Wrestling Giants

Last week was an intense one that those of us who were on-site at the grain elevator from sunrise to sunset can likely still feel in our bones.  The erraticness of fall weather fell upon Omaha, and not even the towering concrete grain elevator could shield us.  But 13 giant windsails had to be hung, and the crew of iron workers at Davis Erection were excited to do it.  Day One only saw one banner up, while the kinks of hanging such a thing from 110′ in the air were worked out and the afternoon brought 50mph winds.  Those of us watching from the ground couldn’t feel the wind, but we could see it as the lift cages smashed up against the silo wall.  Even iron workers know when to say No.

Day two brought us three more banners – Aerial Production, Corn as Commodity, and Speak Up for Small Farms, and the iron workers had it down: hoist the banner up as one long 20′ roll draped across two lifts, drill in the screws along the top edge, and let go as the banner unfurls down the front of the silo. Bam. Color.  Both lifts would simultaneously work both edges, screwing in through the grommets and tugging the banner taut to the silo.

Day three managed Corn Cob, Tomatoes, and Oglala.  Then the rain came.

Day Four was a nail biter with wicked wind and rain that the iron workers ignored for long enough to install Drive Shed.  It wasn’t pretty and iron workers left soaked to the bone.

Day Five was a hustle, bringing into existence Hourglass (which has already been redesigned for reprint as the dots were not large enough to convey the illusion of pinching the silo.  The one currently hanging will be repurposed into Freitag-like bags for sale to cover the cost of reprint), Bacon, Diminishing Returns and Battery on the north end.  After lunch, both lifts moved to the far south silo – the one we’d been ignoring for a whole week – the precarious position next to I-80, open to winds and whirling traffic, and difficult positioning for the lifts operating from the ground.  After the lift was stuck in the rain produced mud a couple of times, a resulting hydraulic leak, and winds funneled down the I-80 corridor, iron workers said No again and we moved Cultivator to the northern most silo.  We intend to eventually move Cultivator where it belongs – next to I-80 – so the play on scale and infrastructure that it so stunningly creates with I-80 can happen.

Chef Blog #7: Tyson Arp, Nebraska Brewing Company

You may wonder why we would include a ‘beermaster’ in our chef blogs.  While not technically a chef, Tyson, and the folks at Nebraska Brewing Company approach their craft as many a chef may approach each and every plate leaving the kitchen.

Tyson began his brewing career in 2004 as a self-taught homebrewer, brewing for personal enjoyment.  After 3 years of perfecting his technique, he entered his first competition at the Nebraska State Fair.  His honed skills netted a Best Of Show with a Rye IPA.  As luck would have it Paul Kavulak, President and Co-Owner of Nebraska Brewing Company was judging the Best of Show Beers that day.  Tyson was so passionate about his craft, he began working at Nebraska Brewing Company on a volunteer basis during NBC’s infancy.  He was quickly hired full time, and has held the position of Brewer at Nebraska Brewing Company since 2007 and more recently Lead Brewer since 2009, and the maestro behind NBC’s increasingly creative brews.  Nebraska Brewing Company has quickly established itself as a Midwest innovator of quality Craft Beers and artisanal Barrel-Aged Products.  Since NBC became involved in this event a couple months ago, it has been fun to watch them bring a new level of craft brewing to the Omaha area.  The quality of their brews is attracting the attention of brewmasters and craft beer connoisseurs on both coasts, giving a name for themselves and for the State of Nebraska, and causing ripples in the perceptions of beer here in the Midwest.

The Brewers Association defines craft beer as only made by a craft brewer, then goes on to define craft brewers using a three-pronged approach. The brewery must be small, with an annual beer production of less than two million barrels. It must be independent, with less than 25% of the brewery owned or controlled by a member of the alcoholic beverage industry that is not also a craft brewer. And it must be traditional, with either an all malt flagship beer, or with at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or beers that use adjuncts to enhance flavor. We were attracted to NBC for this event because of their legitimacy as a craft brewer, their rapidly growing creativity in producing unique and distinctive flavors that aren’t typically associated with beer, and especially their attention to pairings of beer with food, as is traditionally done with wine.  When beer is distinctive and flavorful, it becomes part of the meal.  There is nothing more ‘fall’ and ‘harvest-like’ than beer, a fact that still rings true with Nebraska’s german roots.  Omaha was 57% German in 1910, and many communities throughout the state continue to observe Oktoberfest religiously.

