Last month I’d been invited to a launch party event that called themselves The Collective and honestly, because The Farnsworth was hosting it, I expected it to be a nice, sort of older networky crowd (that’s not a real word, but you know what I mean). I expected Talbots jackets, light jazz, canapés, discussions about people’s kids in college. Home by 9 p.m.
Instead, I drove to a place I’d never even heard of: The Bicknell Building down by Lime Street in Rockland. A dead-end street with a darkened warehouse. Not a place you associate with high-end cocktail parties, more like some back alley meeting place for dubious exchanges.
The entry way was extremely dim; I could hear experimental electronica spilling out from the main room. Entering the anteroom of what used to be a 3,200-foot manufacturing plant for drill bits, I was drawn to the distressed and dirty brick walls spotlit with a giant art installation of what looked like a hanging mobile of paper kites in the corner. Other wood-slatted walls were grimed with years of hard use and stripped paint, while in one corner of the warehouse, bartender Mike Bumiller poured cups of beer and wine courtesy of Café Miranda, Central Distributors and Breakwater Vineyards.
Immediately I thought of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update Correspondent, “Stefon.” I imagined him describing it as “the hottest new nightclub in Rockland where the ridiculously bizarre happenings include food displays that incorporate fur, freaky 20-somethings, Occupy Mainers who haven’t had a bath in a week, grown men playing jump rope, and Germfs (German Smurfs). And don’t forget DJ Baby Owen, who wears welders’ gloves and spins records with voice-activated commands.”
The sheer funkitude of this evening took nearly a year of brainstorming and hard work to pull off. The Collective, whose purpose exists to attract a younger, contemporary audience to Farnsworth Museum, had to take some risks. First, it had to break with its traditional, and somewhat staid image and allow honest input from a brainstorming session of young professionals and artists in the area.
From that diverse group The Collective formed a steering committee, including four people on Farnsworth staff. Necole Dabrio, special events and volunteer manager and one of the leading members of The Collective, said the entire team spent nearly two months to plan this launch party.
“This was going to be the one that kicked off a year of educational and fun events for the public in tandem with a Farnsworth event,” she said.
The staff at the Farnsworth were largely responsible for discovering the Bicknell Building’s new use. It took two weeks of sweeping, cleaning and using a dry-vacuum in the main areas and two days to clean up after the event. Because of The Collective’s hard work, they’ve now put the warehouse space on the map as an alternative event setting for bands and other organizations wishing for a spacious, hip place to entertain.
Another risk, which paid off, was to showcase art installations by independent artists not already associated with the Farnsworth collection. Certain pieces were chosen for their ability to add to the overall atmosphere of the launch party. The focal piece included Live Feed, a round table with an abundant, sumptuous display of cooked lobsters, cheeses, crackers and aspic surrounded by fur, gnarly gourds and old metal serving dishes. The artist, Colin Sullivan-Stevens, modeled the live edible display after a 17th-Century still life. At first, people milled around the table not sure if it was meant to be culinary art or a cornocopia to be sampled. (The lack of napkins, plates and utensils on the table added to its mystery.) But, soon a few cheese knives were employed, tentative fingers explored the offerings and people were digging into the lobsters like Daryl Hannah in Splash. The live video feed that projected the table onto the ceiling caught every moment of what was deliberately set out to be interactive art.
Other notable art installations included Bethany Engstrom’s “door”— an exterior door set into the wall of the warehouse with a doorbell. Putting one’s ear up to the door, you got a voyeuristic sense through the pre-recorded audio that there were people on the other side and they were having an exuberant conversation. Robin Mandel had two pieces at the event–Suitcase, 2007 (an array of mirrors projecting images onto the wall) and Aurora, 2010 (wine bottles circulating projecting colored light onto the white wall). Abigail Stiers contributed the piece that projected words onto the wall using a self-styled computer program to spit out the words of a poem at different rates of speed, which were triggered by the wind flowing through the nearby windows.
While people mingled and sampled bites from multiple Midcoast restaurants and eateries including Café Miranda, Lily Bistro, In Good Company, The Maine Cupcake Company, Trillium Caterers, and Sweets and Meats, multiple party goers were overheard saying they felt they’d been somehow transported into a NYC nightclub. DJ Owen Cartwright, of the Vistas, rounded out the event with a highly danceable set until midnight.
Finally, the smartest move to entice a younger (or young-at-heart) crowd had to have been the $5 cover. Many times, big Midcoast public events with donated wine/beer, art and music, require an entry fee of $50 to $100. That attracts an entirely different crowd, but The Collective was going for something refreshingly different here: The underground.
