Feasting with The Starvin' Artist
it's more than just food
by Pamela Alexander
To make an apple pie from scratch,
first you must create the universe.
If you wish to feel closest to life, its eternal circles, prepare a
plate of food with your hands and offer it to your tribe. From this simple premise, The
Starvin Artist Café at Four Quarters has served thousands, make that tens of
thousands of plates of food. Smiles have been shared, as freely as the sky offers
sunshine. Sounds silly, a little sentimental, and it probably is; but much of what is good
and fine in the world is being lost by our insistence on banishing silliness, on casting
out the sentimental. Here, take my hand, let me show you
The July sun has been pouring out golden and hot all day, drumbeats
dance through the treetops, and dust swirls from the feet of the dancers. Even from the
top of the high meadow, an occasional shriek of delight slices the air, tossed up by a
child in the bright clear waters of Sidling Creek. People languidly walk down the Ridge
Road clad in bright costumes, heading for the showers, the creek. People languidly walk up
the Ridge Road clad in bright costumes heading for the class they cant miss, time of
reflection with the Standing Stones, or conversation and coffee at the Coffee
Dragons Lair. But, no matter where they are going, when they get to the big bend in
the road, they stop, turn their heads, sniff the bright air, and begin to smile.
One of the most commonplace mysteries of all is unfolding right there.
The smoky tang fills the air, dancing up from the grates of the big grills, and circled
around in lawn chairs, buckets of water, vats of barbeque sauce at the ready sit the
bleary-eyed members of the pit crew. They are a little goofy from lack of sleep, calling
out jokes to the passers by, their faces and arms are smeared with soot. In their strange
dance step they circle the pit, brushing sauce here, cooling the fire there, a little
this, a little that. The meats on the grill shimmer with the heat, the sauce, and the
A little child runs up, intrigued by the spectacle, and a man pulls a
pocket knife from his pouch and carves a choice bit for the child, whispering, "Shhh,
this is just for you, dont tell
" The child devours the magic, and runs
off to tell all the other children, who gather, circling like bright chattering birds. And
more little tidbits are shared, before the flock wheels off into the lengthening shadows.
Inside the building next to the pit, the elusive kitchen staff scrubs
potatoes, shucks fresh harvested sweet corn, stirs huge batches of corn bread batter from
old family recipes. Their hands move quickly and certainly. They stop occasionally to mop
the sweat, taste a little something, confer, alter and right back to it. The clock is
checked often, and as the sun dips, they begin to pile their offerings out on the groaning
boards to feed the tribe. Watermelons are sliced, bags of marshmallows are at the ready,
tea is iced down five gallons at a time.
The head cooks are more private, their reasons for labor more personal.
The banter is light between them, but the motivation runs strong and sincere. They are
proud of what they have done, and why, but when compliments are handed out they are hard
to find indeed. The food they offer is their love letter to the future, their little
promise to the Goddess that they serve the ongoing Circle of Life.
The pit crew chief sends a runner to the head cook, the meats are done.
A carving station is assembled, the carvers sharpening their knives rings through the air.
The great kitchen bell is rung, the drums fade from the air, and the tribe gathers to
bless the gifts of the God and the Goddess.
Plates are filled, and bellies, too. Little ones toast
marshmallows, and gorge on watermelons. Lovers share choice tidbits from one
anothers plates, and the elders begin to tell stories that always begin with the
words, "I remember
Evening deepens, and the fireflies begin to dance
drums begin to
sing once again. And hidden deep in the kitchen, two women scrub at a mountain of dishes,
singing old show tunes to make the work go easier, and as each off-key tune ends, before
the next begins, they look at each other and ask, "Do you remember