Collaborative dinner blends art, food and community

photo by Mark-Ellis Bennett
photo by Mark-Ellis Bennett

An artistic collaboration in the River Arts District recently pulled together an unparalleled performance piece, bringing together vitreous, ceramic and culinary artists and a blacksmith to present a five-course theme dinner titled Pairing Elements at The Bull and Beggar restaurant. Co-event coordinator and curator Nick Moen said nothing like this has ever been previously accomplished in the River Arts District.

“In fact it hasn’t been done anywhere in this context where the handmade art is in a restaurant as a gallery,” Moen says. “Sometimes there will be a single artist who will make tableware for the restaurants, but this is a unique experience because there are so many artists who contributed to such an extensive program.” 

Executive chef Matt Dawes created the menu and prepared the food, which was served on plates designed and made by local artists especially for the feast. Beverages were served in glasses also handcrafted for this special dinner. Even one of the dining utensils used at the table was forged by Tina Councell, the metal artist next door, exclusively for this groundbreaking event.

On the menu, the courses were named Earth, Ocean, Ice, Fire and Air. Dawes said he chose each for their relevance to the artists’ work and what he uses in his cooking. “My thinking was that the potters, glassblowers and the metal artist all use fire. Clay is earth, glass is sand and metal comes from ore. Our food is nurtured and grown in the earth and the ocean. In some way we can connect all these arts to the same basic elements.” 

For devotees of fresh oysters, the Bull and Beggar features Blue Point, Chunu, Kumamoto, Chef Creek, and Sewansecott varieties from the sea. The dining room’s ambiance is chic industrial with soft but adequate lighting from vintage fixtures. Oil lamps on the tables convincingly appear to have been made from cast iron and sheet metal screwed together, but are actually made from wheel-thrown clay by ceramicist Andrew Massey.

The service staff was friendly, unobtrusive and well-informed about the menu. The Earth course included a roasted beef marrow bone with mushrooms served over a bed of finely chopped roasted olives that vaguely resembled soil, and a sauce made from mild, black garlic, served on plates made by Josh Copus. The course was served with a forged marrow spoon made by Councell and glass of 2012 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Granges served in a footed, hand-blown goblet with a glass top made by Kathryn Adams and a slip-cast porcelain stem and base made by Moen.

The Ocean course featured a colossal oyster on the half shell with clam, octopus, lobster meat and sea vegetables topped with “sea foam” made from a reduction of the stock in which all the seafood was cooked. This was served with a 2012 Meyer Fonne Edelzwicker served in a delicate, optical stemless hand-blown glass made by Hayden Wilson from a centuries-old Italian mold.

The Ice course came to refresh the palate. It was a sorbet inspired by eastern European beet borscht. “I wanted to make a savory course that was all frozen,” said Dawes. “It came with a granita of sweetened buttermilk over casha, a Russian word for toasted buckwheat, and garnished with a sprig of fresh dill.” The course was served in a small, translucent porcelain cup on an opaque ceramic charger, both made by Moen. “We paired Ice with Etienne DuPont Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie, a bone-dry cider having a barnyard like nose because it’s openly fermented,” Dawes said.

The Fire course was a tender braised leg of pheasant served over a carrot and hay-ash purée with smoked cauliflower. It was accompanied by a 2012 Cordero di Montezemolo Barbara d’Alba and served on a plate made from local clay by Lindsay Rogers.

The final course, Air” was a floating island topped with a black currant compote over crème Anglaise, garnished with maple cotton candy and served on porcelain vessels made by Elisa di Fio and David Eichelberger. It was accompanied by Raymond Ragnaude Pinau des Charentes. Other contributing artists included glassblowers Ben Elliot, Joe Flazone and Geoff Koslow. Moen, Adams and Copus are planning to host a second collaborative River Arts District event at The Bull and Beggar sometime this summer.

Photo caption: Ocean, the second course from Pairing Elements, featured a colossal oyster on the half-shell with clam, octopus, lobster meat and sea vegetables topped with “sea foam” made from a reduction of the stock in which all the seafood was cooked.

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About Gina Smith
Gina Smith is the Mountain Xpress Food-section editor and writer. She can be reached at gsmith@mountainx.com.

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