Wednesday, July 24, 2013

FoodTrek: Burning Beast - May the Odds be Ever In Your Flavor

You could smell the char of a wood burning fire mingling with the sweetly-smoked, savory scent of sizzling meat nearly a mile out, as you neared Smoke Farm.  The Washingtonians were restless in the wooded hills of the northern town of Arlington, their hunger pangs howling for that first bite that tears succulent flesh from bone. A carnivorous cult gathered 'round a hand-constructed monolith in the shape of a giant rabbit with all-seeing eyes to witness a feast unlike any other, and for this idol to eventually witness its own spectacular immolation. The summer heat gave way to a blaze of flames in the clear evening sky: the Burning Beast had hippity-hopped its way back into town.

Yes, Virginia, there is an Easter Bunny. And we set it on fire - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I was very glad and hungry to attend our second Burning Beast meat-stravaganza over the last weekend. While this was the sixth Burning of Beasts since its start back in 2008, the Mister and I had only just started going last year. But, better late than never, and this time, we brought friends. Like, almost 30 of 'em. We had such a great time at the last Burning Beast, and talked it up so much, our meat-loving crew made sure to have fast internet speeds at the ready when the tickets went on sale a few months ago. The tickets sell out quickly, and they're on the pricier side, but if you're keen on a food festival that celebrates sustainably raised meats and seafood, cooked outside over custom-crafted pits and grills by some of the top culinary names in Seattle, then the Beast is your ultimate feast.

No animal is safe from the Beast's hungry wrath - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Just like last year, I was in total sensory overload. The smell of food that's been cooking all day, some from the night before, is like Pavlov's Bell -- instant salivation attack. *drool* As in years before, the garden of meatly delights read like Noah's Ark... if Noah got a massive hunger attack and just char-broiled all those animals, two-by-two.

It was a good (and delicious) death, brave goat warrior - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Il Corvo cooked an entire cow, the Blind Pig roasted a whole goat, plus more meaty goat parts, for good measure. Sheep and lamb were popular items with Cantinetta and Goat Mountain Pizza Company, as were wilder choices like Staple and Fancy's elk sausage and the Copper Hog's ram sausage. There was divine swine in several forms -- Bin on the Lake's rosemary-scented roasted pig, and Trophy Cupcake's toasted bacon marshmallows for a bacon cupcake s'more. Feathered friends were on the menu as well, with Where Ya at Matt's duck and Ron Jones Glassworks' chicken dishes. The restaurant teams were cooking off around 200 pounds of meat each, so divide that by 500 hungry ticket holders, that's a whole lotta eatin' going on.

Mother-shucker, let's have some oysters! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
And even the creatures of the sea (or river) couldn't escape the Beast's clutches -- Adams Northwest Bistro had salmon, Coastal Rovers had skewers upon skewers of whole sardines, and Taylor Shellfish traditionally rang the dinner bell with their tables piled high with steamed oysters. Like something out of Hunger Games, the oyster table gets the first mad Cornucopia dash of people, clamoring for some bivalvery goodness. Skip the insanity of wrestling open an oyster at an overcrowded table -- go in with a plate, grab a handful of super-hot, just-steamed oysters, and run back to your home base for shucking. Happy Hunger Games, indeed.

Not everything was meaty - have some veggies and fish. Even the rabbit's tail is roughage - Photos by Wasabi Prime

And, just so you don't die of a cholesterol overdose by reading this post, there were vegetables to be had! Sky City made a double-rainbow-ohmygawd delight of vegetable paella in epic-sized pans, and event organizers always lay out a huge table of bread; this year's loaves were from Curious Culinary.

Tongue n' Groovy Schwarma and an elk hot dog that puts all weenies to shame - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The items I made a point to try were the parts-specific dishes -- Terra Plata's chef and event founder Tamara Murphy had her team cook up a delicious beef tongue schwarma. A tricky cut to work with, since it can be quite tough, the tongue was perfectly cooked and sprinkled on a flatbread with fresh vegetables. I especially liked the liver dish Mulleady's Pub cooked up -- minced livers (I believe they were pig's), cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven, mixed with other seasoned minced meats and vegetables, and then wrapped in a racy-lacy outfit of beef caul (the fat-rich inside lining of intestine). The best way to describe it was bite-sized fried haggis, and it was like eating a little handmade sausage. The flavor was incredibly rich from the liver and seasonings, with a snappy crunch from the fried-up caul skin. I love that they used parts of animals that people may not initially jump at, but once they taste it, that ingredient becomes familiar and you just become more eager to try new and unusual things.

