Here is our friend + fellow greenhorn Oliver’s account of the Futurist Banquet held at the MOMA in San Francisco a few weeks ago… it seems epic butchery events are the latest thing.
So much meat, steer, beast. I’m still reeling from the experience, still reminded by the smoke on my flannel, singed armhairs and stung eyeballs.
Friday before last I left Green String farm in Petaluma, Ca, where I am currently an intern, and hopped on a bus headed for San Francisco. I knew there was an OPENrestaurant performance to take place Saturday night in the atrium of the SFMOMA, of futuristic proportions & many months in the making, of which I was going to be a part. My role as I understood it, as in my past performances, was quite vague heading in and particularly ethereal in hindsight. There was a whole cow to be spit roasted for the centerpiece — not merely spectacle, but as an experience to be shared by all who joined, in this case the carving of a massive animal that would feed the entire room. I had received a hasty call days before from my brother explaining that I should find my way to Alemany Farm in order to assist the stewarding of the overnight roast. I’ve helped with a few pigs before, why not a steer? Sounded simple enough. The beast was from my farm, to boot. A midsize Dexter. Of course, it is difficult to truly prepare for such activities — well stocked provisions, a must — but mentally there isn’t much you can do except steady yourself, wits sharpened, and ride the swell.
No one was picking up their phone as I was deposited on Folsom, so I wandered for awhile before my homing device kicked in and I found myself at Bar Tartine, where comrade Chris Kronner recently assumed the duties of chef. I handed him one of our musk melons from the farm, the perfume hitting his nose and lighting up his eyes. He fed me oxtail terrine and a salad of Brooke’s fantastic greens. Belly contented, before I could begin to wonder how I would make my way to the destination, Samin appeared to fetch some greens she had stashed away in the Tartine walk-in, and was heading back to Alemany straightaway. Pure serendipity; something one should never come to rely upon, but always appreciate when it saves your ass. The car ride over gave me a taste of the benevolent chaos chumming the waters in anticipation for the following evening. Samin is always so on point: cheerfully, poignantly discussing food, farming, restaurants & making it all work. But at this point, after lord knows how many hours of thoughtful planning and upended contingency plans, I couldn’t help but sense a sort of manic exhaustion — like the third or fourth turn on a saturday night, or picking the tomato fields as an early october rain approaches — not uncommon in our realms of existence, but heightened and compounded, a permanent adrenaline calm.
My task would prove no less taxing, but hell if it wasn’t fun.
Jack Cannard, master of spit roasting ceremonies, Nico Monday, brother extraordinaire, Jon and Morgan from Bi-Rite Market…we all stoked the fire from sunset friday evening until saturday afternoon, rotating the steer every half hour or so. It took a cord of wood and a sense of humor, as we fed the flames constantly and entertained well-wishers, awestruck residents, passersby..I was no less enthralled, mystified, and happily at ease as all who joined in the process. What was going on here? Peering deep into the fire hour after hour I found no answers, only suggestions offered. The stored energy of the wood crackled in the excitement of release — finally! condensed sunlight in trees stacked upon condensed sunlight of grass transmuted through the mighty vaca, reviving trust in things that make sense.
Things like friends. Friends and bikes. Friends who weld bike trailers made to transport an entire beast across the city. What could be more absurdly fitting, search me. But, as the bike crew amassed to shepherd the flesh to its destination, we calmly exchanged faces in agreement. The hollow end of the spit was steaming a sweet clip of sensation: the wild fennel stuffed in the steer’s cavity mixed with the aroma of simmering beef stock, sending mellow shock waves from nose to spinal cord. Pause. I wanted to crawl inside and have a looksee, yet all we possessed was a meat thermometer the size of a swashbuckling sword to judge our fastidious workmanship. It was done, surely. Or?
Hours later would only confirm what we spent the night envisioning — beast on the butcher block, voraciously snipping the wires that had held animal to spit, tearing off the wetsuit of tinfoil, unfurling the mass of meat to the masses, the odor adorned all in attendance. Jack slid me a chunk from the shank. “Here’s a nice piece” he says smiling, eyes unassuming, radiating the uncanny Cannard warmth. Amidst the fervor, I slathered my face with the moist, dripping, beefy deliciousness. Such a pure feeling, tasting the fescue. Handfuls passed into the mouths of my brothers standing around me. Meeting eyes needed no words.
We removed the spit, nearly ten feet in all, and tromped out of the MOMA atrium, leaving the steaming steer in the expert hands of a dozen lovely ladies, knives in the air, saluting, paying respects to the animals we have coevolved with, the environment which supports us; to the future of the past & the future of the present.
Menu by Sasha Wizansky and Sam White: