A Razor, A Shiny Knife's Michael Cirino Wants You to Eat Like a Local. But Not in The Way You're Thinking.
Michael Cirino is "pretty big into the local food thing." His uncle, after all, owns a farm in upstate New York where Cirino once took a group of people to create an eight-course wild boar meal from scratch. But sourcing ingredients from within a 150-mile radius, he feels, is only half of the story. "You can buy local grapes, but if you're eating them on IKEA plates from China, that doesn't make sense to me," he says. "You have to think through what else goes into food; you have this whole big, long progression of things you don't have to think about that have a huge effect on a meal."
Sally Ryan/Chicago Decider A Razor, A Shiny Knife's Michael Cirino (R), hard at work.
So Cirino, the founder and ringleader of A Razor, A Shiny Knife, his traveling supper club and self-described "educational, social and theatrical culinary experience," is planning to tell that story with A Locally Sourced Evening, an interactive dinner he's putting on at Norwood on Saturday, October 10, as part of the New York Wine & Food Festival. While the food he and his fellow cooks will be preparing is from around the world -- think Alaskan halibut and Australian winter truffles -- everything else, from service ware and napkins to linens and floral arrangements, will be supplied by artists from the Northeast.
"We sat down with the idea of local artwork and tried to push the food concept as far as possible from the local area," Cirino says. "We started putting flavor combinations together, asking how we get that to function in a strictly non-local way. And then the local artists changed the way how the food was presented. Creativity comes from constraint," he muses. "The second you start giving yourself some, you become more creative."
Incidentally, he jokes, "the food is local, artisanal food. It's just not from this locality."
Finding artists, who include Mint Studio, Jason Miller, and Lovegrove & Repucci, wasn't difficult -- word traveled throughout studios and lofts like water through a colander, and Cirino got additional leads from the Future Perfect's David Alhadeff. Utensils and glasses were the most difficult items to source because, says Cirino, "people don't blow enough glass in New York City to serve dinner. I needed 60 wine glasses and 60 water glasses, and people were like, 'I made 12 this week.'"
Tableware won't be the only educational component of the event; like previous ARASK dinners, which have included the dish-by-dish replication of the epic, 20-course meal Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller created last fall and the aforementioned wild boar dinner, this one will encourage diners to participate in workshops and food preparation. After doors open at 2 p.m., Cirino and Norwood's chef, Andrew D'Ambrosi, will be hosting hourly cooking demonstrations on subjects like compression, fresh pasta making, and cooking with agar agar. Cirino will also be teaching knife skills because, he says, "ignorance in the kitchen is acceptable in many areas, but not in cutting things."
Aside from this weekend's dinner, Cirino's been busy planning a series of black banquets, meals in which all of the food is devoid of color. He staged his first with a group called the Jelly Mongers in London last month during the London Design Festival, and says that dinners in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles are in the works. He's also looking at ways to take ARASK to "the major leagues." TV, he says, "is an intersting way of doing things -- if it's interesting. I don't see it as being Tyler Florence, making chicken cordon bleu; it would be more of an Anthony Bourdain thing, an adventure or drama." He'd love to introduce people to the joys of more modern cooking tools. "I want people to not be afraid to have liquid nitrogen in their house. As great as slow food is, there's things about modern cooking that are really amazing."
Though he spent a few nights staging at Alinea, and one of his ARASK co-chefs, Daniel Castano, works in a restaurant (he's currently opening a new place in Colombia), Cirino doubts he'll follow the same path. "I don't know if I'm strong enough for that," he admits. "What Grant [Achatz] and his chefs do and what I do are so different. I run a test kitchen, write 20 recipes a week, and plan events. None of that is working in a kitchen 12 hours a day. I could go to Alinea today and then go in seven months and it's going to be exactly the same. That to me is awe-inspiring. I would love to be able to do that. But I can't imagine yelling at a prep cook for not boiling his favas properly."