Nebraska Brewing Company owners, Paul and Kim Kavulak, along with brewmaster Tyson have chosen two beers for the October 3 Harvest Dinner, after carefully considering the menu as it developed amongst the chefs:

Brunette Nut Brown Ale
NBC’s version of the classic English-style Brown Ale has a blend of six different malts and a hop schedule that results in a low hop character. The unique malt character brings to mind the taste of a blend of various nuts. Coffee, toffee, caramel tend to come to mind in this excellent session Ale. Best With: BBQ, Smoked Gouda Cheese, grilled/roasted/braised meats.
2010 World Beer Championships Bronze Medal – English Style Brown Ale
2010 United States Open Beer Championship Gold Medal – English Brown Ale

Wick for Brains Pumpkin Ale
Wick for Brains, about to enter its 3rd year, is a classic and painstakingly produced Pumpkin Ale.  Instead of simply using spice, NBC uses real pumpkin which lends a sweetness and pumpkin flavor not found in many Pumpkin Ales. Wonderful pumpkin pie spice intertwined in an Amber Ale creates a pumpkin sensation which is elegantly crafted.  Notes of Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove, Ginger and Allspice blend perfectly in this seasonal Ale. There are many Pumpkin Ales out there crafted by some wonderful breweries – we feel that ours stands among them and in some cases – stands apart.
Best With: Other semi-sweet desserts, poultry, and perfect alone.

We cannot wait!

Chef Blog #6: Brigitte McQueen, Pastry Artist

Brigitte McQueen, the Manager of the UNDERGROUND with the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and previous owner of Pulp — is once a month, without fail,  asked the question:

“Are you an artist yourself?”

The habit of answering “No” began with a painful semester blowing glass in college, misshapen coffee mugs hidden in the basement from a stint as a ceramicist and residual resentment from a particularly nasty critique during a foray into photography. These experiences led Brigitte to believe there was no right to align herself with the “real” artists she works with and serves each day.  Until recently when one of these amazing artists commented that he wished he could do the ‘art’ of baking like Brigitte.  She was floored to hear this and to realize that she never viewed her talent and skill in baking as an artform.  Brigitte was well practiced speaking of the science behind baking – but had never realized the creativity and beauty — the artistic merit — held in the bits of sweetness she so passionately produces.  That conversation changed everything about the way she views the pastry she bakes, and in many ways, food in general. It is beautiful and artistic.. from the marbling in a great steak, to the perfect red/orange of a ripe tomato, to the structural magic of a frosting swirl on a favorite birthday cake. It is art. Maybe not as enduring, usually not as expensive, and a bit trickier to collect… but it is art.

Thank goodness for Brigitte’s artist friend that day, and the realization he caused, because it led her to our chef team, paired with the amazing Jacqui Caniglia of La Charlotte-Caniglia Pastries (stay tuned for her blog) to work her magic and love of carefully crafted desserts as the finale for our dinner guests on October 3.  Brigitte recently told us how excited she is for the opportunity to share this with the dinner guests. To momentarily move from curator working behind the scenes, to create something beautiful to touch and delight those partaking. Her medium will be butter and flour and her brushes covered in egg wash… as she proudly adds ‘artist’ to her list of accomplishments from now on. And we proudly present Brigitte as a crucial part of this special collaborative event.

The Art of Pastry: Brigitte McQueen

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Brigitte McQueen earned her B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University in New York City. After graduation, she worked in advertising, as a pastry chef and spent 10 years as a Production Manager with Teen People magazine. After leaving NYC, she headed west and received her certification in Pastry Arts from the Seattle Art Institute. Since moving to Nebraska in 2002, Brigitte has been actively involved with the local arts community and spent two years as the owner and curator of Pulp | Paper & Art, a small gallery and boutique located in downtown Omaha.  In January of 2010, Brigitte accepted the UNDERGROUND Manager position with The Bemis Center for Contemporary and curates exhibitions and programs for the bemis|UNDERGROUND. The gallery serves as a venue for emerging and established artists to explore process and projects, while actively stimulating discussion and conceptualization of contemporary art.

