Burning Beast 2019

“Welcome to the world’s best feast in a field!” Held annually at Smoke Farm in Arlington, Washington, and organized by chef Tamara Murphy, Burning Beast celebrates all things carnivore, inviting chefs to compete with one another for the title of Ultimate Beastmaster glory and a plaque with a skull on it. Each chef is assigned a protein, but it’s up to them how to prepare it to stand out from their peers and win the accolades of the 500 hungry attendees. 

This was the first year I was able to get my hands on tickets (they typically sell out in minutes and though I purchased my tickets in a harried frenzy, this year they appeared to still be available on the date of the event itself), and I was eager to experience the beefy bacchanal for myself. The chefs generally arrive the previous day, camping at the site and preparing for the event. Ticketholders are invited in at 3pm, with the dinner bell ringing at 5pm or thereabouts. As ticketholders arrive, they’re handed a menu for the evening and a station at which to start.

The lineup:

  • Chicken, Jack Timmons of Jack’s BBQ
  • Beef, Michelle Pegues of Carnivore
  • Rabbit, Jesse Smith of Smith & Coleburn
  • Octopus, Tana Mielke of Votano Hellenic Tavern
  • Goat, Tamara Murphy of Terra Plata
  • Filipino Pinakbet, Melissa Miranda of Musang
  • Turkey Tails, Dylan Giordan of Piatti
  • Catfish, Dana Neely of Girls Gone BBQ
  • Beef Tongue, Mike Easton of Il Nido
  • Pig, Adam Hoffman of Adam’s Northwest Bistro & Brewery
  • Duck, Robert Killam of Bread and Circuses
  • Grilled Corn & Eggplant, Mutsuko Soma of Kamonegi
  • Ram & Ewe, John Sundstrom & Rosie Cisneros of Lark
  • Salmon, Sadie White of Staple & Fancy
  • Lamb, Tristan Chalker & Mollie Turner of Salish Lodge

 

We arrived around 3pm and spent some time wandering the grounds: walking to the river, checking out the creative ways chefs were preparing their dishes: roasted on a spit, buried underground, strapped to a rack above a cinder block pit with a vintage chrome car grill mounted to the front. Above it all loomed The Beast, a giant plywood coyote that would be set ablaze at the end of the day’s festivities. 

Our chairs were parked near some Burning Beast veterans (whom we’d both worked with indirectly at some point in the past: games are a 135B industry with a teeny-tiny social circle) who’d helpfully explained to us how it was all going to go down. All too soon, the bell rang. I was to start at the salmon, and Jason with the lamb. I had seen the salmon cooking on posts, the accompanying bread grilling on a grate over hot logs and I was definitely ready to put it in my mouth. The sole dish that I knew I would not be queuing up for was the octopus, as I personally feel it’s unethical to eat them (too smart, no bargain with humanity), but that left me with a whopping 14 other dishes to try. 

The lines were huge but moved snappily, and once you’ve visited your starter station, you’re free to select a line at will, with many people choosing to eat the dish they got from the previous chef while waiting in the next line. I personally found the food to be a mixed bag. The salmon was sadly unremarkable, nigh-flavorless and wetly lumped on a piece of bread so hard and cracker-like it was difficult to bite through. While cleansing my palate with the lamb dish, I then entered the line for the rabbit tinga tostada, but when I got to the front of the line and saw that the dish was cilantro city, with a cilantro tortilla and a cilantro queso fresco, I passed owing to my passionate distaste for the herb that tastes like chewing on soapy tinfoil and declared it was duck season instead.

The duck wings were deboned and stuffed with a mixture of chicken and pork along with what appeared to be glass noodles and served with a side of pickled veggies and were excellent, one of the standouts of the day. 

“Who wants a rib?” I eagerly volunteered, accepting what I thought would be a pretty special morsel that turned out to be…not, when the meat on the bone was slippery and chewy, but not chewable. 

The catfish was perfect, flaky and crisp and somehow fried on a barbeque grill, because Dana Neely is a chef, and I suspect, a wizard. The catfish got my vote for Best of the Beast: it was just that magical.

I also tried the turkey tails, which is a part of the turkey that I had never eaten nor heard of before. It turns out to be a gland that attaches the turkey tail to the body and is filled with oil that the bird uses to preen itself: fatty, delicious, and the USA mainly exports theirs to the Pacific Islands. Dylan Giordan cooked his turkey tails on cast iron skillets above the fire until they were crisp and golden and delightful.

