UPDATE: MARCH 24
Kill the restaurant, indeed. As of last Thursday, Culinary Communion is officially defunct. In a nearly 2000 word screed e-mail, Gabriel Claycamp blames everything from the lousy economy to the CC house owner’s refusal to build a door in the basement for the sudden cancellation of classes. Many of those classes have already been paid for, and at this point, they are unsure how repayment is going to occur. I’m unfortunately invested in some credit at Culinary Communion, and while there is a remote chance that they may eventually transfer this certificate over to the Swinery (Claycamp’s other venture, which has had it’s own ridiculous share of problems), I’m not holding my breath. And while Gabe writes “It is not our intention to slip away quietly, leaving a pile of debt and bad feelings behind us”, from everything I’ve heard about the guy, that is precisely what I expect to happen. Too bad. They were having absinthe tasting next week…
* * * *
It was already pitch dark at 5:30 in the afternoon when I ventured out into the rain to visit the house that Gabriel Claycamp built. Destination: Culinary Communion. While Culinary Communion is ostensibly a hands-on cooking class (and a front for Claycamp’s underground moveable feast Gypsy – R.I.P.?), there is also a rotating roster of guest chefs who host multi-course dinners focusing on specific themes. This particular evening I was attending a class on Northwest Food & Wine Pairing, taught by chef-instructor Katie Coleman with food prepared by the mighty Tom Black (of Barking Frog and Farestart fame).
While I was still a little reticent about the whole Kill the Restaurant movement, my recent experience at Michael Hebb’s Pike Street Fish Fry and the mindblowing culinary adventure at Matthew Dillon’s Corson Building earlier in the summer had softened my preconceptions and left me more open to the whole experience. I’m glad because the dinner at Culinary Communion was easily one of the highlights of the year. After wandering around the top of Beacon Hill for 20 minutes trying to locate the address, we eventually stumbled across the purple house and were greeted by mosaic tiled steps informing us to “cook with love eat with passion”. We checked in and were seated at a long communal dining table with approximately 30 other guests. Our dinner companions were split pretty evenly between Claycamp fans (who was nowhere to be seen), and actual food & wine novices. It was an interesting mix. The conversation was not entirely awkward, but it tended to drift in that direction.
The dinner began promptly, and I really have to applaud Chef Katie, who did a masterful job conducting the course throughout the meal. She deftly elucidated the pairing notes between the dishes and the wines and generally steered the entire evening with enthusiasm and grace. I actually learned quite a bit about complimenting and contrasting wine with food flavors that I wasn’t previously aware of (or at least didn’t have the technical vocabulary to describe. Echoing. Bridging. Tower of Power.) But as great as the course was, the food was even better. Chef Black is extraordinary. We started with mussels and red curry paired with a 2006 Lemelson Dry Riesling. The spiciness of the curry and the sweetness of the wine worked perfectly together. The mussels were huge and tasted like an ocean of coconut milk. Next up was a creamy wild mushroom risotto with chanterelles and shitakes and melted parmesan paired with a Viognier. The cheesy risotto was rich and pungent and excellent with the full-bodied creaminess of the Viognier.
The third course was a roasted pork loin with cinnamon and a dried cherry sauce served with Pinot Noir. That’s pretty much all of my favorite things right there. But it got even better. Among other things, Gabe Claycamp is (in)famous for his seasonal live pig kills. It’s another Culinary Communion event, billed as an educational slaughter. Butchery 101. It just so happened that mere days before our dinner, the gang had conducted a pig kill on one “Elektra” and we were lucky enough to enjoy the bounty. Apparently these pigs are raised specifically for Claycamp with a prescribed diet that actually flavors the pork. And oh my god what flavor. Deep, earthy, unlike any pig I’ve ever tasted. I savored every bite. The cherry sauce was used sparingly, the Pinot Noir was exceptional – truly, a memorable dish.
And still more to come! The final dish was a plate of braised short ribs served over truffled polenta and paired with a 2007 Substance “Sy” Syrah. It was beyond decadent – the short ribs melted in my mouth and the polenta was sweet and earthy. The savory flavors were balanced perfectly with the robust black currant notes of the Syrah. And although it wasn’t on the menu, we managed to talk Chef Katie into letting us try the short ribs with the Substance “Cs” Cabernet Sauvignon. As predicted, it wasn’t a perfect match, but it was a nice way to wind down the evening.
All in all, it was an outstanding meal and culinary experience. I actually wound up taking home a bottle of that Riesling, I was so impressed. I have now completely abandoned my prejudices and can safely say I’m a convert to this whole underground food movement. So where do I sign up?