Chef Blog #5: Brian O’Malley, Metro Community College Institute for Culinary Arts

Chef Brian O’Malley is associated with words like “passion”, “dedicated”, “pleasure”, “local”, “sustainable”, “mentor”, “excellence”, “active”, “integral”, “contributions”, “relevant”, “commitment”, “artisan”, “unbridled”,  and “joy”.   These descriptors are fitting to this chef instructor who plays a pivotal role in the local food movement in Omaha and the surrounding region and was the first chef consulted for the dinner event.   The rest of Brian’s resume and bio leave one’s heading spinning with the ambition, achievement, and willingness to jump in and try new things.  Perhaps that is why he agreed to join the chef team even though it “freaked” him out more than a little.   We are confident in his experience, connections to the growers, ideas for creating, presenting and advocating food, passion for education, and high energy for pulling off unique events,  in helping to bring it all together.

With wit, insight and knowledge he can guide a crowd to understand why they should care about where their food comes from.  And with his inventive love of delicious food, local foodies can see what is possible with familiar staple ingredients.  When Brian agreed to take on the bison course as a team with Chef Matthew Taylor of the Arbor Day Lied Lodge and Conference Center, he did not question the possibility.  A banner artist flying into Omaha from Hawaii for the event remarked that the bison course confirmed his decision to embark on the long flight to attend the dinner.

From Eagle Scout to distinguished graduate of the prestigious New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont to beginning many new initiatives at the cutting edge Metro Community College Institute for Culinary Arts, Brian brings leadership, vision, and enthusiasm to everything he sets out to do.   As past chef in Vail and Santorini as well as many other kitchens around Omaha he has developed a deep sense of what needs to be done and how to do it well.  His voice continues to be important as our team nears the weekend of execution for what has the potential to be the greatest local food event in Omaha.

Site Specific, by Anne Trumble

For the past month, this project has been very task focused: city permitting, insurance paperwork, scheduling giant lifts to install equally as giant banners, organizing chefs, printing and mailing dinner tickets, arranging lighting, procuring a bison and finding a place to prepare it, locating enough platters to serve 500 people, scheduling porta potties, and sleuthing out banner sponsors who see value in the project (a very special type in the world today).  Yesterday, while on a daily jog to clear an often overloaded mind, I realized these days aren’t much reflecting that of landscape architecture.  The last 16 years have been entirely devoted to studying, designing, and developing sites; rooftops and plazas, memorials, streetscapes, entire city plans, transportation hubs; in the United States and abroad, in both developed and developing nations.  The traditional work of landscape architecture is often very separated from those who will use the finished space, and the work happens at a computer, drawing after drawing in AutoCad to instruct a contractor how to build a very limited scope of topography.

I’m not sure what the shift to scheduling porta potties means for a landscape architecture career, but I do know this project is shaping a site.  It may not be as black and white as a new streetscape or sportsfield under the tuteledge of a laborious set of construction drawings, but watching the obsolete and forgotten railroad parcel next to the grain elevator morph by way of many different hands and interests is certainly a type of landscape evolution.

When the grain elevator and its servicing railtrack went into disuse in the 80′s, so did upkeep.  Maintaining weeds and gigantic structure no longer performing its original function at this scale is a full time job – just ask the new owners of the elevator, Silo Extreme Outdoor Adventures, who spend their days and nights taming a place where everything is GIANT.  Until several weeks ago, this natural continuation of the hiking and biking trail to the north stopped abruptly with dark groves of trees, weeds, and random industrial waste.  After several meetings with the City of Omaha about gaining appropriate access to hang the banners, host 500 people for dinner, and hopefully eventually building out this missing piece of the trail, Parks and Recreation descending upon the site with payloaders, dump trucks, chain saws, and a crew.  Within a day, the site was cleared of decades worth of overgrowth, empty grafitti spraypaint cans, and buckets of oil, all exposing where the silos meet the ground – a small pleasure for someone obsessed with the system (landscape) that supports everything we humans construct and inhabit.

