Underground Feast Recap
Welcome to the Feast.
On May 12th and 13th, we proudly hostessed an amazing springtime Curated Feast called Underground. This feast was held above the aptly named Mystery Spot in an 1890s wine cave at a private residence. The cave itself was hand-carved by two brothers who were early winemakers in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This appellation would go on to become an American Viticultural Area (AVA) before Napa.
First, we must begin with gratitude. This Feast was the result of so many amazing and talented collaborators.
We are so grateful to have worked with our stellar Pantry Sponsor, Whole Foods Santa Cruz. Your support allowed this feast to sing.
Thank you Chef Hedy Nochimson of Plate and Bottle Supper Club for impressing the feasters with deliciously considered dishes! And thank you to Jordan and Melinda!
Julia Bell of Bell and Flourish, for decorating the table and for your flourishes of manzanita, honeycomb structures, and chandelier crystals, which made the space feel divine! Carl Atilano, your musical talents are unmatched. The subtle notes of Stravinsky are appreciated more than you will know.
Kyle Murphy, your talent for capturing the feel of these events is invaluable, and your ability to pitch in in so many ways made this special weekend possible!
Thank you Maaya, Olivia, Satya, and Heather for getting the food, wine, and everything seamlessly to the table.
And Ashley at AE Letterpress, you hand printed every one of our menu designs! It is details like that are what make each feast just that much more perfect.
And this feast was featured on The Feast Podcast! Listen if you want to learn more about this feast and the Curated Feast in general. It's a great season finale show by producer Laura Carlson.
Oh my goodness, what else can we say, but thank you ALL! You have all helped make this dream come to life.
Pause at the precipice — are you ready?
Guests enjoy the cave with cava cocktails, before the feast. Cava means cave in Catalan.
The table is set. Carl Atilano plays behind.
Before each dish came out, Liz Birnbaum shared the following stories.
Note: below are abbreviated versions of the stories told at the feast.
Course 1 — roots.
Imagine a time before language. A time when human culture and experience were just starting to have glimmers of what we would recognize today. That is where the Underground Feast began. We explored the earliest relationships with plants, from shamans to agriculturalists, and the legacies and knowledge from those earliest roots starting in 60,000BC, when a man was found buried with a clutch of flowers. The analysis of that pollen showed that those flowers were medicinal. The agricultural revolution was not until 6,000BC. That began a new relationship between plants and humanity, and set off a chain of events and accumulated knowledge.
Fast forward to 6,000BC, and the agricultural revolution. This begins a new relationship between plants and humanity, and also sets off the chain of events and accumulated knowledge which has helped to bring all of the foods to your plates, tonight. Imagine the mythologies sparked by our burgeoning connection to these plants and their cycles.
One myth informed by agricultural cycles was that of Osiris and Isis. After killing him once, Osiris' brother Set came back to cut Osiris into 14 pieces. Then he scattered those pieces into 14 graves. And eventually, Osiris became King of the Underworld. But those 14 pieces relate to 14 phases of the moon, and these cycles informed the timing of planting. This tale included a mechanism for passing on agricultural knowledge.
So this dish, called roots, is a reverent bow of appreciation to everyone who has ever been involved in bringing these items to the plate. It is a pumpernickel basil soil with root veggies cooked, raw, and pickled, puffed Shumei rice, and a small bit of dressed frisée atop.
The basil nods to the fact that through time, it has alternately represented love and hate. The root veggie represent the advent of cooking and food preservation, including some cooked, some raw, and some pickled veggies. And yes, the puffed Shumei rice. This rice is special. It was a gift from farmer Scott Parks, and it was grown with the Shumei natural Agriculture growing philosophy — that the parent plant forms a relationship with the soil below, so the offspring has that same relationship. Passing knowledge of the soil on through generations.
Course 2 — ashes.
This is an ancient tale from Toba Mythology. The Toba people are from Argentina.
The earth was heating up. In fact, it was beginning to burn up… all of life on the earth was in danger. Then the atmosphere caught on fire, and eventually the earth was just a pile of ash.
It just so happened that the bird diety Icanchu was traveling to another world when this fire appeared. When he returned, he could not believe the damage he saw. In the ashes, Icanchu found a log of charcoal and began to drum on it. He until he lost himself to the rhythm. He drummed until he was completely exhausted. He collapsed right there… and he slept. While he slept he dreamt of a green tendril...that tendril emerged from the ashes and it twirled right up to the sky. Then Icanchu awoke from that dream, and he saw a green tendril had sprouted from under the log of charcoal. And it began to curl up in front of him…
Many cultures have stories like this one. Birds and fire. Like the firebird/the phoenix. But unlike the phoenix you may know, who never touches the ground and who creates a nest made out of exotic spices and myrrh, Icanchu dwells in a more grounded place. Just like a forest after a burn, which creates opportunity for new species and new foods like mushrooms, this is a tale of harnessing the creative destruction of the world. So the elements in this dish reflect this story of Icanchu, and all of the stories about rising from the ashes.
