Friday, July 17, 2009

Burning Beast: Meat Lover's Camping

Last weekend, at my sister's behest, I attended what may have been the coolest gathering of my life thus far: BURNING BEAST, held on a 360-acre farm in the evergreen hills of Arlington, Washington. The idea of the feast, er "Beast" is essentially a bacchanalian meat-lovers picnic with a slightly medieval flair. And it... was... AWESOME.

This year marked the third annual gathering of Burning Beast, the brainchild of Seattle Super Chef Tamara Murphy (chef/owner of Brasa). Burning Beast was her way of bringing the renowned Burning Man festival to her neck of the woods, and giving it her own spin. With the help of her friends at Smoke Farm ( she had the perfect outdoor venue, and wa-lah! "Burning Beast" was born.

Imagine a handful of Seattle's best chefs, each with a different animal to cook outdoors the old fashioned way-- over flames, smoke, and/or hot rocks.

Spit-roasted pigs, stewed goat, perfectly charred rotisserie chickens, a carousel of smoked rabbits, fire roasted lamb finished in clay pots, giant Argentinian asado-style beef roasts, geoducks and regular ducks, and more. Part of the fun was seeing the "beasts" burn throughout the day, tended with the utmost care of Seattle's most adventurous and talented cooks.

A small crowd gatherd in the afternoon to watch "Oyster" Bill Whitbeck of Taylor Shellfish clean the geoducks (pronounced gooey ducks) which would later go into tacos (they rolled the tortillas themselves). The uh, suggestive mollusks were enough to make a girl blush, and Chef Tamara Murphy remarked, "Well if that's not proof that Mother Nature has a sense of humor, then I don't know what is."

With ample space and an intimately sized crowd (the event sold out at 400 tickets), the chefs were hapy to chat about how they were tackling their animals. For $75 guests were welcome to explore the farm, swim in the river, camp overnight, and of course enjoy all the food you can eat.

Kim and I spent our time on the farm, eating, drinking wine, playing cornhole (yes, it's real game), and watching trapeze artists.

But the focal point of the event was of course the feast. At around 6 p.m. the dinner bell rang and lines (which were never overly long) began to form at each of about ten stations. The organizers of the nonprofit event had encouraged guests to bring their own plates and cutlery to minimize waste (b.y.o.p.), and reasonably priced beer and wine was sold in the bar for those who didn't b.y.o.b.

My first and one of my favorite tastes was a rich, red, goat stew called Birria, traditional to the Jalisco region of Mexico. Prepared by the chefs of Circa, and served with a warm tortilla, fresh cilantro and crema, I instantly broke my promise to pace myself and ate the whole bowl. Next we tasted Kim's favorite: crisp and smoky rotisserie chicken served with a refreshing cucumber relish. We followed that with the spit-roasted pig, which had roasted to an amber crisp over the coals all day, while being mopped with coconut water. It was served Balinese-style, on a banana leaf with sambal, rice, and fried shallots.

Chef Matt Dillon of Sitka and Spruce had coaxed beautiful and subtle flavors from his lamb, roasting and then stewing it in clay pots with what I think was fresh tomato, garlic, and dill. A dollop of yogurt and a squeeze of lemon, and his stew moved into the number one spot on my list.

Tamara Murphy had roasted her pig all night in an earth oven, over apple wood embers and hot river rocks, covered with many layers of burlap and banana leaves, and steamed with beer poured into a copper pipe she had buried beneath the pig. Um, wow. That, I thought, was the finest example of amazingly cooked and seasoned meat. I even had the good fortune of getting a crispy, salty, succulent bit of the skin in my little mess bowl.

Then I ate a mini-baguette stuffed with smoked rabbit, pickled carrot, and a spicy aioli. Then, of course, I had to hit the "Heads" station for a grilled and split sockeye salmon head. As reccommended I tried the coveted cartilage behind the eye, which was rich and full of the animal's essence, like bone marrow.

Soon after, I hit a meat wall, and spent the next few hours glazed over with a glass of red wine, watching a twenty foot tall goat burn to the ground. I missed out on the geoduck tacos and the vegetable station, and slept through the dance party that started up after the third band finished playing (dangit!). I slept it off in my sister Kim's giant tent--The Taj Mahal--listening to the rain fall harder and harder into the wee hours.

In the middle of the night I woke up with a start when the rain awning that had collected about 5 gallons of water came crashing down, through the door, and onto Kim's head!! Oh no sister!!

She jolted up, disoriented and dripping wet. When she figured out what happened she said, "That was just like Flashdance!" and then tossed her soggy sleeping bag and pad in between our two other tent mates, and instantly fell back to sleep. You're one in a million sis.

The whole thing was unforgettable: the food, the farm, the friends, the Cornhole. I will be back. Burning Beast just made my permanent roster.


Brian Wise said...

Surprisingly enough, said "Burning Man" community of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon held Critical Massive the very next weekend. CM is the actual Burning Man regional for the Seattle region, and while it's not commercialized (as one of the ten principles is no commerce at events) the event was attended by over 700 people.

While I salute Smoke Farm for their event, I also want to specifically point out that in no way is Smoke Farm affilitated at this moment in time with the Burner community of the Puget Sound region in any official capacity, and that the Smoke Farm event, a for-profit venture, is in no way affiliated with Burning Man, to the best of my personal knowledge.

As a second note: if the woman who organized the event really wanted to get a feel for a Burning Man-style experience, all she had to do was head to Mount Vernon - 30 miles away - one weekend later.

D said...

Great article! Congrats on the full color neighbors section too!

I was thinking of you the other day, my hood (waywoo, dub dub, the wood hood, the wedge, aka wedgwood) had some festival with a bunch of hippies cooking with solar power. They basically had grills with aluminum foil everywhere. I felt like Hank Hill "uhhh I do most of my grillin' with propane and propane accessories..."

Ginny Mahar said...

Just to clarify, Burning Beast, to the best of my understanding, was a nonprofit event. As stated on Brown Paper Ticket's Description, "Burning Beast is a benefit event for Smoke Farm; a project of the Rubicon Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non profit organization."

Anonymous said...

Brian, don't let your playa panties bunch.
Some Burners take themselves way too seriously for a bunch of self-admitted clowns. There is a life beyond the Playa.
Burning Beast was awesome and gave respect and made fun of Burning Man.
Next "Burning Woman"-Christians stage witch flaming festival on the Black Rock Desert to protest heathen hedonistic activity at "Burning Man-officially Trademarked and Copywrited event-no humor allowed"

Anonymous said...

And Brian, please explain the big salaries and nice houses in SF of the "non-profit" founders of Burning Man. Somebody is getting rich off of 30,000 of us paying $300 each. Do the math, do your research, and don't blindly accept facetious altruism.

John Foss said...


Great article and pics. Glad you enjoyed the "Salmon Heads". Too bad in the madness, we weren't properly introduced. We will be in Juneau in late August or Sept. and would love to meet you.
Please invite us to Southeast Beast, what a great idea!

John Foss

Anonymous said...


I'm making your Salmon Spread tonight with some amazing leftover salmon from one of the classic Rafael Friday night dinners. We miss you and cant wait to hang. Thanks for sharing your food fav's and totally agree on the Vietnamese food. Yum!

Much love,


Ginny Mahar said...

Nice Regs! Hope you like it. I get into trouble with that stuff! nyum!

Thanks for the comment. It totally juices me up to know that rad peeps like you are diggin' on Food G.

Ginny Mahar said...


Fantastic! Shoot me an email or tweet when you get to town. I will be away at a wedding around the time you are here, but hopefully we will overlap. I'd like to know more about Coastal Rovers.


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