A couple weekends later, volunteers from the Hanscom Park Neighborhood Association showed up on a Saturday morning with rakes, shovels, machetes, and wheelbarrows to apply finishing touches and show their support for this new era of the industrial site. Since that Saturday, a dedicated site crew (Randy Smith and Nick Soper) have done even more prep work.  Cumulatively, a huge amount of work done in a way that, as a landscape architect, I had only seen verified contractors, with all the correct paperwork, perform.

We hope the project as a whole begins to shape a landscape much larger than the parcel next to the elevator; our backyards, the city streets we drive on, the fields that grow our food, the aquifers that exist below the ground we walk on and supply us with drinking water, and the fields that once produced food and now produce homes. None of these exist apart from the others, and for this single moment in time, will converge at this giant, simple, and iconic concrete structure.

Chef Blog #4 -Clayton Chapman, The Grey Plume

If you are following our chef blogs, you may begin to think we view these individuals through rose colored glasses.  In some ways this is true – as we went into this project not knowing what might transpire, or who would come forward. All we knew for sure is that we were committed to sleuthing out the innovators and risk takers who are motivated by the connection between beautifully feeding people and the land and processes that underlie their passion, and furthermore merges these processes towards completion: human experience and sustenance.

When Chef Clayton Chapman walked in the door for the first chef meeting, the project took a leap in quality and consideration we hadn’t yet entertained.  Just in his mid-twenties, Clayton is known as a wunderkid in Omaha’s restaurant world, as the first Chef to launch a series of tasting and Prix-fixe menus as the youngest ever Chef de Cuisine at V. Mertz, known for its attention to careful selection and composition of ingredients.  At the meeting, Clayton described how his days are less chef and more general contractor as he oversees the building of his new restaurant The Grey Plume opening December 2010 at Midtown Crossing.  The Grey Plume will serve Contemporary American cuisine with a daily changing menu that embodies seasonality and is greatly influenced by local farmers’ supply. Chapman’s dedication to the heritage of food and to the consciousness of its origin lies at the heart of his vision. The Grey Plume is working with The Green Restaurant Association to become the first certified Green Restaurant in the tri-state area. This man is on a mission.

Chapman started his culinary career in the dish pit of North Omaha’s Mother’s Good Food when he was 15 years old.  While completing his culinary degree at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, Chapman earned the Chef de Partie position at world renowned TRU restaurant under the direction of celebrity chefs Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand. After traveling and eating his way through Europe and western Africa, Chapman moved back to Omaha to establish roots and ignite the culinary scene.  After revolutionizing V. Mertz he spent time as the Executive Chef at Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops.

Considering how much Clayton has on his plate right now, he has made time for this community engaging, community inspired weekend of undoubtedly hard work preparing and executing a course for 500-people in a location without the infrastructure of a kitchen.  We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Clayton and his passion and skilled talent.  We can’t wait to experience his carefully considered platters for 500 on October 3.

Banners Amongst Us

Yesterday, a large truck arrived at the grain elevator on 34th and Vinton to deliver 22,000 sqft. of banners brought to life by great BIG color in Denver, Colorado.  These banners have been in process since chosen by the jury on May 22nd at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.  Between then and now, the artists and designers have worked diligently to reproduce their original submissions at the gigantic 20′x80′ size.  great BIG color has supported us the whole way through, thanks to the fabulous customer service of Kristin Battenfield, who found out about the project from her parents who still live in Omaha where she grew up.  Kristin called us one day and said “this project is so amazing, what do we have to do to get it?” After some negotiating and a sample banner and re-purposed banner into farmers market shopping bag arriving at our studio the following morning, gBc has been a central part of the team by turning virtual 500MB ideas into a product.

In addition to being a smart business woman who acts fast to be part of an out-of-the-norm project, Kristin generously took some pictures of the banners in process – being printed, sewn, welded, etc.  The banners are basically printed in 10′ strips and hot welded down the middle.  They are then hemmed and grommeted for their life on the grain elevator.  Thanks to Kristin for snapping all these photos.  The banners are resting for the weekend before action begins on Monday, September 20th at 7am.  Keep your eyes on the elevator!

