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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sustainablity, Innovation, Dinner

In my real life, away from the plate, I am a landscape architect, I have been such for nearly 30 years now, and my practice has been quite traditional. That is to say, I have focused on the traditional design and engineering of landscapes, generally with an emphasis on public sector projects and commercial development projects, the 'bread and butter' of traditional practice. And it has been good for me. Even more than my passion for food, landscape architecture has filled my life with joy, purpose and meaning. In a lot of ways, my design and food ideals have met at this nexus, reflecting my sensibilities, my heritage and my preference for design to reflect nourishment of the whole person. Playgrounds or pasta, it has always been about finding that place where the soul if fed as much as the body.

Of late, I have come to understand that there is a change in how society and culture interact with the built environment, a change that I think is reflected in the resistance of many to see the world in a new paradigm, an entrenchment and resistance to innovation. I think many of us, who felt we were the pointed end of the spear, that were going to redefine society, now see that society has changed. We seek relevance, some in the old ways, some in new ways. And though I fear, that I am of that old way, that my skills and knowledge are irretrievably growing archaic, I see things changing. And I see incredibly dynamic young people, doing interesting things, defining how they will choose to live, not buying into the paradigm of my time. When I think of ideas that somehow point to a time 50, 100 even 200 years ago, clinging to the idea that there should be no change, indeed, there can be no change, I see fear, I see reluctance to embrace a brave new world.

What the hell am I talking about? Tonight, I had the chance to connect some of this vision, with an old friend, in the form Greg DeLaune, who has recreated himself to be a part of creating this new world, and a new friend, Hiroo Nagahara, a chef trained on traditional foods, traditional methods and science. Into the mix, was an even newer friend, Debbie Acosta, who is charged with creating a new and vibrant, sustainable and innovative San Leandro. And I am the soft connection, that lead all of use to be at a dinner in Berkeley, where we would talk about innovation, community building, sustainability and chocolate cupcakes. Food and design, and it's all about the story.

I convinced Hiroo that this would be a great chance to do a little catering job. And into this space he came.

Not exactly Vegas, Baby

Yes, a re-purposed office space

Of course there is a kitchen

I wouldn't blame Hiroo if he never cooked for me again

Can you serve a dinner for 31 people, with no stove, no refrigerator, no counterspace, why yes, if you are good. Hiroo is good. By the time was all sat down to eat, light was fading and I have found that there is no good photo to be taken with an I-phone by candlelight. But, I was mostly there to meet folks and to get more of a feel for sustainable and innovative culture. There was this dish...

Roots and Dirt

First off, I loved the plating and whimsy of this dish. This was the appetizer course, meant to serve 3 to 4 people, it was carrots and radishes, in various stages of pickling, curing and sous vide. There was a puree of apple and miso, and the 'dirt' which was a roasted seaweed powder. This was so delicious.

Some lovely poached Arctic Char

Without a kitchen, Hiroo was forced to prepare an entire dinner that could be cooked off-site, bought to the kitchen and plated. He used the sous vide and poaching, as well as amazing ingredients to bring a four course dinner forth from a table and counter.

Date a chef, live the glamorous life, plate greens

With a budget of $25 per person, Hiroo recruited the one person he could depend on to work for nothing. Thanks to Weiwei for jumping in and plating. It really isn't as fun as it looks. This plate would end up holding poached Arctic Char over wilted greens as the first course, and sous vide Black Angus tongue, with roasted potato and spinach. No pictures as it was too dark, but, it was delicious, amazing given the price and lack of a kitchen. And then dessert, which I wish I had a description of, other than that it was a gluten free chocolate cupcake, using Hiroo's own flour, with a chocolate cheesecake stuffing, and chocolate crunch layer and topped with chocolate frosting. Oh, all Valhrona Venezuelan chocolate, the good stuff.

I often look for the story, the connection or meaning of the food I am eating, what the chef was trying to say or do. What his story is, and I know Hiroo loves food. But, I know he also loves bringing his food forth to people, the he enjoys that people enjoy the food, get what he is doing. He could easily fall back into a big restaurant, get back on a line. But, he is doing things like this, technique and knowledge, top ingredients, all placed on a plate for a very moderate price. Bringing very fine dining to an office space. I have eaten a lot of bad sandwiches at dinners like this.

In all, a wonderful night of meeting some folks doing very interesting things, talking with Mike Zuckerman about adventures in creating and exploring urbanism, sharing and culture in a new world. hearing about Freespace and talking about spontaneous innovation with a focus on giving. I also met a young man, couldn't be more than 30 or so, who is working to develop real time water quality monitoring solutions for industrial processes, and a young woman working with major corporations to create core changes in corporate values to increase their sustainability and relevance in the new economy. A room full of people changing how we live in our world, seeking to change how we have always done it.

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