By: Rachael Myrow
A forklift fires up in Sunland, where a dozen people are contructing something akin to the Hollywood backlots of old: a virtual neighborhood reminiscent of New Orleans. But these are bartenders and pre-school administrators, preparing this New Orleans for easy shipping and assembly at Burning Man.
In just a few days, Black Rock City (population 61,000) will rise from the baked earth in northern Nevada; the arrival point of a mass exodus from all over the world. They will come bearing all sorts of art installations designed to astound and delight. And then, they'll disappear.
What comes in to Burning Man must leave the way it came, including the Black Rock French Quarter. Ari Schindler is the chief organizer.
"The first word that comes to mind, believe it or not, is romance," Schindler says with a chuckle.
The French Quarter is, of course, one of numerous theme camps that will populate the dessert plain.
"Each of which is completely focused on something incredible, some raw, visceral easy to understand experience," Schindler explains.
The French Quarter is a food-focused venture. Schindler came up with the original idea, but now the two-year-old Quarter is a collective effort involving about 300 people. There is a cocktail lounge, supper club, bakery, coffee roaster, gumbo cookery, beer brewery, and wine cellar.
"They come from thsese silly girlish romantic notions of what would be a beautiful experience in this place," he says.
On "the playa," as festival goers like to call the place, no money changes hands, except for ice and coffee.
But this year, French Quarter organizers want to thank about 40 core volunteers in a big way, with a big dinner.
"It will be a gift to the leaders and the movers and the shakers that actually made the French Quarter and the Golden Cafe and all of these other camps in our village happen," Candi Achenbach explains as she packs up silverware.
Naturally, the meal will take place in an art car from Utah shaped like a giant emperor Scorpion. Set atop a boom truck, the scorpion is 55 feet long, 24 feet wide and 38 feet tall.
Hydraulic points make the limbs move. There's a 7-gun flame thrower on the tail.
"Wandering around the playa and shooting flames and doing crazy things," Achenbach says.
"We're going to put tables and elegant dinnerware on it and escort our guests on, serve them what is looking like probably the most fantastical 12 course gourmet meal."
It's a given the dessert course will feature liquid nitrogen ice cream made on site. But beyond that, the menu is an open set of questions for Chris Prince of San Francisco to answer.
"One of the things that I think would be a lot of fun to do is to play on the theme of fire. That's one of the central themes of Burning Man. Starting out with kindling, sparks, working your way up to fire and smoke, and then ending with embers and ash," Prince says.
Think red braised pork belly,with Chinese long beans cooked with fermented soy beans and chili sauce. Plus white gazpacho with a smoky element. And at least one of the dishes has to include date sugar, a playful nod to the playa sand.
"So you get that sweetness, that powdery texture, but also the flavor of dates," Prince says.
The cocktail pairings follow in a similar vein; a wasabi basil gimlet, for instance--and a Russian Caravan, with smoked tea, honey and bourbon.
Prince was once the lead software engineer on Google Voice. He left a year ago to pursue other passions, including Lazy Bear, an underground restaurant in San Francisco. He's the kind of guy who relishes a logistical challenge.
"I think we're close enough to the impossible level that we don't need it to be any more challenging," Prince says.
The scorpion will not actually be moving during the course of the meal. It will be parked at some distance from the makeshift kitchen where the meal will be prepared.
The forecast calls for dust storms, for which Burning Man organizers recommend goggles, bandanas and baby wipes. The playa demands radical self-reliance from those who dare to tread on its hot sands. Prince's right hand man in this endeavor will be his colleague, at Lazy Bear founding chef David Barzelay.
"Chris and I have both done a fair bit of camping independently, but I've certainly never tried to put on any kind of opulent meal in a camping situation," Barzelay says.
There will be refrigeration, but the men intend to sidestep dishes that depend on urban niceties like boiling water or a perfectly calibrated oven.
"I think the tougher parts are going to be when we show up and somebody told us we had electricity and we don't have electricity. Or when they told us we have a stove and they broke the stove getting off the truck. Things like that," Barzelay says.
Just the same, Prince and Barzelayare in a state of anticipatory excitement to join the masses headed east ... slathered in sunscreen, lugging GALLOns of water with them ... ready to look with wide eyed wonder upon the collective creative work of thousands of people.
"The scope of these things for them to be carried to the middle of the dessert constructed in a small area over the course of a week and then taken down, leaving no trace behind. That's Pretty magical to me," Prince says.
Burning Man begins August 27th and runs through September 3rd.