Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Event Review: Digestible Feats' Screening of "Now, Forager"

Escapism. That which allows the lucky among us to become unentombed by the stifling normalcy around us. The ability to live in the moment, away from the world we are used to; to live with every inclination toward the realm of the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar. It is for this notion that I fell in love with the night. 

It was an evening spent solo amongst a crowd of strange faces at The Off Center. 

Perfect name for this place, really.

I am a self-proclaimed foodie now and managed tonight to muster the courage to go above and beyond in the effort to earn this title. I ventured alone to the screening of an independent film that dramatized the life of a forager, a man consumed by the insatiable and somewhat impractical need to secure food in the wild through means of the innumerable varieties of naturally occurring mushroom. His knowledge was immense and his passion unrivaled. But his stubbornness would prove fatal as his inability or unwillingness to compromise would destroy his marriage as well as his connections with the modern world. As the film closed, my sweaty palms announced the fear that I might also be swallowed up in unwavering adherence to "the way things are meant to be."

Thank goodness there was food to aid my active mind in the escape from austerity. Prior to the screening we were greeted with a small taste of the glory to come. 

Hamachi with a cherry citrus glaze and basil, mango chutney with bleu cheese, and a pork meatball with a thousand island-esque sauce.

The hamachi was an overwhelming favorite for me here. The flavors were fresh and bright beyond belief, and my little taste could not have better excited my palate for the impending culinary enrichment. 

I feel like Bourdain would have approved of the scene. 


Foodies, foragers, filmmakers, and drunks gathered outside at a simple theater, all huddled around a fire pit protected by cinder blocks and covered with a metal grate for cooking. I bathed myself in the perfume of meats in metamorphosis, evolving into something beautiful and delicious. I heard one of the chefs mention pig's blood sausage, and another, grilled peach with seared beef heart. Oh god, this is it. Think like Bourdain. Eat like Bourdain. Try it all and be not afraid! 

Down 1...or 5 of these margarita jello shots in futile attempt to forget what you're about to eat. 

He'd approve of that too wouldn't he? Damn, why do I not smoke cigarettes?! Deep breath. Ok this is what you have been waiting for. You can do this. 

Making my way down the line I was greeted by men of great culinary achievement. "Wild sheep tamale? Pig's blood sausauge?" asked the executive chef at Hopfields. Yes please. That's new. "Duck liver paté? Grilled peach with seared beef heart?" offered the butcher from Fatback Boucherie. Well I don't mind if I do. All I could do was reassure myself that even if I was disgusted by them in the end, choking down these things would begin to legitimize me act as a foodie. I could finally say (truthfully) that I'd sampled a plethora of strange and disturbing foods, and I had survived. 

I made my way to an empty table with the intention of agonizing over the food in peace and making a quick exit to the restroom if my stomach rejected my attempts at inaugurated foodiedom. But my plans would be thwarted by a couple, Sarah and Aaron, who came and sat across from me. "You're here alone? What do you do?" Oh boy, now they'll know I'm bluffing about the foodie thing if I don't consume (and retain) the oddities before me. 

Ok we'll start here.

A salty crostini and some Franklin's brisket. At least those things would provide a non-threatening base for the ensuing blood and guts. Maybe I'd be alright after all. Next the duck terrine. I'd had something similar before so this wasn't too daunting. I mean I am a coon ass; I was bound to like foie gras. The liver was dense and rich, evidence of the force feeding that had transpired. Sad as the concept was, I shamelessly devoured the fatty, salty slab before me, convincing myself that flavor like that was worth the forced gluttony of a bird or two. Still intimidated by the beef heart, I left it and moved on. 

This looks a little less scary for now. 

Wild mushroom empanada, dipped in a mushroom molé? Simple and delicious. I mean who wouldn't like a fried pastry stuffed with fresh mushrooms and cream? The molé really had no semblance to any of the Mexican sauces I'd tried in the past, but that didn't mean it wasn't tasty. It was. That little salad was safe and fresh and an excellent cleanser between courses. Ok, wild sheep tamale. "These sheep certainly didn't die in vain," Aaron commented as he dug his teeth into the neatly rolled little package. Dammit Aaron! Now all I can picture is fields of sweet, fluffy white innocence and the impending doom they'd sensed as they were carted off to be slaughtered for our enjoyment. You better be right; this better be delicious. And it was. So simple. No intense overbearing flavors; just the subtlety of fresh meat, the meat of an animal that had enjoyed its life grazing wild pastures and died to ensure a richer life for those enjoying its flesh. 

Ok. I ate a cute fluffy sheep, and I eat pork all the time so this should be easier. Why am I so bothered by the prospect of ingesting its blood? Chefs and foodies alike rave about blood sausage. This is an experience I must have! "This blood sausage is the one thing here I just can't get over." Dammit Aaron! I know we just met, but you and I are going to have problems if you don't stop amplifying my greatest fears. But here I am, the blood and flesh of Wilbur already staining my hand. I have to do it. Just a tiny bite. Oh god! It's surprisingly dry and chewy for a link that is supposedly saturated in bodily fluid. But the blood is certainly there. The sting of rust hits my tongue. The flavor is something I can only describe as what I imagine would be produced were flesh and blood allowed to ferment in the sun for days. It is beautiful. I have to chuckle a little under my breath. I did it. I confronted my own culinary Goliath, and I survived the experience. Now I can try anything! 

A cornichon to clear my mouth of the trauma it has just endured on my behalf, and it's on to the grilled peach with seared beef heart. No hesitation now; it's easy to just dig right in, and my taste buds thank me. This is phenomenal! The beef heart is chewy and salty and perfectly complements the sultry peach. The juices extracted by the grilling process drip down my chin, and I cannot contain my joy. A maniacal grin spreads over my face with the knowledge that I am consuming the heart of another creature and it is good. These are the primal pleasures we are meant to encounter through the art of eating. I feel oddly at home in this eccentric place surrounded by these fascinating people. I am happy.

And then Hank, the curator of Digestible Feats at Fusebox Festival, approaches to tell us there's more! "Manga!" he says. "What is it? Do you hate your mother?" They have freshly picked morel mushrooms, just-caught catfish wrapped in Oregon ramps, the rarest venison I have ever had the pleasure of eating, and simply grilled poblano peppers. 

I didn't think I could take anymore.

The extra-rich decadence of the previous courses rested heavy in my stomach, but I just couldn't help myself. I had to try it all! That catfish was some of the freshest I have ever been served. It was dense and intensely briny, but the bitterness of the ramp cut through it all for a bite of simple perfection. That venison was so gently seared that I may have mistaken it for tuna at first glance had I not been informed otherwise. The minimal seasoning allowed the juicy gaminess of this rare meat to shine through with unimpeded grandeur. And the mushrooms, oh the mushrooms. Morels, especially as fresh as these, possess a flavor that is unlike any other. Lightly sautéed with just a touch of ponzu, they excited my tongue with a sweet earthiness that left me with the understandable desire to harvest my own mushrooms. 

Nothing presented to me tonight was as I had experienced it in the past, and for that I am grateful. I am completely enamored with the prospect of the unknown and appreciate more than ever the immersive scenes I have finally jumped into headfirst. Hank said it best. These events are intended to foster a certain comfort with complete immersion. They are meant to overload us with sensory information that annihilates our concern with the outside world, extinguishes our affair with the daily grind. You shouldn't be thinking about what's for lunch tomorrow, how you're going to deal with your boss, or who's at home; and if you are, you're doing it wrong. Adoration of the present creates the moments that will enrich our lives forever.