While watching the chefs cook, I did occasionally wonder how the amount of food they were cooking was intended to feed 500 people, but assumed the chefs knew better how to dial in the correct amount so that everyone would get to try everything. This assumption was incorrect and items that ran out early included the tuscan beef, the pinakbet, and the corn, that last which, unlike having to slice off 1/500th of a side of meat, seems countable. I was only able to try seven dishes before I tapped out, and maybe chefs take stomach capacity into their calculations, too,  but running out of food early makes ticketholders have to play a game of weighing what they think will be most popular so they don’t have an option taken from them and/or encourages them to pound down their food as fast as possible. It feels both in-line and out of line for the event: it’s first and foremost a feast, primal, meat and flame, but so many chefs cook with a nose-to-tail mentality and with sustainability in mind that eating as much as you can as fast as you can feels like it runs counter to that ethos.

Still: stomachs were filled, votes were cast, the circle was cleared, and the beast set afire, howling smoke and then jets of fire at the sky, finally collapsing into a flaming pile as people danced and digested and the sun set. 

I’ll give you $10 for the lightbulb hut.

Mmm, Beast Butter. 

Salmon

Ram & Ewe

Goat

Tuscan beef

Chicken by Jack Timmons. Last year he took the trophy with his brisket and told me that if you win, next year you get assigned chicken. His chicken was bathed in mole for tacos, with a small snowy mountain of cheese.

Catfish 

Turkey tails


Paris: Cafes, Consumerism, Cultural Icons

Holiday display at À la Mère de Famille

We started the day in the Marais, having coffee at Le Bouledogue. It was our final day in France and I had some shopping to do. First of all, I had some gifts to bring home, to thank people for watching over my home and my horse. I elected to buy them chocolate assortments from À la Mère de Famille, a chocolatier in business in Paris since 1761, a full fifteen years before Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. 

Afterward, we did some personal shopping, what little our backpack space would allow. At La Plume du Marais, a stationary and gift shop, I bought a beautiful Christian Lacroix notebook that I’ve subsequently treated as too good for the likes of me to use, and at Le BHV Marais,  Jason bought a scarf with accents of metallic thread and scattered sequins. 
 
A snack at Izakaya Ramen stoked Jason’s fire for Japanese food and made him want to go get some sushi. I absolutely did not want to get sushi, and so we split up for a while so we could pursue individual interests. I thought I might like to do some more shopping, see if there was any France-only makeup in Sephora or maybe buy a bra that isn’t preceded by the word “sports” but even in one of the best cities in the world for shopping, I did not have a lot of patience for it, traveling down the escalator into the perfume-clouded shop and immediately back up.
 

Tour Saint-Jacques, the only remaining portion of a 16th century church that was destroyed during the French Revolution. Nicolas Flamel, scribe and rumored alchemist who reputedly discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and thereby immortality, is buried under the floor. He died at age 78; immortality apparently isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

On many corners in Paris were works by French artist Invader; his small tile video game mosaics are now on streetcorners around the world.

John Hamon posters are also all over the streetcorners: some color, some black and white, some defaced.

Subtle pit check.

There’s a condition that only tourists develop in Paris: Paris Syndrome. Paris has been idealized in popular media, particularly in Japan, and so when some tourists who have taken that idealized depiction deeply to heart arrive and find Paris is not a pristine, glimmering background for stick thin models who spend their days alternately shopping at high end designer stores, lounging glamorously at cafes, and on couture photoshoots but a city with all its attendant issues populated by all kinds of people, their shock and disappointment is so deep that it affects their physical health.  People experience heart palpitations, dizziness. They sweat and hallucinate.
 
These same symptoms, when experienced in Florence, are said to be caused by exposure to objects of great beauty.
 
It seems possible that any well-traveled city would have a small subset of visitors who experience these symptoms, and it’s up to the tourism board to capitalize on their particular syndrome. Seattle Syndrome could be caused by proximity to wild orca whales. San Diego Syndrome, caused by the ubiquity of the deliciousness of any restaurant that ends in “bertos”.
 
Poor Stockholm.
 
