You may find yourself on a beautiful farm, in a wide open field with over 600 others (more than a dozen of them chefs) and more cooked meat than you can possibly eat. And you may ask yourself, “How did I get here?” And the answer is Tamara Murphy.
Last weekend, for the 6th year, award-winning chef, author and Terra Plata owner Tamara Murphy lent her considerable talents to “the world’s best feast in a field” the Burning Beast, an extravaganza of spit-cooking and flame grilling at the Smoke Farm in Snohomish County.
Smoke Farm (operated by the nonprofit Rubicon Foundation) serves professionals and students who want to explore art, agriculture, conservation and philosophy, while having the opportunity to work as part of a farm community. Programs include a wood shop, a letterpress, a wood kiln and a site specific arts festival open to visual and performing artists.
Each year in mid July hundreds of guests and dozens of volunteers descend on this otherwise sleepy piece of land adjacent to the Stillaguamish River in support of the farms programs, to partake in eating sustainably-raised meats cooked using humankind’s most basic tool – open fire.
Many attendees and chefs make the trek each year but as always there were plenty of fresh faces in the field including Cantinetta, Captive Spirits, Curious Culinary, Goat Mountain Pizza, Hilliard’s, Proletariat and Sky City.
The returning chefs (some of the Northwest’s most skilled) were back with outstanding dishes. Branden Karow of Ethan Stowell’s Staple & Fancy was voted Best of Beast for transforming a whole elk into elk dogs complemented by caramelized onions and blistered shishito peppers. Matt Lewis of Where Ya At Matt didn’t disappoint with his duck confit & sausage accompanied by carmelized onion & peach salsa. And Aaron Matson of Copper Hog delighted the crowd with blueberry ram sausages topped with pickles and jam.
Charles Warpole of The Blind Pig fame roasted goat and tucked it in a tortilla with cabbage & radish. And Ron Jones Gasworks reprised a favorite from last year – their curried chicken with sticky rice and pickles.
Gifts from the sea included John Foss’s smoked sardines with fennel as well as Jon Rowley and David Smead’s roasted oysters from Taylor Shellfish that you shucked yourself and then added a dash of Tabasco or Tapatio if the mood struck you.
Two other Beast regulars, Bathtub Gin and Trophy Cupcakes, wowed diners with a Rabbit Rum cocktail comprised of aged rum, smoked agave, bitters, porter, garlic-braised rabbit plus pineapple and a roast your own bacon-s’more cupcake.
A first-timer might question Burning Beast’s $100 ticket price, but rest assured – once you’ve been bitten by the Beast, you are certain to return without batting an eye. Tickets sell out in a matter of days, hours or, this year, in minutes and include – depending on the year – more than all you can eat rabbit, duck, cow, pig, goat, lamb, elk, buffalo, salmon, cocktails, dessert and overnight camping on the farm, should you choose. Many guests this year said they’d been trying to get tickets for 5 years running – only to finally attend this year by volunteering or being given tickets by well-connected ‘plan-ahead’ friends.
If you’d like to attend next year’s Burning Beast, mark your calendar for May 2014 as tickets usually go on sale in the spring, so buying tickets in advance is paramount if you want to get near the pit.
Meanwhile why not visit the farm for the Builders Dinner on September 14 when Tamara Murphy (Terra Plata) and Joshua Hart (Spinasse) will serve up a more intimate culinary experience in support of the farm’s future efforts.