The buzz around Saïah's "TERMINUS" has spread as one would expect it to- highly anticipated and eagerly awaited. The Goat Farm Outlands Program selection is inspired by Richard Adams' Watership Down, set around General Sherman's parade through the South at the end of The American Civil War. The interpretation does not stop in the theatrical realm, however. Meet Taria Camerino, the woman behind Sugar-Coated Radical, whose most recent achievements include Winning Sweet Genius on Food Network and competing on Rising Star Chef Atlanta. Camerino has met "TERMINUS" with a culinary edge, and created a menu to reflect the plot, dynamics and overall themes of Saïah's most recent project. We got to speak with Taria about the process of blending flavor profiles with plots for this week's Q&A.
BANG! Would you say that the menu you've prepared for Terminus is more focused on flavors or textures?
Taria Camerino: The menu relies on both flavor and texture, in cooking and food you cant really consider one without the other.
BANG! Why did you associate sweetness and richness with happiness and sourness with hardship, particularly in the Deserters dish?
TC: Well, I didnt say the word happiness; happiness cannot be found in this dish nor the experience, but moments of sweetness can, of depth. Happiness is faint and fickle, the depth of the chocolate and cherries creates a solid ground for pleasure but because it is heavier it rests in the heart and in the belly. The sourness I am using because having meat during that time would be challenging, it could spoil. This isnt just about hardship, this is about reality. To prepare this dish with sour I am honoring that simple fact of life: it is hard, very hard, and we work with it in any capacity we can.
BANG! What was your process for choosing ingredients that would reflect Terminus?
TC: My process? Loaded question. I read, then I listen. Flavors start to surface, but it isnt just the flavor that comes, it is the preparation. Thankfully I can rely on my training and skill set to know what to do with the flavors that come up; I also research the flavors that come to me. If I dont know them intimately yet, then I study them until I do, like the foraged clover; this is an addition that is found in Native American cooking in this particular region and the sour meat stew. I had no idea what that was about so i researched it and found out that it is an old world dish from Germany.
BANG! In The Path of Snares, you summarized the course with "This meal pushes the viewer into a decadent state, but a somewhat dirty decline into madness." Can you elaborate on that?
TC: The use of the hearts and organs is lustful and grotesque at the same time, combining them with the fatback will mellow their intensity, their wildness, making them approachable to the viewer, the fat is luxurious on the palette, and familiar, the raisins add an earthy balanced sweet to the gaminess of them. The johnny cakes are easy, typical to the time and region they can be filling with is common to do with a meal. The black coffee and chicory is the decadence actually, it is reassuring and luxurious not often served. Chicory was used during this time as a coffe extension because coffee was so expensive; it also has a floral note to it, finishing the meal with this touch implies finality and continuation at the same time, dinner is over and yet you just cant leave. The organs were chosen because they have a human like quality about them.
BANG! You have stated before that you favor experimentation with strict execution. How does one cultivate that balance?
TC: Strict execution is above all things the most important. In order to experiment one must first intimately know technique, and structure. It is in this place that we can engage the viewer, they feel just safe enough, they trust me in my expertise, in my reliance on these things. However, I must say, that I really dont experiment, what I am doing is building on the origins of the flavors themselves. I find the commonality between the story and the ingredient. I guess this would be experimental but I never dishonor the ingredients own history.
BANG! In Homestead, you have cultivated a juxtaposition in the simplistic broth which "enhance(s) the longing for something more" and the wild cereal grain sorghum to "add a sweetness to love and resolve to continue." In creating a culinary narrative, did you draw the plot from your own predetermined ingredients or did you let the plot dictate what flavors you aimed to capture?
TC: I never have predetermined ingredients or flavors, and rest assured if I did, the plot would make a fool of me. When I flavor profile it is the story or the person or the color that resonates its own flavor, I simply get out of the way and listen.
BANG! When walking away from their meals, what would you like the guests to regard their experience as? When all is said and done, what do you want your greatest contribution to be?
TC: My only desire for the viewers is that they do not notice the meal as a meal in and of itself, because it is not, these menus would not be the same in any other context. The contribution and the desired effect is that it serves as the completeness of the experience, that it is so perfectly balanced within the framework that it goes unnoticed and yet creates a completion of the senses (this is called umami - when all things become balanced.)
"TERMINUS" runs April 16 - May 17, located at The Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve in Decatur, GA.
You can also check out the event on Facebook right here.