Neighborly gatherings featuring locally grown, seasonal ingredients help others learn about the joy of cooking.
“HONOR THE FARMERS!” read the chalkboard at the five-course feast made from locally grown, seasonal ingredients. Sweet red peppers, roasting in the ovens, made the kitchen smell like harvest season.
With the ingredients list, cooks Devra Gartenstein and Tamara Guyton could have been preparing for any high-end regional dinner: flour milled by Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim from grains grown in nearby fields, beef from cows raised on sustainable pastures at Winthrop’s Crown S Ranch.
The goal, though, wasn’t glamour. This was The Humble Feast, a monthly community meal prepared by the Patty Pan Cooperative in Shoreline. Ticket prices were $10 in advance for adults, $5 for kids (yes; kids are welcome). At the door, it was $12 and $6, still closer to fast-food prices than standard farm-to-table celebrations.
As the doors opened, guests walked in from surrounding blocks: neighborhood association members, families, friends, generations ranging from a blinking 7-week-old baby to his great-grandmother. Guests took plates from a stack by the door and lined up to fill them from loaded platters, finding seats at the few small tables inside or the bigger ones set up under outdoor awnings. Cooks offered vegetarian and gluten-free substitutions for the beefy stuffed pepper entree and crackers made from handmade tortillas. Roasted carrot hummus, squash with fennel, salad and fruit cobbler rounded it all out.
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“It’s been so long!” came the cry as one early diner spotted a friend. Conversations through the night followed on the same lines.
“It’s so good to see you.”
“We’ll save you seats.”
“You can eat over here with us.”
Between the cornucopia in the kitchen and the fellowship at the tables, it felt like a community Thanksgiving.
It’s also the sort of good-hearted, neighborly scene Gartenstein dreamed of when the cooperative began the feasts, after seeing the proliferation of multicourse farm meals prepared by noted chefs at three-figure prices.
“I was looking around thinking how expensive everything was, and how this wasn’t food people cook at home,” she said. “I thought, ‘What if we pay the farmers (who often are asked to donate food to events), and make simple, tasty stuff people can cook at home?’
“That’s the message about local foods that we want to get out here: It can be an everyday thing.”
Gartenstein had help in her mission. In 2013, she converted her Patty Pan Grill, the oldest concession stand at Seattle farmers markets, into a worker-owned cooperative, now with seven members. They operate farmers-markets carts known for quesadillas and tamales, along with catering and tortillas made with locally grown grains.
Going from a boss to a member “is humbling, and it’s really wonderful,” Gartenstein said. “There are just things that were always on my shoulders and my responsibility that are no longer just my responsibility.”
For new members, there are benefits to the flip side. “I’ve worked at a lot of different jobs, and I’ve never felt (before) like what I said, my opinion, could have an impact about what actually happens at the top level,” Guyton said.
That means group decisions on projects like The Humble Feast, which started out as a weekly endeavor and now operates monthly. It doesn’t generate large profits (or, at times, any profits), but provides other benefits: goodwill, experimentation, spending time with neighbors, inspiring people to eat affordably and well (the cooks rely on gleaning and bartering for some of their dishes, as with the grower who traded a case of cucumbers for a load of tamales). Recipes are available to take home.
“We believe that everybody can cook,” Guyton said. “And we can do it; we’re happy to do it for you, but the thing that brings change is people learning how to cook.”
Food at the feast is “basic,” Guyton said, but, “People always say it’s so good. Well, that’s because of the ingredients. We’re just the conduit for the farmers.”
The Humble Feast is generally held on the first Monday of each month; information is available on the website, pattypangrill.com.