While I didn’t experience Paris Syndrome, this trip did wreak havoc on my body. I generally don’t deal well with drastic time change, at least at first. There’ll be a couple days at the start of a trip where my stomach is feeling tender, and nausea will color my first few meals. This trip was on a whole new level. From Winter Wonderland onwards, my guts were in disarray. I was so sick in the sole occupancy restroom in what is basically the middle of the dining room at Imagine that I hoped that I would just die in there so I wouldn’t accidentally make eye contact with anyone after emerging from its paper thin walls. After the terrible pizza in Montmarte, I got worse, shuddering in a restroom an average of once an hour.  At night, there was very little time for sleeping with all of the sweating and cramping I was doing. The reason I first selected the toilet row on the train to Chantilly was because I was afraid I’d need to use it, and this was after having to pay to use the restroom in Gare du Nord. In Paris, I watched a man pull down his pants and defecate in front of a statue, and near Les Halles, I was afraid I’d have no choice but to do the same thing because three quarters of the public toilets were broken. That’s basically all I did while Jason was off enjoying sushi–desperately look for a toilet. I was thirsty and tired and wrung out and fed up. And then we arrived at the Louvre.
 
The Louvre: originally a fortress, then a palace of the Kings of France, it’s the art museum that even non-museum enthusiasts know about. I knew it would take at least a full day to see properly, and though we did not have that kind of time to dedicate, we found ourselves with a free afternoon and decided a few hours would be better than nothing at all. 
 
There are signs all around the Louvre warning tourists not to purchase anything from street vendors around the site, particularly tickets, as official tickets are only sold inside the museum itself. So of course when we were approached by someone asking if we needed tickets, Jason responded in the affirmative and that is when I grabbed him by the elbow and marched him away. I’m glad his sushi wasn’t followed by a timeshare presentation or we would definitely own a week a year in a horrible condo that never has a free week available. 
 

Inside the museum, the noise was deafening, on a Wednesday, in the off season. I cannot even fathom the volume during peak season, honestly, and I used to sell guitar amplifiers for a living. My enthusiasm was draining rapidly, but instead of listening to my gut and getting out, I bought the tickets and went in deeper.  I didn’t find the going any easier inside: it was just so loud and so hot and and after watching someone attempt to climb onto a plinth to take a selfie with a statue rendered me temporarily blind with anger, I waited in the twenty person line for the restroom and discovered that I also got my period. Not just got it, it was like it was exploding out of me. And I can’t remember precisely anymore whether they didn’t have any kind of dispenser or whether it was broken or whether it ate my money because frustration has swallowed the details but I know that by the time I left that bathroom I was just done. I was so done, I couldn’t be in the museum anymore. I was so done, I started yelling at Jason on the street when he suggested that I look on the bright side.  I was so dehydrated from all of the various fluids that were shooting out of my holes that I was practically mummifying in front of him, and he thought I could find a bright side? No. NO. I AM MELLZAH, ENDER OF WORLDS!

 
And then we went into a pet store and some puppies licked my fingers and the apocalypse was temporarily averted.

Paris: Boulangeries, Bones, Art Nouveau

We started our morning in the Latin quarter, drawn in by a boulangerie, Solques Bruno, whose window featured enormous frosted fly agaric mushrooms and fanciful ceramic cottages and animal masks among the platters of rustic breads. Inside, Jason bought a gingerbread owl and a pastry. I don’t know what the proper name of said pastry is, but I do know that it was warm, crusty with toasted coconut and tender from butter with occasional bits of melting chocolate. Like a macaroon but less densely coconutty. It was divine. This was Jason’s favorite pastry in France.

Solques Bruno

The aforementioned warm coconutty masterpiece.

Église du Val-de-Grâce

As someone who has spent a copious amount of time in goth clubs, wearing an inordinate amount of black velvet and writing bad poetry about death, and lately more time in the brightly lit Halloween aisle with 100% fewer clove cigarettes, the catacombs of Paris fits neatly in my Venn diagram of interests. Mine, and every other tourist in Paris at the time, as we stood in a queue that stretched down the block, whiling away the time playing Pokemon Go.

Atop the entrance to the catacombs a message is inscribed. Arrete: c’est ici l’empire de la mort. Stop: this is the empire of death. With six million permanent residents and the transient living population capped at two hundred, truly this is the realm of the dead. The bones in this labyrinth are stacked from the floor to nearly the ceiling, having made the move from Paris’ overstuffed cemeteries in the 18th century. Literally overstuffed: sometimes bodies became uncovered and once, horrifyingly, a strong rain caused a retaining wall to collapse and spill corpses into a neighboring property which is kind of a health hazard and probably not the most thrilling smell to ever accompany crêpes suzette to the table. Now interred into the former limestone quarries that yielded the stone for the city above, this ossuary is just a portion of more than 200 miles of tunnels under the city. And a smaller portion of that is what is displayed to tourists, with serious barriers in place to prevent anyone from wandering off and becoming lost, which does occasionally happen to people who enter from manhole covers. 

