Hosting a dinner for 500 people within the confines of a public right-of-way, on a bridge, over another right-of-way is monumental, epic—possibly downright ridiculous. It is an undertaking that quite easily could be encountered in Midtown Manhattan or Los Angeles where the infrastructure and equipment for such an event already exists. That kind of happening in those kinds of places would seem like a natural occurrence.
In Omaha, however, this infrastructure just doesn’t exist. Or, at least, not frequently and certainly not in this magnitude and extremes.
As a culture we encourage such extremes around food. People expect more from their experiences with and enjoyment of food. We have created a food-centric culture, where meals are highly crafted, paired with proper wine, and enjoyed in settings or eateries that help frame unique experiences. Coincidently, we have also propped up an entire industry of Food Networks, celebrity chefs, cookbooks, and associated paraphernalia that often times allow us to disregard regional traditions and season.
In effect, we use this industry to recreate these experiences in the privacy of our own settings. Or, we try to recreate the foods from our childhood when seeking a dining experience. Recalling what we had for casual dinners with our parents or possibly our grandparents, the simple meals. Thus reinforcing our communal relationship with food—the notion to eat and share with many.
For ElevATE, Chef Paul Kulik of the Boiler Room has teamed up with HDR and Kiewit Building Group to provide a return to the most primitive relationship to food and space. Fire has always played the most dramatic and instructive role in how and where people eat and furthermore, as a function of culture, dine. With that in mind we created an inverted firepit, where the elevated flames are deflected forward to roast from behind rather from below. The effect is both visually stunning and useful. We then introduced a vertical spit to allow the meat to roast with direct contact to the fire while still being able to render its juices onto a catch pan of vegetables. Open fire grills are still quite common. In the northeast of Italy they have a more regional name: fogolar, or fireplace. These wood fired ovens often double as cooktops.
Drawing from the temporal pop-up tents of the Burning Man, we have created a setting around a central fogolar, which has been designed to create a cocoon of fire and heat around the vertical spit. The curvature of the fogolar facilitates a natural convective current to provide a more efficient and uniform cooking environment. Smoke and heat are controlled and allowed to naturally ventilate via a central chimney that forms the main support for the structure. The chimney is created with typical construction site materials such as scaffold post and crossbars, planking and heat resistant tarpaulin.
Translucent debris netting hung from rings of electric metal tubing intimately embraces the fogolar and slightly obscures views from both within and out of the dining area. As a result, attention remains on the events around the fogolar. Once the event has transpired, then all materials can be once again utilized in their normal mode.
It is our belief that a meal is incomplete without its accompanying beverage. We were very fortunate then, when we found out that Matteo Burani from Friuli’s oldest winery, Tenuta Angoris, wanted to be in Omaha and that we would be presenting some of his most regionally appropriate wine straight from a barrel! This is the communal nexus of space, food, fire and drink.