As a fan of the culinary arts scene in the Triangle, I’m always on the lookout for cool, food events and special dinners. While it’s always great to go out and eat, it’s even better when you’re talking about a one-off specialty dinner. A recent invite to Feast from the Furnace at Liberty Arts hit my email inbox and I was pretty excited! Any event that ties in modern art with culinary art is a winner in my book. This edition of Feast from the Furnace would be led by Chef Tyler Vanderzee from NanaSteak. But my big question is: How can you cook a meal in a super-hot glass blowing furnace?! Well, I was about to find out…
If you haven’t spent much time in Durham, it might be a bit tricky to find Liberty Arts! Located on Pearl Street on the E. Durham side of things, Liberty Arts is a bit off the beaten path and in a lot surrounded by a bit of fencing and barbed wire. But don’t let that look scare you because you’re going to find some amazing things behind that steel, sliding door! Inside, I meet Liberty Arts board member Ilene Hadler who has extended me the invite to tonight’s dinner. We grab a glass of wine at the open bar and then we go on a tour of the Liberty Arts collective and space which is really impressive.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Raleigh arts community but Liberty Arts certainly takes it to another level! This collective of a dozen artists and creators cover a broad swath of eclectic mediums. The artists at Liberty Arts hand-make everything from metal masks, woodwork, typography, smoking pipes and more. During the Feast from the Furnace dinner, guests are encouraged to wander around and explore the workshops of each artist. There’s also a store up front offering up a variety of pieces to the public. We head on back to the dining room area where the guests are assembling with glasses of wine and beer in hand.
The dinner is opened up with some words from Liberty Arts board members, Leigh and Aubrey. We’re given some backdrop to Liberty Arts, the upcoming dinner and glass-blowing artist, Elijah Leed. Elijah gets the evening started working a molten ball of glass in the super-hot furnace (2,000 degrees). With the help of an assistant they are able to blow out and shape the glass into well-honed cup. And as the glass-blowing exhibition moves along, our dinner is being prepped by Chef Tyler and his team. They’ve got a lot of the ingredients in carbon steel pans which are able to withstand the intense heat in the furnace!
I’ve managed to take a look at the menu from our master of ceremonies, Leigh and it looks like we will be having the following four-course meal:
- Wild ramp naan with charred artichoke and Greek yogurt with caviar
- Roasted scallop with parsnip puree and charred shishito pepper
- Blackened beef short rib with acorn squash and red mole sauce
- Poached seckel pear with goat cheese, almonds and dates with honey
I watch the culinary prep the dishes and they are quickly searing a lot of the ingredients in the furnace before quickly assembling the small plates for the guests. It’s a smaller dinner, maybe 30 people but we are all happily enjoying and waiting for our meal, seated at two sets of tables. Our first course comes out, a seared green naan with a spoonful of artichoke and dollop of caviar. It’s a fun, green appetizer with plenty of mouth-feel and texture. Chef Tyler is certainly getting pretty creative for tonight’s dinner!
Dishes #2 and #3 are the highlights of Feast from the Furnace. The seared scallop is cooked just right and placed on top of a creamy and sweet, parsnip puree. A well-seared pepper plays off the entire dish offering up some spice and flavor along with the scallop. It’s a good looking dish with a lot of color and nice presentation. The short rib is more of a classic presentation that feels like autumn. Paired with the soft, seared squash, you get a lot of beefy chew along with the mellow, chocolate mole sauce. A fun mix of American and Mexican on one plate!
Elijah continues with his glass blowing demonstration and a heated, globe of glass is brought into the main exhibition area of Liberty Arts. He and his assistant, pull and the tug the glass until a long, cylindrical rope is pulled out across the room. It must be at least 25′ long and it’s left to cool on some wooden frames. It’s pretty incredible how malleable this molten glass is, but it obviously takes some serious skills to work in this medium!
We head back to our table where we are served up dessert, a seared pear topped with goat cheese, dates and a small cookie. It’s a clean and tasty preparation for fruit and the dripped honey adds a bit of sweetness to enhance the plate, well done! As the tables clear, I say goodbye to my hosts and head out into the night, full and happy! It’s not every night that you’re treated to a feast for the palate and for the eyes. But Feast from the Furnace does just that, offering up a glimpse into the artistry and talents of the wonderful collective at Liberty Arts (Picture gallery below). If you’re a curious diner, check out their website and look for details on the upcoming Feast from the Furnace dinners. They have upcoming dates for January 19 and February 16. I promise you that they will be offering up some great culinary and artisanal skills for the evening. It’s an adventure that a Triangle foodie should experience at least once in their lifetime!