Events like Elevate make Omaha great.
Held on the 36th street bridge, over looking the 1-80 corridor within sight of the newly designed grain elevators whose theme this year was based on transportation, Elevate was the collaboration of chef, designer and farmer whom together designed a communal space paired it with an artistic menu that together created a unique festive eating experience.
This unique eating experience was conceptualized through Emerging Terrain, a non-profit research and design collaborative, whose focus for such an event is to reconnect the public with the landscapes that have been created around us. The focus is to not let oneself take for granted the farms, buildings and landscape that we look at everyday but to find challenge and vision in new and creative environments. According to their website, it states that “Emerging Terrain is about engagement and that we will use exhibits, installations, paintings and feast to get people to think about and really see our environment.”
And so, Elevate was brought to fruition off the heals of last years Harvest Dinner, where 500 friends ate together along side the grain elevators at one long table, sharing food and service and space. Several months ago, 20 chef and design teams met to face a new challenge unlike the Harvest Dinner but rather a new way to use the public space on the 36th street Bridge. Maintaining the view of the newly bannered grain elevator, Elevate was crafted into a communally intertwined food feast bridging together the creative minds of chef, designer and farm.
As a participant of Elevate, I would say the tickets were the first welcoming sign of this very cool event. Tickets were sold in flights over the Emerging Terrain website and went quickly. Then a couple weeks prior to the event, you received in the mail, a ticket with a number and correlating sequence of 6 stations. (It is unfortunate that one cannot visit all 19 stations. I challenge the folks who could eat that much.) Next up was the day of Elevate and the arrival of around 500 summer clad, soon to be sunned, eager and hungry gastronomes, for only those with an elevated sense of culinary prowlness are plucky enough to attend. (I offer another challenge for all brave and eager gastronomes to attend next year’s event as well.)
Amazing was the thought process and execution of the “elevated stations”. There was enough time to savor each station and admire those not in your sequence as you walked along the bridge. My sequence started with Chef Sara Adkisson Joyner with Designers Sara Jacobson, Allyson Gibbs and Alex Bodell, and included the Boiler Room with Designer HDR; Dario’s with Designer HDR; Chef Chris Myers with Designers Urban Alchemy, architectureisfun and Dahlin Studio; The Grey Plume with Designer TACKarchitects and Bread&Cup with Designers Rudolphi and Leslie.
The “elevated station” from the Grey Plume with Design team TACKarchitects was the station that physically connected me to the point of the day and gave me the sense of how landscape and food are intertwined. It was the most playful station for one was able to “forage” their own food by cutting or pulling their own lettuce and picking their own skewer of in-house cured duck prosciutto and preserved locally grown root vegetables which were hung from wire that ran above and angled across the station. After pulling the lettuce, one was directed by chef Clayton Chapman to add the greens to the souvenir mason jar that had crumblings of sweet pumpernickel bread and sliced radishes made to resemble a child’s concoction of dirt and other miscellaneous findings. You were to shake it all up and eat your salad that was “foraged” with your own hands on the bridge. This station joined together the memory and emotional connection one has to what they eat. The space created the memory landscape while food created the emotional connection.
For Chef Chris Myers with Design Team Urban Alchemy/Dahlin Studio/architectureisfun, they spent their day in what was defined by Emerging Terrain as a “simplified hybrid greenhouse/restaurant serving the tastings of home-grown organic produce”, trying to connect the “where does our food come from” to a more green way to sustain oneself. Within the station were walled trellis containing to-be harvested white radish, red beets, purple basil. Also, large vertical planters were growing a variety of greens such as pea tendrils, mizuna, arugula, mache, all yet to be harvested on-site.
Standing in front of a the designed cooking counter, tiled with the large vertical planters and back dropped with the live growing trellis, Chef Myers created his food which was served on hand-made wheeled serving trays that were pushed toward the participants to partake, no use for forks or plates. Being enclosed and edged on 2 sides with benches for seating, you watched the chef prepare his course: Bluff Valley Farms Lamb Meatball Kabobs, Chilled Mint and Pea Soup served in a shot glass, and Pickled Radish and Bean Canapés.
It was an enjoyable quest for my fellow gastronomes and me to discover what each “elevated station” was trying to convey, trying to find the connection between the environment and the food. But even more enjoyable was the consumption of food created by many of the most talented area chefs. Although the Taste of Omaha was happening at the same time on the Riverfront in downtown Omaha, I would imagine that many of the Elevate participants were feeling that the real Taste of Omaha was happening on the 36th Street Bridge. I hope that the movement toward locally grown and sustainable food will continue to drive our community forward and will encourage others to look into how our landscape can help connect us to what we eat.
For a full list of chef and designers, you can visit the Emerging Terrain website at www.emergingterrain.org