Chef Blog #3: Matthew Taylor, Arbor Day Lied Lodge

One of the many great things about multiple tentacled projects like this is how one things leads to another.  Parts of the project are adopted by others, parts of the project spin off into other projects, and great people lead to other great people.  In the case of Chef Matthew Taylor, we were led to him by way of banner artist Matthew Rezac, both out of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and both with ties to Nebraska. When one Matthew suggests another Matthew, how can one not take notice?  Although Banner Artist Matthew grew up in Nebraska, Chef Matthew has slowly been lured to Nebraska.  The luring is now finalized with Matthews recent move to Nebraska City to assume the position of Head Chef at the Arbor Day Lied Lodge and Conference Center.

When Matthew showed up at our first ‘chef meeting’, having altered his pre-move house hunting visit to Nebraska in order to attend, we knew we had found a perfect fit for this project.  Arms covered in tattoos, charismatically speaking about his love of local food with a slight Chicago accent, and instantly building camaraderie with strangers through his praise of the region’s meats, cheeses, and vegetables.  We were lucky to find Matthew.

Chef Matthew Taylor began his culinary career in the kitchens of renowned chef Raymond Timpone. Working under Chef Timpone at the famous Timpone’s Ristorante in Urbana, IL gave Matthew a taste for the rustic beauty and contemporary charm of Italian cooking. Chef Matthew then moved on to kitchens in the Champaign and Chicago areas. Matthew soon made a tour of kitchens from New York to Seattle. “Working for the chefs I respected and admired has been a great training ground for me”, explains Matthew when discussing his background. Chef Taylor has studied the cuisine and technique of classical French, Italian, and contemporary American cuisines.

Matthew has lived and worked in several regions in the United States. Along the way he has been exposed to a variety of styles and “regional identities” that have shaped his diversified palate. “Wherever I go, my connection with the community is through food.” This is one of the biggest propensities for the sourcing of local foods. Chef Taylor believes in the wholesome, vital freshness that comes with buying food from the farmers here in Nebraska. At Lied Lodge and conference Center at The Arbor Day Farm we try to source as much as possible from local farms to both support a healthy diet and a healthy local economy.

At the most recent chef meeting, Matthew initiated an engrossing discussion about including bison in the harvest dinner event, which then led to a discussion about prairie landscape conservation and restoration.  The following week, we found ourselves speaking with bison ranchers and being asked to pick up a live bison for processing!  The live part was quickly nixed, but bison is now on the menu and we can’t wait to see what Chef Matthew brings to a course that speaks to the deep history of our region, and undoubtedly a burgeoning future market.

The Battery by Shaun Smakal

The time has arrived for the FINAL banner blog in the 13-week one-by-one unveiling of each piece of artwork for installation on the grain elevator.  Getting to know the visionary behind each design has become the best part of this project.  Each one provides a unique perspective that we can’t imagine the final installation, as a whole, without. The Chef Blogs will be coming at a rapid pace leading up to the October 3 dinner, and then will dovetail into Farmer Blogs to highlight the folks who grow/raise the food we will enjoy at that epic event.

The last, but certainly not least, banner ‘The Battery’, designed by landscape designer and urban planner, Shaun Smakal was the only submission out of 150 to embrace the crucial global topic of energy.  During Smakal’s background research for his entry, he accidentally discovered that a silo is the exact proportion of a AA battery, and their past use as grain storage certainly represents enormous quantities of energy storage.  Without getting into the complex physics of energy production, consider the transference of sun, water, and nutrients into a new harvestable, and edible form that even now produces fuel for our cars.  Energy indeed.  According to Smakal, landuse, agriculture, and energy are the complex and intricately interwoven pieces of the larger human landscape.  The role that energy plays in the landscape is often ignored or unseen by many Americans, so by utilizing the instantly recognizable form of a battery, he seeks to coalesce this complexity into a 3-tiered format that is iconic and visual enough to be recognizable to someone driving by on the interstate, and also able to develop a broader energy/landuse discussion. The positive and negative terminals represented by a battery are an important component to any discussion about landuse and energy that, according to Smakal, is often missing in our oil focused society.

