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 (www.smokefarm.org) 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.