building and Sitka and Spruce. Dillon was the guest chef at OinF’s Seattle Youth Garden Works dinner, and he’s also participating in Hope Grocery’s New Guard. As described by Lorna Yee at Seattle Magazine, New Guard is “a new underground dinner club that combines a love for good food, art and music. Monthly dinners feature chefs from Springhill, Cantinetta and The Corson Building cooking up casual, family-style meals. Art pieces curated from new, local artists are featured, and the evening ends with live music from a rotating list of talented bands.” How cool, right? And here is where that other piece of the genre comes in, the act of combining several different elements into one totally fabulous experience centered around food.

Now, New Guard sounds a lot like another interesting occurrence, Songs for Eating and Drinking, a collaborative effort brought to us by foodie Michael Hebb at One Pot and the incredibly talented Seattle-based photographer, Chase Jarvis. Their dinner experience also involves art but rather than the visual variety, Songs for Eating and Drinking is well, all about the music. And I have to say I love their description of the meal as “sturdy drinking food.” In thinking about this evening somehow the word “raucous” comes to mind…

In what are somewhat precarious financial times, it seems as though people want more of a bang for their buck, more “experience” from their dining experience. But if you’re not up for the big stuff, now is also an excellent time to check out the other end of the spectrum, which is flourishing as a result of the current economy. One example at that more affordable end of the spectrum is mobile food, something big in Seattle right now. For a chance to sample the wares of a bunch of good purveyors all in one place check out next weekend’s Mobile Food Chowdown.

Who knows what the next trend will be and from whence it will come? You can bet that I’ll be on the lookout for it, for sure.

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