With an enticing name like “Burning Beast,” how could I possibly resist?
Well, there were reasons… The event was to take place waaaaay up north, much further afield that I normally travel for a meal. And did I really have the intestinal fortitude to consume the acres of meat the event’s name clearly implied?
Turns out that none of these were real obstacles, because last Sunday I found myself trundling up I-5 toward Arlington, with three intrepid friends and proven good eaters, on our way to Burning Beast. The event takes place down a winding series of roads that lead to Smoke Farm, a former working dairy that has been transformed into a home for artists, educators and performers, all working to promote art and creativity. Burning Beast is one of the major fundraisers for the year, and helps to support a range of initiatives and programs of Smoke Farm, among them things like poetry retreats, puppetry classes, blacksmithing camps and workshops for theater-makers.
Passing a tractor shed on our way into the farm we got a peek at the physical incarnation of one of those creative undertakings, the letter press machines that make up Smoke Farm Press. For a closer look, check out the post by one of my fellow travelers who went to examine in more detail the machines and what they’re producing.
So what exactly IS Burning Beast, you ask? In theory, it’s a chance for a group of extremely skilled local chefs to lend their time and talent to an excellent cause, and along the way teach the rest of us a bit about where our food comes from (connecting us to the WHOLE animal), and how good local, sustainably raised animals can taste. In practice, it’s 15-ish chefs and their cooking teams who spend a weekend preparing and serving an animal, vegetable or sea creature, using fire, earth, steel and little else. No electricity; it’s all open flame and a great deal of creativity.
… times the number and variety of meats and sea creatures listed on the chalkboard menu.
(In case you didn’t catch that, we’re talking some of the best restaurants in Seattle represented here: Emmer & Rye, Serafina, Cicchetti, Marjorie, Monsoon, Crush, Art of the Table, Lark, Licorous. Be still my beating heart!)
A laid-back crowd, a fair number of people seemed to arrive at 3pm when the “doors” opened, interested in checking out the farm, the nearby river or maybe just lounging in the sun. At some point the trapeze artists set up in the middle of the field started performing, and there was live music from a couple of different bands throughout the afternoon and into the evening.
That photo also gives you an idea of the size of the field where the event took place, with all of those tents representing different chefs and beasts. And after about 6:30pm when the food started coming off various fires, the scene looked a bit like this, with people lining up at various tables and tents for all sorts of deliciousness.
Where to begin with that deliciousness… Moose and blueberry sausage wrapped in bacon; rabbit stuffed with rabbit and housemade (fieldmade?) prosciutto sausage; Painted Hills ribeye on crostini; lamb with pistachios, golden raisins, golden beets and mint; slow-roasted harissa goat; moose confit –– just to name a few. And the sides that accompanied some of the meats were pretty fantastic as well: Calvados fig jam; farro with peas and blueberries; English pea and tarragon cream.
As promised, the event did include several non-meat options including a slew of extremely tasty roasted vegetables, the most enormous sardines I’ve ever seen and a huge stack of mammoth oysters steamed under a pile of wet burlap bags. Ingenuity at its best, I say.
And finally, after everyone was absolutely stuffed to the gills, here’s where the burning beast part came in: The massive wooden goat was set aflame and everyone gathered around as eventually, it became campfire-sized.
That’s the moment when the crowd began to disperse a bit, and we departed to make the drive back to Seattle. Though I suspect that’s when the real fun started, as there looked to be plenty of people armed with camping gear planning to spend the night. Maybe for year four I’ll be ready to eat myself silly and then crawl into a tent for the night. But only if I’m promised a rib-eye breakfast, I think. And maybe only if Fonte is still there and still pouring coffee.
/ Unless otherwise noted, photos by Chong Kim /