As a bit of a warm-up for the awesomeness that is The Fusebox Festival, my wife and I attended Homegrown Revival’s East Side Duck and Spring Chicken dinner on the 18th of April. If The Homegrown Revival has somehow slipped under your culinary radar, you should a) recalibrate your radar; b) visit their website and purchase tickets for the next event.
Homegrown’s mission statement is to “[allow] others to learn, share and create farm grown foods. The Homegrown Revival will raise awareness for the public on foraging, growing, sourcing and cooking locally sourced produce and proteins for daily meals.” Once a month, Homegrown Revival hosts a dinner. Chef Sonya Coté, a veritable woman on the move, designs each multi-course meal around seasonal, locally sourced produce and proteins.
If you’ve never had the opportunity of eating a Coté-created meal, then I am simultaneously saddened and pleased. Saddened because you have missed out on experiencing the artistry of one of the most exciting chefs on the Austin culinary scene. Pleased because I now have the opportunity to convince you to seek her out, and in doing so, providing you with an experience you won’t be able to forget.
In describing her culinary style, I want to claim that Coté creates edible art, and she does, but I don’t like the initial mental image that term creates because it doesn’t accurately capture her style. Let me elaborate.
When I write “edible art,” I initially picture nouvelle cuisine: petite, nearly bite-sized dishes, painstakingly created with just as much emphasis on the intricacies of plating as on the actual preparation of food. These types of dishes are all the rage at fine dining and Michelin rated restaurants. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing the tasting menus at places like Alinea, Le Bernardin, L2O, The French Laundry, Babbo, Morimoto Napa, Per Se, Sebo, or dozens of other high class and Michelin rated restaurants, you’ve had nouvelle cuisine, or at least dishes influenced by it. The dishes are beautiful, no doubt about it, but they rarely comfort the soul, and most of the time, the food isn’t the primary focus. Nouvelle cuisine and its kith and kin are about the chef. It’s about the beauty of the final product.
Nouvelle cuisine is the edible equivalent of a Michelangelo piece. If you’ve ever been to the Sistine Chapel, you were likely awestruck by Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes. I know I was. They are mind-bogglingly beautiful. Transcendent even. But as you stand there with a hundred other people, shoulder-to-shoulder in a dusty chapel, staring straight up with your neck beginning to cramp, you slowly realize that those 70 feet tall ceilings are really freaking high. It makes you realize how removed you are from the art. You imagine that if you had a ladder and scaffolding, or if you could only levitate, you could fully and finally experience Michelangelo’s genius. But you can’t. Your feet are fixed firmly to the ground, and you’ll never be able to get any closer. Just as Adam is perpetually reaching, but never touching, the finger of God, Michelangelo’s frescoes remind us that as mortals, we will never reach perfection. Such is nouvelle cuisine.
Sonya Coté creates edible art, but her style isn’t really haute cuisine. She doesn’t create nouvelle dishes or amuse-bouche sized plates. She’s less Michelangelo and more Banksy. Like Bansky, Chef Coté’s dishes are large and in your face. They’re at ground level and they break the rules. You can touch them and feel them. They’re beautiful, but in a relatable, earthy way, and they’re all about the deliciousness of the food. Her dishes, like a Banksy art piece, are intrinsically human. The plating is gorgeous, but instead of some blow-torch caramelized, gelatin-enhanced, foam monstrosity, the lovingly prepared produce and protein is always the centerpiece.Chef Sonya Coté’s culinary art reminds us that we are all individuals of the same species, and that despite the differences of our outward appearances, all we have is each other. Coté’s food and artistic sensibility helps us to look inwards at ourselves instead of outward toward a transcendent god, and in doing so, she serves to bond us closer together as a people.
In an elegant restaurant setting, I’m always cognizant of my manners and utensil etiquette. I hold the knife and fork just so. I make sure I don’t get anything on my hands because I don’t want to dirty the origami-folded white cloth napkins. Not so with a Coté meal. On Wednesday night, Sonya Coté created a chicken and duck dinner, and after a minute or two of feigned affectation, I ditched the utensils altogether and started dismembering our meal with my bare hands. I didn’t worry about getting the damn napkin dirty because I knew that nothing less than a water hose was going to get me clean anyways. My hands were slick with velvety duck fat and lovely chicken grease, I had bits of fowl underneath my fingernails, and my mouth looked like a two-year old’s after eating her first chocolate ice cream cone. But it was wonderful. Oh so wonderful
Before the dinner began, we all wandered around the long, communal table–reservedly greeting one another, but keeping strangers at bay. As Coté’s food slowly began to make its way out of the house and onto our communal table, we gradually began to open up. As the night waned, we sat elbow to elbow, sharing food and eating off of each other’s plates, laughing, and enjoying the cool, Austin evening. Sonya would occasionally wander through, smiling, hugging, and making us all feel part of her culinary world. By the end of the night, we were all fast friends. We were bonded together by Sonya Coté’s culinary artistry.
I fully expect that the Digestible Feats events at The Fusebox Festival will provide the same experience as a Homegrown Revival event. They should, since Hank Cathey, who has been involved with creating Homegrown Revival events in the past, is spearheading the Digestible Feats events for Fusebox. So please, attend a Digestible Feats event to share in a culinary experience. While you’re at it, have a meal at The Hillside Farmacy or buy a ticket to the next Homegrown Revival dinner to experience Chef Sonya Coté’s talents for yourself. You might just learn what it means to be human.