All your liver and caul are belong to us - Photos by Wasabi Prime
What stood out to me from this year's items was an attention to layering ingredients, or playing around with cooking methods. The salmon from Adams NW Bistro was cooked in banana leaves to keep its moisture, before being topped with a fresh herb sauce and a finish of salmon roe, harvested from the same fish they cooked -- supersalmon! I was talking with owner and chef Adam Hoffman for a bit, and he took sustainability to a new level by making this year's salmon oven from the parts from last year's duck-roasting setup. Nothing wasted, from the food cooked, to the cookery implements themselves.

A salmon delight, from the inside-out! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I'm a sucker for presentation and cool cooking methods. Ron Jones Glassworks cooked their chicken inside giant bamboo stalks (from a bamboo farm in Duvall, no less!), a familiar cooking method in the Philippines, which helps keep the meat juicy, and they served it with fragrant coconut rice carefully molded into pyramid shapes for a beautiful presentation.

Great presentation as the RabbitBeast looks on... - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It was like a cooking technique playground -- Cantinetta cooked their lamb two ways. A nod to their Italian-style cuisine, they roasted a leg of lamb with rosemary, served with an herb and vegetable topping, and then they went Island Style, digging a Hawaiian-style oven pit, or emu. They slow-cooked lamb wrapped in banana leaves over hot coals in the emu, fully covered up in its own earthy oven, from the night before. Same animal, but very different cooking methods to give people the chance to both savor and compare the texture of the meat, and how the difference between direct and indirect heat can develop flavors.

Slow cooked lamb vs a direct-heat roast - a delicious win-win - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Even dessert let you play with fire -- Trophy Cupcakes' bacon s'mores cupcake had you toast your own bacon-flecked marshmallow before getting it ooey-gooey-squished between a graham cracker and a bacon-topped chocolate cupcake. Nothing short of food porn, it was a sweet-savory delight that reinvigorated the palate after so much meat overload.

There's always room for dessert made with bacon - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Aside from the meat-gasmic experience of it all, Burning Beast is one of the most amazing buffets of options. I was having mini hot dogs and pizza one moment, and savory crepes the next. I try and take as many photos of everyone's outdoor kitchen areas before the dinner bell rings, and then it's just a mad rush and constant line-hopping to get a little bite of everything...and then you return to your favorites... and then you return one more time...Okay... maybe one more bite. My little plastic picnic plate was a culinary split personality disorder, to be sure. The photos weren't the most artful, as I ended up using my camera phone for most of the dining time. At that point, I just wanted to visit with friends and enjoy the long, carnivorous graze through as many of the samplings as possible.

Everything is sustainable - YES, EVERYTHING. - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Summer was in full effect, unlike last year's overcast/rainy day -- I'm glad we remembered the sunscreen. I can't say the ultra-bright sun was great for picture-taking, as I was wrestling with my camera settings for much of the day, but it was a damn fine day for frosty beverages. We brought some beer and wine, but also partook of Smoke Farm's barnyard lounge, which was pouring lots of tasty things like wines from Proletariat and Trinchero, and beer from Hilliards. It's nice that they let you BYO beverage, as well as snacks for taming the appetite during the cooking time. Just remember to bring your wine glass-shaped sippy cup -- it's the only civilized way to drink.

Drinking in style, en fuego - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Our appetites sated, our thirsts quenched, it wasn't long before you noticed the sun had slipped away and a bright, silvery moon was on the rise. It was time for the wide-eyed Bunny-Beast to join its Beastly brethren in Valhalla. This year, they had a raffle to win the coveted honor of setting the Beast afire. The bunny's brushy tail was the starting point, and once that fire was lit, the Firebunny Cometh!

Kill the Wabbit... Kill the Wabbit... - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It's by far the most impressive finale at a food festival you'll ever see, and a reminder that it's worth the ticket price and braving the Pacific Northwest's iffy summer weather to make Burning Beast an annual must-do event. Granted, we're no veterans, but what we learned from this year's Beast was bring your carnivorous clan, eat boldly and with gusto, come early to grab the prime shady spots, and always, always, always remember the Titanium Spork. See you next year, Beastie Boys n' Girls!

Fun friends, titanium sporks and eating with abandon! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

1 comment:

  1. Great article and really great photos. Just wanted to mention that while it's true that the tickets for BB are expensive, it's a benefit event for the Rubicon Foundation and Smoke Farm and the proceeds go to support much of their arts and education programs


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