“Reponse has been huge,” said Dabrio. “People were coming up to me saying it was the best party Rockland has seen in years. We accomplished exactly what we wanted to do — engaging that younger community. I hope that our other parties will continue to attract that crowd, because that will be the challenge.”
Coming up will be three after-party events for Rockland Shorts: An International Short Film Series, an international art film short series hosted by the Farnsworth museum on Friday, Feb. 3. For more information on how to be part of The Collective or when they’ll appear next, visit facebook.com/farnsworthcollective
Last year in California, I made it my mission to spend an entire day wine tasting in Paso Robles. And I’m no wine snob. In fact, I think my tasting notes on that trip were: “The Chard was fab, but the Grand Cuvee champagne with almond extract makes me want to hump a lamp post.” So, this summer, I decided to fulfill one of my bucket list requirements to spend an entire day wine tasting in Midcoast, Maine.
Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley! For $30, All Aboard Trolley takes you to some choice spots and does the driving. All I had to do was sit back and watch the scenery. Their “Nap-ah Valley” Wine Tour took us to three wineries, two of which I’d visited before. But, it’s a completely different experience going on your own versus going on a guided tour.
For example, before we arrived at Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery in Union, I had a long stretch of time to look out the windows of the White Diamond Trolley and actually marvel at the rolling farmland and fields of buttercups. Somehow, you don’t notice this when you drive by it every day.
Elmer and Holly Savage run this family-owned 95-acre working farm. Elmer took us on a leisurely stroll through their foot trails, past their hogs and Belted Galloway cows (which to me look like Whoopie Pies more than Oreos), past blueberry fields and up to the vineyard itself, explaining how the entire process works from cultivation to harvest. I never knew how many years it takes for vines to actually produce enough usable fruit to make wine and then how much additional time it takes for one of their bottled wines to mature before being able to sell it. I can only speculate that Maine’s wine industry is a labor of love more than a money-making venture.
While we were sampling their ranges of reds and whites in their newly constructed tasting room, I noticed a freezer filled with cuts of meat from the herds they raise themselves. On special occasions, they’ll do sausage tastings, such as Chorizo, hot Italian and maple breakfast links, some of which pair really well with their reds. I have to say the nerd in me really enjoyed the Blueberry π (pi) dessert wine, not only for its clever title, but for its intense blueberry pie taste (with 17 percent alcohol), which would go well poured over some freshly churned vanilla ice cream.
I was totally stoked for our next stop, Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery, also in Union. The modest-looking tasting barn held stainless steel wine vats and a potbellied copper alembic still, which Keith Bodine, owner, winemaker and distiller, uses to create their wines, ports and spirits. Each person could get up to six tastings in any random order. I’d heard so much about their award-winning Back River Gin (which I and others kept mistakenly referring to Back Water Gin and Cold River Gin) that when I finally got a chance to taste it, it was obvious what all the buzz was about. This clean, bright, shining gin made with only the slightest hint of blueberries tasted like plunging into an icy stream on a brutally hot day.
Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, run by owner Bettina Doulton, happened to be our last stop on the tour. I’d covered Cellardoor Winery events many times before and had already enjoyed tastings in their renovated 1790 barn. But, I’d never seen their recently constructed and state-of-the art wine-making facility at the top of the hill.
From their temperature-controlled rooms containing stainless steel vats and oak barrels, to the lab which tests the wine’s pH acidity and oxygen levels to the sloping concrete floors with built-in drainage, this facility clearly stood out for its dedication to serious wine production.
Cellardoor Winery’s rolling vineyards are spectacular, too. You can relax on the porch overlooking the vineyards or stroll down the hiking paths. Choose between a full flight of six tastings or a complimentary glass of wine in lieu of a tasting. My favorite was the Artist Series Grenache, a smooth and soft red made from Grenache grapes.
Now, for the best part. The trolley is fully licensed to allow alcoholic consumption on board complete with wine glasses hanging on a rack in the back. So, if you take this tour, you can open a bottle of your favorite wine or spirit and enjoy it on their final stop, at the top of Mount Battie overlooking the Penobscot Bay.
Bucket List moment #47. Check.