An entire class of urban explorer is devoted to these subterranean passages. Known as cataphiles, theirs and others’ illicit entry into the tunnels in turn created a new form of French police, the E.R.I.C., who patrol the tunnels, remove trespassers, and seal entrances. (Imagine attempting to exit where you’d entered only to find it blocked off from the other side.)  Given the zeal of others to get in there, I expected to feel something in the catacombs. A sense of unease or some body horror or at least like a Belmont on a vampire hunt minus the whip. But there, in that vaguely industrial lighting…nothing. I have no doubt I’d feel differently alone among the dead with only the light of my phone and its rapidly depleting battery to guide me. 

They were what we are, Dust, toy of the wind; Fragile like men, Weak as the nether!

These remains came from the cemetery of innocents, the cemetery with the aforementioned corpse-spilling problem.

Ah, color correction.

Nothing works up an appetite more than hanging around six million dead people and after climbing the seemingly-endless spiral staircase up to street level we were especially vulnerable to a beacon of ease, convenience, and rapidity. Motherfucking McDonalds. Those golden arches gleamed and we looked at one another and mutually decided we were not done rubbing shoulders with death for the day and went inside. Circumstances conspired to save us from ourselves as neither of us had enough cash on hand and our cards were rejected by the electronic ordering station because there was no way for us to sign for the charge, so we went royale-with-cheeseless.  

Still, the desire for food that we could eat snappily and be on our way was paramount, so we ended up in our second boulangerie of the day, Moisan. I kept to my oath to order a kouign amann every time I saw one, and theirs had a crackling crustiness to it that practically begged for an accompanying café au lait. 

Kouign amann at Moisan

After finishing our pastries, we walked through Luxembourg Gardens. Commissioned by Queen of France Marie de’ Medici*,  who grew weary of life in the Louvre, the palace and gardens were designed to remind her of her childhood in Florence, Italy. Statuary and benches are distributed down winding walking paths along with tennis courts, chess sets, and an apiary. 

In this palatial garden, a little bit of ‘murrica.

Le Triomphe de Silene, Aime Jules Dalou, 1885; Silenus is a companion of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and his most notable trait is being constantly drunk.

The kid doesn’t seem to be having a great time, and that baby on the ground, even less so. 

I was set on reaching the Musee de Luxembourg, where they were hosting a special exhibit on Alphonse Mucha, a Czech artist who lived and worked in Paris in the Latin quarter for twenty years, the entirety of the period during which art nouveau was popular (1890-1910).  Art nouveau utilizes sinuous, asymmetrical forms and draws inspiration from nature. Mucha, though leery of the art nouveau label (how can one movement of art be labeled “new” when by its very nature art continually changes?) blended the line between fine art and commercialism, first becoming famous for his posters of the French stage actress with the golden voice, Sarah Bernhardt. He was a prolific artist, and his work was seen everywhere from champagne advertisements to calendars to cookie packages. That style became synonymous with his name, though in his later years he grew to despise its commercial nature, and returned to his homeland to work on The Slav Epic, a twenty painting series he considered to be his most important work. 

La Princesse Lointaine, 1900

A cookie box for cookies made in Nantes.

Zodiac, 1892

The Moon and the Stars: The Morning Star, 1902

The Moon and the Stars: The Moon, 1902

From Le Pater, an extremely rare symbolist work and illustration of The Lord’s Prayer that Mucha described to a reporter as “the thing I have put my soul into” and of which only 510 copies were originally printed, after which the plates were destroyed as Mucha feared they would be stolen piecemeal for advertising purposes against his will due to his popularity.

Christmas in America, 1919

The museum was packed, and while I did especially appreciate seeing the gilding illuminated on Zodiac, by the time we’d finished browsing, I was ready to be done with that crush of people and also for another snack, and Angelina Paris was there for me with a delightful pastry inspired by a Mucha painting that tasted like late spring and a hot pot of tea. 

Rêverie: raspberry and strawberry enrobing a light rose-flavored mousse with a deep red raspberry heart on a shortbread crust, topped with a wafer of fine dark chocolate and two load-bearing ripe red raspberries.


Fontaine Saint-Sulpice, fountain of the sacred orators

I thought, given the cement pillars and the nature of the ground and the fact that it’s in the plaza with the fountain meant that this was a pedestrian area but the car driving through here disabused me of that notion.

Notre Dame and the glittering Seine at night.

Fueled by sugar, we wandered the streets into the evening. It’s Paris: that’s what you do. Eat pastries and walk your ass off.

 

*Her grandson, Louis XIV, was no doubt inspired by his grandmother’s example when he, too, grew tired of the Louvre and commissioned Versailles.