The image as a whole, represents a battery, and each subsequent spectrum of color a battery itself and a graphic image of sixteen potential energy resources as identified by Scientific American, in order of increasingly irreversible impact on our larger landscape. The graphic images visually highlight the energy resource itself, with an emphasis on how it exists in the landscape or its raw form,  and the colors reference both a natural rainbow and the Dept. of Homeland Security’s National Terror Alert System:

Shaun Smakal, a Master of Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and a graduate of the Resource Planning B.Sc. program at the University of Michigan – Flint, specializes in imaging how cities, especially the declining, post-industrial, rust belt cities of Detroit and Flint, would look, function and change through radical landscape and urban development that makes them into environments that regenerate the human, ecological and infrastructure functions that comprise them.

His professional design work began with a role as a memorial designer for a small, family-owned monument design company. During his academic career, he served as a writing tutor on campus, teaching assistance and designed and built sets for student-run plays. He’s also participated in several award winning charrettes including Vancouver’s entry in the CitiesPlus Integrated Design Workshop and the Community Roof Garden & Food Security Charrette for the Collingwood Community Centre, among others.  Shaun has spent the last 3.5 years as a landscape and urban designer and planner in Flint, MI where his work and personal interests, in addition to standard landscape projects, has included presentations on urban agriculture, design and communication materials for urban infrastructure and downtown revitalization in Flint, large-scale infrastructure enhancements for brownfields and highways, and serving as a facilitator for the City of Flint’s Neighborhood Action Sessions and on several event and neighborhood committees.

Chef Blog #2: Elle Lien, Daily Grub

The seemingly large shifts Omaha has made as a city in the last 5 years can undoubtedly be attributed to the action and passion of individuals.  For someone who has been away from it all during this time-frame, a return is met with more choices and perspectives, and vibrant burgeoning pockets in previously underutilized parts of town.  And for the most part, the city seems to excitedly embrace and support the courage, dedication, unique vision, and hard work of these individuals.

One such example of dedication and vision can be witnessed, daily, on the Facebook page of the fresh and simple whole food diner, Daily Grub, on 20th and Pierce.  Updated almost daily by the restaurant’s gracious purveyor, Elle Lien, and not yet open for a full calendar year, Daily Grub’s page has over 900 ‘fans’ and regular ‘daily’ postings of tantalizing menu items, news, and snippets into the daily life of feeding people outside of a luxurious kitchen, staff, or investors.  Everything to come out of the simple open kitchen is thoughtfully planned, sourced, and prepared by Elle herself.  A visit to Daily Grub is not just about satiating a growling mid-day stomach, but doing so in an intimate space akin to someone’s home, a vision Elle has cultivated for years through several ventures that began when she opened up her home for a Sunday brunch of vegan raw food and waffles. It began with close friends and family and grew to include up to 80 people a day. From there, Lien took brunch to the Empty Room in the Slowdown complex for a residency she called CLEAN PLATE where she prepared and served raw and local food for a month.

When Elle chose the name Daily Grub for the latest iteration of her ongoing quest to sustain people, perhaps she was setting into motion both the daily interaction with guests, who may choose to visit the restaurant based on the ever changing menu contingent on Elle’s interaction with the ephemeral ingredients harvested by local urban gardens, neighbors, and farms.  She wants the restaurant to be even more farm-sourced, one reason she recently decided to forgo weekend brunches for the summer: “I want to be at the (weekend) farmers markets and talking to growers and knowing what’s out there,” she said.

The influence of Elle’s upbringing as a corn fed, free-range Midwestern farm girl from Ashland, Nebraska showed up much later in her career.  Or maybe it was percolating and maturing during the time she worked as a writer and journalist in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and South Carolina where she discovered Charleston’s vibrant food culture based on a deep connection to its regional culinary roots and an abiding commitment to the idea that the best food comes from collaboration between cook and grower. It was in this atmosphere that Elle began to hone her kitchen skills, develop relationships with local chefs and farmers and entertain many of them.

When Elle returned to Omaha it was only for a brief stay on her way to graduate school in London. Now four years later, she continues to provide Omaha with great food and atmosphere. From her home, to CLEAN PLATE to now Daily Grub, Elle is undoubtedly a central figure in breathing new life into not only an old, dingy, bar on 20th and Piece, but to the city’s culture of people and connections; something we look forward to in her contribution to the giant community dinner in a forgotten space next to a once derelict, now evolving, agricultural food storage structure.