A molecular gastronomer and environmental artist team up to make diners reconsider the source of their food and the impacts of their eating habits
By Daniel Grushkin | July 2, 2010
The first dinner of the linkurl:Cross (x) Species;http://www.environmentalhealthclinic.net/ooz/projects/xspecies/ supper club last Saturday straddled science, environmentalism and performance art. The host, environmental artist linkurl:Natalie Jeremijenko,;http://www.environmentalhealthclinic.net/people/natalie-jeremijenko/ greeted her guests in a space-age nurse's tunic, silver pants and white boots. And though 22 humans showed up, the guests of honor were five bullfrogs that sat on a pedestal at the center of the linkurl:Eyebeam;http://eyebeam.org/ art gallery in New York City.
The frogs weren't on the menu, they were the guests of honor! Photo: Daniel Grushkin
Billed as "Lifestyles of the Wet and Slimy," this was the first installment of the monthly feast of the Cross (x) Species Adventure Club. And though the scene was playful, the ultimate goal extended beyond the casual chuckle. Jeremijenko organized the club to persuade guests to consider the environmental impact of their eating decisions -- this time on wetlands. Each dish in the five-course meal, which was designed by amateur chef and molecular gastronomer Mihir Desai, came paired with a short presentation where Jeremijenko tied the ingredients to the question of how to reinvent our eating habits in order to nurture instead of taint the environment.
"We have the capacity to design systems that not only lessen the damage to food systems but in fact promote biodiversity and improve environmental health," explained Jeremijenko. "So that's the challenge of the Cross Species Adventure Club. And of course it requires adventurous eaters."
The evening began with cocktails in test tubes and gin and tonic Jell-O molds shaped like fishing lures -- worms and small fish. The molds were meant to demonstrate a creative (if completely unrealistic) method to detoxify fish of mercury. Jeremijenko imagined people going fishing with the gelatinous bait at the end of their lines. Instead of catching the fish, they'd be feeding them. And instead of containing G&Ts, the molds would be doped with a chemical called chitosan, which binds to mercury and could clear the fish of poison as the Jell-O passes through their systems.
Surrounded by video installations of flying bats, Michael Jackson dance clips, and other visual treats, the guests sampled pastes of goat cheese and pistachio and dug into pea and pansy soup. They were overwhelmed by the flavors and sometimes flummoxed by the connections Jeremijenko drew to the environment. The pea soup, for instance, was poured into a bowl shaped like a facemask. The intention, Jeremijenko said, was a play on the metaphorical connection between polluted city air and thick pea soup. "We don't always explicate the in-between," explained Desai. "Food is a beginning of conversation, not an end."
"At this stage of Natalie and Mihir's collaboration, it's about being inspired by their different worlds," says Yael Raviv, a dinner guest and director of the Umami Food and Art Festival. "When you talk about the plight of frogs and bats a lot people have a hard time connecting. When you approach it through the angle of creative food you can get them engaged."
The evening's culinary adventure crescendoed with bowls of porcini mushrooms, halved cherries and garlic topped with water buffalo milk ice cream. Jeremijenko fixated on the water buffalo ice cream: by promoting consumption of the milk, she believes we can draw attention to their natural wetland habitat. Guests' tongues, on the other hand, focused on the raw clove of garlic. Its bite overpowered the other ingredients, but somehow made the Rouge Madon Venier wine taste as tart as cranberries -- delicious.
The supper club is a spin-off of a charity dinner Jeremijenko and Desai hosted last November for the Bronx River Arts Center. They hope it'll inspire a cookbook and perhaps a TV pilot. For now, it's a private event. Invitations come by word of mouth. At the end of the dinner, Jeremijenko, whose work has appeared at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, handed out invitations for the next gathering printed on edible paper for guests to pass to their friends. "Supper clubs as you know are not quite legal. We need to be discreet. That's why we ask you to read them then eat them," she said.
The next dinner will be on August 21. The theme will be "Slicked," and diners will explore the Gulf oil spill's effect on the diets of organisms in the Everglades and nearby shores .
__Editor's Note (07/02): The original version of this story did not include the date and the focus of the next meeting of the supper club. This information has been added above.__
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