This dish includes fried red quinoa & buckwheat, green lentils, mushrooms, roasted sunflower seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds, and onion ash, with Spanish paprika, smoked olive oil, a mushroom-dashi broth...and to remind us of the new life of each spring...pea shoots. It is paired with an optimistic but firey rose.
Course 3 — pearls.
This course covers the classical story of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, harvest, and the fertility of the earth… and Persephone is the goddess most associated with the spring… but she is quite certainly the queen of the underworld.
One day while Persephone was gathering flowers, Hades, god of the underworld, captured her. Persephone shrieked, but no one was near enough to see her… so no one had any idea where she had gone.
While Persephone was trapped below, Demeter roamed the earth above in her grief. She refused to let any crops to grow. A terrible famine gripped the earth, and people began to die. The humans could no longer provide sacrifices to the gods... and it was not the death and suffering, but the lack of sacrifices that got Zeus’ attention. Zeus asked that Hades release Persephone, and they were able to broker a deal....but if Persephone tasted the fruit of the underworld before she left, she would be trapped there.
Now, accounts differ here. Modern retellings suggest that Persephone fell for Hades and she wanted to stay in the underworld with him as well as please her mother, so she willingly ate six seeds to remain with him half the year. But the classical tale is that that terrible Hades tricked Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds before she left the underworld. This was his insurance policy, that he did not lose her completely.
And because Persephone ate the six seeds, she was destined to be six months above and six months below...reigning as Queen of the dead, while she lived below. And every spring, her mother Demeter makes sure to make a big show out of her return—with the magic of spring as Persephone's welcome back.
And so the dish that we put before guests was a little sample… and a bit of a test to see if they, too, would eat those six seeds while in the cave. This time the seeds were fashioned into pomegranate spheres by the wizardry of Chef Hedy, and were served in a pomegranate gelee with whipped herbed goat cheese, pomegranate molasses, and sourdough toast. We paired this with a fruit-forward pinot noir, which literally means black pine. It is light-bodied but also certainly has some dark undertones.
Course 4 — axis.
As Persephone spent half a year below and half a year above, we, too, are at a midpoint between two places. We are halfway between myth and reality. And there is no better place to explore that junction than the famous Elusian Mysteries and the infamous initiation to the cult of Demeter and Persephone. At Elusias, a cave-like temple, with low stone pillars and a low roof above, was built near a hole in the earth. That hole was believed to be the true and exact spot where Hades snatched Persephone.
As we gathered on Mystery Spot Road, the word “mystery” was actually completely appropriate and a bit of a clue. The term “miste” meant one who one who was initiated into a secret rite...one who could access secret knowledge. Thousands of people gathered every year, for 2000 years. They gathered to experience these sacred mysteries, and amazingly, we still don't know what went on in that cave at Elusias.
This dish nods to some of the things we do know about the mysterious Elusias. Both pigs and pine cones were associated with fertility, so this dish features a cured pork and pine nuts as a nod to the fecundity of spring. The cherry jus represents purity, and most pointedly, as you must well know, virginity. The herbed barley berries nod to Osiris, who brought barley to the Egyptians, and who is associated with barley. Osiris in the original myth even says: “I am barley, I am not destroyed.” The charred cabbage harkens back to the ashes and reminds us of Icanchu. And the onion blossoms are included to reference the spring. And like the stories blend together in this dish, so we chose a pairing of a blended wine… a wine that may share a clue with the next course… the wine is called Old Vine, Pleiades.
Course 5 — celestial
After a series of stories about rebirth and renewal, we have reached the promised land…. dessert! This feast explored a series of stories which inform our relationship to the physical world. This final course was accompanied by a light and short story about the world above—the stars and constellations. All of the stories relate to a constellation—the Chariot of Pluto, the Phoenix in the southern hemisphere, and even Orion was a transfigured version of Osiris. So we end in the land of milk and honey, with edible gold and edible flowers, a milk custard, and a honey oat crumble.
Thank you for journeying with us from the soil to the stars, in this feast!
Thanks go to everyone who attended and helped with the Underground Feast! It was a pleasure meeting so many new feasters and meeting so many new talented collaborators.
We welcome your feedback about the event—please drop us a line at email@example.com. Thank you!