“This is my favorite part. It smells like breakfast,” John said as he peered up from the giant vat of boiling water soaked grain, gently stirring as beads of sweat gathered on his brow. He was in the process of creating a Tripel beer. The sweet, nutty scent was indeed reminiscent of a bowl of porridge. I smiled back as I gingerly balanced my camera on the ledge tiptoeing on the ladder, half aware that I was easily eight feet of the ground. Most of my attention was captivated by this man clearly doing what he loved. It was 9am and all I wanted was a beer.
Why you may ask was I videotaping a brewery at 9am on a Monday? Simple, my husband was hosting a pop-up. What started off as a way to have some fun and mess around in the kitchen had quickly morphed into an expression of locality. A community inspired kitchen reflecting the hard work of the artisans, ranchers, and farmers that were taking over the Arizona food system. The pop partnered with our local Edible magazine resulting in me, armed with my camera and curiosity, trekking around town.
There was the urban garden project in downtown Phoenix where amber waves of heritage wheat offset the giant concert buildings. There was the mesquite smoked barley tucked away and grand conversations of potential malting facilities. There was the guided tour of a beautiful farm filled with pigs, cows, turkeys, and a multitude of plants by two gentlemen whose knowledge of sustainable agriculture left me with over 20 minutes of video. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of bees, cheese, goats, spirits and coffee. Throughout the entire process there has been two threads interwoven in every picture and candid response. One is passion and the other is sweat (well, it is August in Arizona after all).
None of these people are rich because of their passion. Whether they re-careered, retired or still kept their day job, they weren’t in it for the shiny new car. It was also evident that none of this was easy. Working long hours, maintaining multiple farmers markets, restaurant orders, and facebook pages all while keeping a quality product will leave anybody craving a nap. Yet in each interview I was captivated by their passion, soaking up new information, desiring to taste, and wanting the pop up.
The menu was printed, the press release sent out, and the kitchen ready. The pop up was here. I fluttered from table to table, chatting with friends and patrons, inquiring on experiences. At each table there was something new that was discovered, a new flavor, a new product, a new technique. I realized quickly that the plate was serving the same purpose as my camera had. Individuals were tasting firsthand what passion, talent and sweat can produce.
For me, this pop up represented a bigger challenge. For demand to change and locality to take center stage, these talented producers need their soapbox. They can’t have masses come to take the tours and smell the mesquite smoke or soaked grain. Instead they must rely on the chef and the chef must rely on them. Together they communicate locality from a place of intrigue and passion instead of judgment or guilt.
At the end of the popup, exhausted and in the same clothes we had been in for a 14 hour work day, my chef and I sat across our kitchen table, a loaf of bread made from heritage grain and cultured butter between us. Kevin looked up at me, “I just love cooking with quality ingredients like this. It makes my job so much easier.” I guess we found our soapbox.