Last Saturday evening, Homegrown Revival held its inaugural dinner for the Fall 2012 dining season. The Homegrown Revival Team, those cunning provocateurs of culinary pretention, mixed up an event that was two part autumnal comfort food, one part interactive art installation, a dash of slow food community awareness, and a wee pinch of the subversiveness and spontaneity of a smart mob. The meal was so amazing that the relentless Texas heat even took notice. A cold front rolled in on the morning of the dinner as if to herald the upcoming Homegrown Revival season. And the location. Wow. Just wow. The location highlighted the fact that the Homegrown Revival is so much more than a supper club. It’s an artistic culinary movement, meant to change the way we see food, art, and ultimately, each other.
I’ve written extensively about the culinary artistry of the Homegrown Revival Team in the past, so I’ll avoid retreading that same ground. But I do want to mention that last night’s dinner offered something for the Revivalists that past Homegrown dinners did not: a synthesis of culinary art with a public art installation, which, combined with the thrill of a flash mob, made for one hell of an event.
The Homegrown Revival Team decided that this dinner would be special in that the Revivalists would not know the location until the day of the event, and the event location itself would be in a unique, and very public, place. The Homegrown Revival Team emailed the Revivalists the location the morning of the dinner, and the location, as it turned out, was at the wonderful Open Room Austin table, which is an interactive art installation.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Open Room table, Austin’s Art in Public Places (AIPP) commissioned artists Rosario Marquardt and Roberto Behar of R&R studios to create an installation for Austin residents, located at Sand Beach Park, that would “dissolve boundaries between fiction and reality and limits between art and life” and would “[appear] at once real and fantastic, familiar and unprecedented, a slice of domesticity in a public park.” Subsequently, R&R Studios created a wonderfully elegant table, complete with a delicate, faux lace tablecloth, that is surrounded by white arborescent lamps. Those tree-like lamps cover the installation with soft, white light, while simultaneously embowering the Open Room table with urbanity. The table is free for everyone, and it invites us to picnic in style while overlooking the Colorado River—to share a dinner table with other Austinites from all walks of life in an elegant, and slightly surreal, way.
It was here that the Homegrown Revivalists met to dine, and the Open Room table installation provided us with a physical reminder that locally sourced produce and proteins need not be thought of as exclusively rural. The beautiful setting and the communal, family-style meal reminded the Revivalists that the good, wholesome foods of rural America and the hustle and bustle of urban environments are not mutually exclusive. They can come together to create something more wonderful than their constituent parts. DJ ChinoCasino provided music for the evening, which meant that for three hours, our senses were romanced by the Austin skyline and the Open Room installation, masterful musical mixes set a playful and seductive mood, and the transcendence of the meal served as the night’s apotheosis.
The meal started off with yellow catfish, caught using drop lines in the Brazos and Colorado rivers by members of the Homegrown Revival team. They had breaded the catfish with locally grown and milled cornmeal, and chili flakes in the breading provided a spicy wake-up call for our taste buds. We had a chilled Gaia melon and Armenian cucumber soup served with the catfish, and the cool, breezy soup provided a nice balance to the zesty yellow cat. The next dish was comprised of handpicked late summer greens and fresh figs from Windy Hill Farms, tossed with a satiny egg yolk vinaigrette. Nestled in the greens, hiding like little Easter eggs, we found grilled wild dove quarters—the deeply red meat still juicy and succulent from the grill. It was at this point we abandoned the pretension of utensils and began using our fingers to eat. We relished every morsel of those doves. Many of us sucked on the bones, vainly hoping to magically conjure up more meat.
The main course, the plat de résistance, the culinary upper-cut of the night, came in the form of smoked goat ribs from Windy Hill Farms, served with raw cream and duck fat polenta triangles, accompanied by persimmon dipping sauce. I had the honor of portioning the slabs of ribs for my fellow Revivalists. I had a knife and carving fork, but I really didn’t need them. The ribs pulled apart with an ease made possible only through slow, low, loving heat. The meat glistened with juices and a deeply smoky flavor permeated every bite. By the end, we all had mouths smeared with grease and bellies full of love. Dessert was goat’s milk ice cream with roasted jujube, ground peaches, and local honey. The sweetness of the dessert provided a perfect closure to the meal.
Such a wonderful meal and magical evening. But even more wonderful and magical than the food were the new friends I made. Honestly that’s the true beauty of a Homegrown Revival dinner. The people you meet and the friends you make. Artists. Businesspeople. Doctors. Teachers. Farmers. Folks from all walks of life coming together to enjoy life and celebrate art and food.
At the end of the meal, we danced on the table and laughed, our voices carrying on the breeze like a tune. We hugged our friends, both new and old, and promised to keep in touch. As I said goodbye to Chef Sonya Cote, she told me that the dinner was Homegrown Revival’s way of saying “goodbye” to summer. She smiled, and she waved both of her hands in the air as if to say “bye-bye” to an imaginary Summer-time who had his bags packed and was boarding a plane. Normally goodbyes are kinda sad, but I didn’t find this one sad at all. I knew it finally marked the end of a hot, punishing summer and the beginning of a fall filled with Homegrown Revival dinners. And I can’t think of anything better.