Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cook's Notes: Book Release for Lisa Wells' "Beast" (Bedouin Books)

Photos in the blog post are courtesy of Ryan Fish
Flying Fish Roe, Shiso leaf, tofu custard and orange
Tender Boiled Egg. Caper and shallot oil. Smoked salt. Matcha Green tea.  

Flying Fish Roe. Shiso leaf. Tofu custard. Orange zest.

Gravlax and Buckwheat Blini. Brandy, dill seed.

Black Bean and Kimchi Quesadilla.

Muhammara. Roasted red pepper, walnut, pomegranate molasses.

Za’atar. Thyme, sesame, sumac.

Chorizo. Marinated in olive oil and aromatics. Sherry vinegar.

Lemon Chiffon Puff. Lemon curd. 

So I am riffing on the death/rebirth imagery with eggs and also with the food items that traditionally were buried in graveyards to cure and ferment (gravlax, kimchi). I was also struck by the intense color palette so I'm thinking about the color of bruises (pink, purple, yellow, green, blue) and inks dispersing underwater; we are also doing some stuff (I think) with shards and glass-fragility, fracture, food as "freeze frame." Also, I'm trying to work in something with ashes and also maybe with beer-recurring, high-frequency mentions in the poem collection. —excerpt from menu notes correspondence to Michael D'Alessandro, Publisher of Bedouin Books

Gravlax and Buckwheat Blini
Last Friday (the 13th!) we catered the Bedouin Books release party for Lisa Wells' brilliant new collection of poems called "Beast." I wanted to take our menu cues from the poems and above is an excerpt from my initial menu notes correspondence with the publisher, Michael D'Alessandro. I wanted to connect our readers on a food-level with the work, so of course an emphasis on the feral, primordial quality expressed in the title and throughout the book. What interested me most was the idea of a "reader response" expressed through food. There are many images of death and mourning and loss and fracture in the work and this powered the menu planning: 

The sky
rains silver pins across the glass
and each drop rings a tiny fractured bell.

Eggs are symbols of the life cycle in many traditions. They are associated with birth, the soul and also with mourning. I was thinking about mourning and comfort, a funeral feast in a sense, and the movement of menu tastes is from bitter to sweet, but even the lemon chiffon puffs, the dessert, have some bitter from citrus in the cake and in the lemon curd. 

The green tea on the tender boiled eggs was a note of bitter against the creaminess of the egg; it also promoted the color palette, what I thought of as the colors of a bruise that is healing: green, purple and yellow. I played around with some sugar brittles—pumpkin and candied crab—as well as a beer jelly that is stirred to look like broken glass—but did not end up serving. Experiments that did not pan out—but I will try again. I used organic, unrefined sugars for the brittles so they were cloudy and I wanted them to look like glass. And the beer jelly was wincingly bitter. 

I was moved by a kitchen scene in the collection:

Raise the dough,
grate the cheese, lay down
green leaves of fragrant basil.
Then, I eat

I then tried to capture this visual with the za’atar heavy with green thyme on rounds of toast:
Za'atar (sesame, thyme, sumac)
There are a lot of references to driving in "Beast:" 

The road’s yellow stitch hems me to earth,
fragile as a swatch of sun

From this couplet I became obsessed with the idea of a yellow dessert. I loved these lines as they made me think of W.S. Merwin's "Separation:" 

Your absence has gone through me
like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

I thought about trying to line up the tiny lemon chiffon cupcakes like highway divider lines, but happily discarded the ideas as possibly impractical and too literal. 

Planning and executing the menu was a really engaging project and I hope that we have more opportunities for such collaborations and impressionistic renderings of responses to works of art. 

Please visit Bedouin Books to purchase a copy of "Beast." 

Some of the beautiful work published by Michael D'Alessandro of Bedouin Books