Eating is a practical matter. We all need, in some fashion, to do it. Under the guise of family management, it also becomes culture. My mother arose to make me breakfast every morning of my grade school and high school career, we’re talking everything from cereal and milk to French toast (made with homemade bread), tomato soup and hamburgers. Dinner was planned at the lunch table. The shelves of the fruit cellar—that dark room in the basement that everyone else called the root cellar—were lined with bottled produce.
There was a crock of fermenting saurkraut, and a slatted wooden bin for potatoes. If the Depression (what sounded to me like a long camping trip or a fun farm visit) came again, we would still be eating pretty well.
Even in their later years when my parents were experiencing health problems and I came home to care for them, Mom rallied for the kitchen. Food, the making of it, was her thing.
I did not inherit this proclivity in the obvious sense; don’t ask me to cook a burger. But I did learn how to can. And I will ferment practically anything. Ambrosia Tufts from Jack Stockwell’s clinic recently turned me on to fermented fish, and Natalie Clausen has gotten me going with sheep’s milk kefir. Green drinks are a no-brainer for anyone with a garden and a power blender—including me, thanks to a book Demi Langford gave me (Green for Life, by Victoria Boutenko) and a talk at Trace’s Nursery by the powerhouse herb lady, Rachel Kincaid: A stroll through my yard produces a basketful of basils, mints, oregano, borage, comfrey, fennel, lemon balm, lemon grass, parsley, French sorrel, pineapple sage and stevia: Blend with frozen fruit. Yum. This is not part of my mother’s culinary culture, but she would relate to the idea of using what you have at hand.
This is all to say I’m not very good at dinner parties, unless held in tandem with a more foresightful chef such as Alice Toler, Pax Rasmussen or John deJong. But if you visit, there will be food of some sort. And we will probably eat it at the funky old round table, free of any artistic flourish, which I lugged to Utah in a U-Haul from Wisconsin in 1993; at which I wrote my first fiction story the summer after third grade and made many a glitter-laden greeting card; where my parents had their wedding lunch in October of 1936; which lived in my grandparents’ house for decades before that; and which, rumor has it, came with their family from Germany back in the 1800s.
This brings me to what I really wanted to tell you about: I’ve been meeting with my neighbor and old friend, Jude Rubadue, for coffee at our neighborhood hangout, Coffee Noir on Second South, and she has been telling me about Slow Food Utah’s upcoming Feast of the Five Senses banquet, which she volunteer manages.
Jude, who has been a chef at Alta’s Watson Lodge for decades, has orchestrated the food for many a CATALYST party throughout the years. Her kindness and grace coupled with immense knowledge and enthusiasm make her a bodhisattva of the kitchen, in my book.
Slow Food Utah is a group of people who care about good food—not just the taste, but the experience of making and eating it, and its provenance. They like to put a face with their food, “especially meat and dairy,” says Jude. “Know your farmer.”
She and her volunteer colleagues are in the midst of organizing this year’s feast, the 11th. I’ve attended four of them in the past and they are all gustatorial highlights of my life. The sitdown dinner, limited to 125 attendees, occurs at a restaurant, a reception center, a cooking school—once, even a farmer’s field. Each course is introduced by its maker, who describes the ingredients and their sources. A wine or beer matches each course. It has sold out every year. The chefs, from top-tier restaurants, contribute labor and ingredients.
A sort of magic happens at these Feasts. A new burst of enlightenment occurs with each course (I will admit it may be vaguely connected to the fact that I am unused to consuming this much alcohol with my meals). One resolves to cook more consciously, shop more wisely, savor everything. Also, there are friends, new and old. Food makes comaraderie.
The feast is a fund-raiser for a really cool cause: providing funds for micro-grants to Utahns who are engaged in growing or producing clean, fair food. The project, begun in 2008, is the brain child of Jen Colby.
Through the years, CATALYST has written about many of the grant recipients, including New Roots Rising (refugee garden plots), Biocentric Brothers (mushroom growers), Oolite Creamery (sheepmilk cheese), and our own Katherine Pioli and Ben Bombard (heritage-breed poultry). Slow Food Utah President Gwen Crist estimates the group has funded upward of 100 projects, averaging with grants averaging $1,500 each. The Feast also funds the group’s upcoming Eat Local Week projects and the annual Honeybee Festival.
Each Feast of the Five Senses has its own theme. One year it was Sharing Traditions from the Ark of Taste, which focused on “endangered” foods, to create demand for worthy but waning heirlom varieties and encourage growers to choose them. “This year’s theme is Our Family Table, focusing on foods your parents or grandparents may have eaten, though prepared other ways,” Jude says.
The chef lineup so far includes Bowman Brown of Forage, Tyler Stokes of Provisions, Emily of Em’s, Romina Rasmussen of Les Madeleines, Wendy Robinson of Liberty Heights Fresh, Amber Billingsley Angelilli of 3 Cups, Elisabeth Lafond of Cafe Bon Appetit, Logen Crew of Current and Jen Gilroy of The Porch.
Greta Belanger deJong is editor & publisher of CATALYST magazine.
Slow Food Utah’s Feast of the Five Senses. Sunday, October 18 at Westminster College’s Jewett Center.
$125 + $25 wine pairing. slowfoodutah.org