For more information on Maine’s “Nap-ah Valley” Wine Tour, go to meetthefleet.com/wine-tours
Kerry Alterio chef and owner of Café Miranda, doesn’t just have a Elvis fetish and a bawdy sense of humor; he’s got a passion for food. And not in a foodie/obsessive localist kind of way; in a “we’re fresh, we’re local, we’ve been doing that before it was hip” kind of way. In fact, this month’s Behind thescene sits you, the reader, right smack in the center of his kitchen, with his staff, his Head Farmer Anne Perkins and his friend the Fabulous Renee, so you can “hear” what real people working in restaurants talk about. The topic? the Elitism of The Food Movement, a round table rant taken from his Chef’s Blog. Their conversation follows:
Anne: I've run this farm that Kerry has owned for years in Owls Head [Head Acre Farm] and really got it going in 2009. We’ve got about 2,000 square feet of it fully developed with mostly summer and fall kale and chard, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom string beans and squash. Slowly, we’ve been adding more and more stuff. This is all about the locals, local people, local food and local products. It’s a great way to provide the restaurant with fresh and flavorful food that’s grown organically, but we’re not certified organic. He also has a great bunch of local partners to provide the stuff we can’t provide yet.
It’s actually a challenge as a farmer to grow for Kerry because I’d love to grow all the froofy basil blossom, the fine herbs and the beautiful garnishes; however, growing a baby chard or a baby lettuce or something cutesy like that won’t work because this is real, Italian grandma, heals-your-soul, heals-whatever-ails-you-on-a-snotty-winter’s-night kind of food.
Kerry: The miniature vegetables, the juvenile vegetables are fine because they’re young and tender, but we really make peasant food here — something that feeds your spirit and belly. It’s not “Ego on the Plate.”
Anne: Like I bring him kale, which is a dinosaur vegetable, because it’s been around forever. I bring it in and....
Kerry (yelling): …and I burn it!
Anne: No, no, I bring it in here and he caramelizes it, he transforms it into mouth candy.
Kerry: The food movement has a case of multiple-personality disorder: part flavor-fixated sensualist, part food-miles-obsessed localist and part small-is-beautiful fanatic.
Growing up, local food is just the way it was. In the ‘50s when Bird’s Eye and Encore perfected the freezing process for dinners you’d stare down at the compartmented tray, and there it was — that was dinner! The end result being that people kind of lost touch with how to cook. They don’t know how to take a raw carrot and make it into carrot cake.
Certainly, this local food movement is fabulous in this regard, but at the same time the people who need most of this food aren’t getting it. I’ve said it before that we need a "Trailer Park Initiative." What that is means getting this kind of food in the hands of the people who need it the most. The middle and upper class will always eat well. They’re gonna be fine. It’s the people who are pushing it to the highest calorie for a buck, buying the McDonald's sandwich who really need it.
Anne: Organic food can be a luxury, because it is so expensive to purchase at retail.
Kerry: Those prices are coming down and as more volume comes through the cost of production goes down but really, 10 years ago it was super elitist. Now, it’s getting better; for example, even Walmart is making a movement to buy organic vegetables.
Anne: The problem with the term ‘organic’ is that it is only a label. A lot of it is farmed in the Imperial Valley, all shipped here. Growing it here, you can reduce the cost of bringing it to the people. The transportation issue is a mile and a half up the road.
Kerry: So, we’re doing that. We’re buying tomatoes that are not quite ripe and ripening them up here but as soon as the local stuff is available. We use it. This goes back to the “Whattaya Got” theory. In Maine, that’s why we have chowder. In winter time, you had your root vegetables, onions, potatoes, salt pork, salt cod and dairy; hence, chowder. Every regional cuisine was based on what the hell was around at the moment.
Kerry: The other problem with the food movement is that a lot of its gets priced out of a normal person’s budget. What’s the medium income in Maine?
Anne: In Thomaston it’s somewhere in the low $40K for a family.
Kerry: Yeah, can you buy $4 per pound carrots? Hell, no. What you can buy is an Encore steak dinner that will feed five people for 10 bucks. We did a class at the Vo-tech school a couple of years ago called “Share The Table.” We did a meal by scratch in 30 minutes at two bucks a head. We had Brian Hill from Francine, we had James Hatch from Home Kitchen and five of us did it. I did a braised chicken dish with onions and peppers, tomatoes and pasta. Less than two bucks a head, totally healthy and competing with an Encore dinner. They were like, “Wow, you really can make something like this?”
To see Alterio’s Chef’s blog on this topic go to cafemiranda.com/chefs-blog
Restaurant rants will be a regular feature of Behind thescene in the future. If you’d like your restaurant staff to partake in another lively topic round table style like this, follow The Killer Convo.
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.