The more I think about it, the more I realize how remarkable the Bay Area food culture is. The recent success of OPEN restaurant, urban farming and homesteading, and the various other offbeat food and art projects all indicate that we are at a unique place in space and time. A gateway has been opened to looking at food in a new way, and creative people are doing a lot to change the paradigm of what it means to feed ourselves. At once, we are taking huge steps forward and turning back to the age-old values of community and generosity.
Ever since last August, when we closed Eccolo, the Berkeley, California restaurant where I was sous chef, I've had the incredible luck and pleasure of collaborating with friends and colleagues on a variety of food-related projects in hopes of narrowing my focus as a cook, writer, and teacher. At Eccolo, I'd befriended Oakland-based urban farmer and journalist Novella Carpenter, and almost immediately we began scheming about ways to share our farmer/farmwife interests with a wider audience.
Now I spent my sleepless nights worrying if the fire marshal would approve our permit application for spit-roasting an 800-pound steer.
We started by teaching Chicken and Rabbit 101, classes for aspiring urban farmers about how to humanely raise and slaughter, then butcher and cook meat animals. The classes were a hit, and with the release of Novella's book Farm City, we took our act on the road, culminating in a trip last November to Brooklyn, where together with Meatpaper magazine, Diner Journal, and Marlowe & Sons restaurant in Williamsburg, we put on a series of rabbit-related events aptly named "East Meats West." We taught Rabbit 101 in Brooklyn to a diverse class of strangers unified by their hunger to truly understand what it takes to feed themselves. Teaching across the country with Novella began to give me a glimpse of the need to empower and encourage Americans to return to the kitchen, and I sowed the seeds for a series of cooking classes I call Home Ec, aiming to demystify the simple acts of making pasta, butchering a chicken, or putting up tomatoes for the winter.
I found myself back at Chez Panisse, where I'd been taught to cook, and whose kitchen I will always consider my home. I was filling in mostly for my friend Jerome Waag, who'd been awarded a grant to build a pop-up restaurant Kyrgyzstan and would be gone for the next six weeks. Jerome, along with pastry chef Stacie Pierce and maitre d' Sam White, is a founder of OPEN restaurant, an indescribable undertaking that aims to undress what it means to be a restaurant by putting on events that combine elements of food, performance art, and politics with a healthy dose of debauchery. They were planning OPENfuture, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of F.T. Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto hosted by SFMoMA, and they reached out to me for some help with planning.