Here's the thing about Burning Beast, Seattle's summertime salute to carnivorism and the culinary arts: If you show up at Smoke Farm in the late afternoon, you may miss out on what makes the event a perennial instant sellout.
All photos by Ken Raskin
Participating chefs -- each of whom has been assigned a whole animal by founder Tamara Murphy -- are instructed to ring their dinner triangles around 5 p.m., but the service portion of the schedule feels positively mellow. Like the Saturday morning of a big game weekend, when students are still sleeping off their anticipatory celebrations and alums haven't yet started tailgating, the meal is sandwiched between two parties. By the time they're dishing up meat, chefs are already tuckered from drunken brainstorming sessions and around-the-spit antics. Eaters, looking forward to a night of camping, are just warming up.
I knew none of this until yesterday, when I attended my first Beast. I didn't know attendees were supposed to bring their own drinks, so was suitably stunned by the elaborate spreads of wines, olives and cheeses other festival-goers arranged, transforming their campsites into mini Dean & Delucas. I didn't know what kind of plates and cutlery I was supposed to bring: Would I need a freshly-sharpened knife to tackle all that animal flesh? (As it turned out, no knife was required. And the commemorative Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower plate I picked up at an Arlington antiques shop worked beautifully.)
Taylor Shellfish was the first to declare its chow line open, and attendees gravitated toward the shucking table so purposefully that it looked something like the standard science fiction movie scene in which aliens are drawn back to their mother ship. When the swarm dispersed, there was nothing left on the table but the wreckage of roasted oyster shells and bottles of hot sauce, which helped make palatable the most egregiously overcooked meats served up from chef tents ringing the field.
There was a fair bit of overcooking, which is to be expected when chefs accustomed to working indoors decide to play with open flames. But the audience couldn't have been more forgiving: The scenery was gorgeous; it hadn't yet started raining; the lines moved efficiently; chefs weren't stingy with their servings and most everyone had remembered to bring their own booze.
Notably, it was the lower-profile cook teams which contributed perhaps the best dishes: Quillisascut Farm, led by Karen Jurgensen, made goat meatballs, which looked less spectacular in their frying pans than the whole lambs and hogs strung up in other tents. But the kibbeh meatballs were earthy and goaty and great, and the silky sauces served alongside them far outclassed the vestigial Chohula on the Taylor Shellfish table. Adam Hoffman of Adam's Northwest Bistro transformed rows of beautifully roasted, crisp-skinned ducks into a refined dish with preserved apricots that any bride would be proud to serve her wedding guests. I'm still learning, but maybe doing just dinner at Burning Beast isn't the world's worst idea, after all.
So which beasts got burned yesterday? Here, an illustrated overview of who served what: