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I wanted to actually see what it would be like to get people who mostly had no idea how to make chicken nuggets make them in an assembly line.  I set up a simple assembly line with instructions and had each member of the thesis class man stations and isolate themselves by wearing headphones playing factory sounds.  The only exception was DeWolf and Xander, who worked together to butcher the chicken and who really enjoyed the experience of working together.  I designed and printed the instructions and also designed, printed, cut and formed the nugget packaging.

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There are still many things to work out here, including the concise message I want to convey and how to ensure that it is not muddied by the participants actions and participation.  This is a video of what happened:

Feedback + Thoughts (11.19):

I realized many things in prototyping this experience and was also inspired to move forward with the idea.  These are notes from critique with my fellow students as well as guest critic, Masako Fujihata.

  • Some participants enjoyed working as a team and the idea of working together to create something
  • The sound creates a feeling of isolation vs. everyone hearing it together (headphones vs. speakers)
  • Participants wished that they could have completed all the steps as a group from start to finish, instead of using ingredients already prepared for each step.
  • Is the final product an “artisanal treat” or sealed and inedible?
  • What is the connection between audience and process?
  • Should there be a distinction between signing up to be factory worker or signing up to eat a nugget? Should it be random? Should eaters be completely disconnected from the participants?
  • What is the method of creation vs. delivery of nuggets and how does it affect each sides experience.
  • Sign up to receive and it’s by chance whether or not you get to eat or create.
  • Define a language of invitation and selling/giving away, etc.
  • Clearer instructions, how are people taught to do their stations?

Evaluation:

It was thrilling to actually try out what has been slowly snowballing in my mind all quarter.  The path wasn’t clear from the beginning and I think the desire to work with food, food processing and cooking as mediums was distracting and difficult to manipulate.  The prototype proves that delving into processing food by allowing individuals to engage in the processing is both stimulating and thought provoking.  Clarifying the message may be something I’ll have to address in creating the environment, simplifying the instructions and exploring the output, what happens with the final edible product.

NEXT  Creating this as an experience to convey a message is no easy challenge but I remain excited to continue forward, focusing on the details that matter most and building the ecosystem in which the experience will exist.  Over the next 10 or so weeks I will design the experience from what participants will have to wear as they engage in the process to how the output will be branded.  There are many logistical hurdles ahead like how the piece will remain clean and food safe and that will also require another level of design: everything behind the scenes must also be carefully thought out for this project to work.  It will almost be like starting a tiny snack restaurant with a rotating staff that must be retrained at the beginning of every shift.  But I think that is part of what is so exciting to me about this project.

Audio listend to by the participants using headphones while doing their task on the assembly line. Credit.

My concept is to have visitors the gallery butcher chickens, grind meat, shape the ground meat into nuggets, bread and batter them, par-fry them and then vacuum seal them so the visitor can take them home.

process

Through this project I hope to address and accomplish the following:

  • Involve and expose viewers to the performance aspects of preparing and cooking
  • Demystify the complex process of creating a processed food and empower people with the confidence to experiment in the kitchen and be adventurous with ingredients
  • Provide an artifact of the experience in the form of a packaged frozen product that could be consumed or live in the viewer’s freezer.  It’s funny to suppose that someone might keep an art piece in their freezer but also could eat it and keep the packaging out on display.  The packaging must be considered as much as the process the participants will engage with.

Other thoughts:

  • The actual making of nuggets could be behind a curtain or wall such that the viewers only see a final product and then if they consent can step behind the curtain and participate.
  • There could be some hint as to what the final product is outside the gallery — for example, an overstated, or oversized example: a giant chicken mcnugget.
  • the “costume” and culture must be well established so that participants feel like they are part of a real, existing process and team.  Consider the factory experience.

Feedback (11.17):

  • separation between people participating and people watching
  • who gets to participate vs. who watches
  • do they participate in pairs? one person makes it, one person gets the product
  • can you just hear it? see suggestions of what’s going on? smell it?
  • how do you heighten the experience with artifacts or other additions? to draw out necessary thought and consideration – don’t want them to figure it out right away
  • customized, non-directly abstracted artifacts of process (custom coats, hairnets, protect
  • How disconnected can I make people feel from the final product? Just cogs in the system
  • Branding markets process (Intel) not item — stories — make fun of farm to table
  • Anonymity of people doing the process? Block out their faces or what they’re doing?
  • How to get ppl to focus on what I want them to focus on**
  • Do you need 6 ppl to participate

Evaluation:

This project was really about choosing and defining a direction for the next 14+ weeks of planning and building.  I feel like the central idea, allowing viewers to engage in a very controlled process to create chicken nuggets will definitely force them to think about what and how they cook and eat.  I’m happy with the success of this proposal and concept and I’m excited to move on to prototype what it might look like in a gallery setting, starting with actually just having the class make nuggets.  So, overall, a successful project and I’m really excited to move forward and start prototyping what the experience will look like.

As I set out to put together various items to act as my mise-en-place, I realized the task was a bit more involved than just foraging for materials.  It’s actually quite difficult to search for materials to create art piece with, without an idea for what that piece will be.  With food, gathering ingredients is the inspiration, it’s when ideas can build.  This can happen with materials as well and I think with further exploration, possibly in different materials outlets, I will be more inspired.

This project became more about showing the process of cooking one of my favorite meals through the tools I use but in a very static way.  I feel influenced by the Fluxus kits which are directed at very specific tasks or outcomes.  I wanted to display the tools as pop-outs, like how the pieces come in model airplane kits; each tool in the pop-out representing an element of the performance that I went through to create the meal, braised chicken with salsa verde.

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Laser cutting the forms at about a 2/3 scale gave me an idea of what these pieces could look like. I envision them as wall pieces — possibly machined out of aluminum or wood and painted a single color. The piece differs from my original plan to explore mies-en-place but it still shows an extreme attention to lay-out of tools in a way that most people would never consider.

Feedback was helpful and made me realize that I needed to choose a setting for this project; in a gallery, in a kitchen, as a performance, on the wall, etc.  Physical attributes of the piece are also important, including the dimensionality of  the tools, showing time as well.  Arranging the tools in this way makes the meal seem sterile, is this my intention? Do I want to make it seem as though the outcome is always predefined and that the process is as well?  Does this accomplish showing the process of making this meal or are the implements too abstract?  The abstract view of them actually makes them into simple symbols, which I think is also compelling.

In a next iteration of this, I’d like to make a full-sized version, possibly using ready-made tools.

This is how I feel throughout a day of cooking.  I also realized that this project has given me permission to think about food, plan and cook guilt-free all day.

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As an “experience teardown” I want to carefully keep track of how I go about coming up with a meal and how my excitement level and inspiration changes through the day.  My goal is document (in nauseating detail) each step along the way to dinner.  This also happens to be my favorite way to spend a Sunday.

7:45 am 

browsing through menus in bed — looking through the Husk menu and the Chez Panisse Cafe menu.


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8:15 am

gauge interest among friends

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8:30 am

Morning #aeropress #coffee to plan dinner #dbartthesis

A video posted by David (@hisonlyness) on

9:00 am

Time to get serious.  I haven’t made fresh pasta in a while so I’m looking for either some kind of hand-cut or ravioli inspiration. I look through my old Chez notebook at ratios.  I’ve also always wanted to make Apple Tart — I think it’s time to try it and with such amazing apples at the market, it pretty much makes itself.  So I’m in search of that too.  These are the memories + research stages. It’s also when I’m the most excited for the day ahead.

Dinner-Research

10:00 am

Okay, I have a rough outline of things to look for at the market.  Right now it’s a weird mash of stuff but I think it’ll all be more clear once I see what is actually at the market… I like to call this the feasibility constraint.  So, I’m considering the following dishes:

Fried mini fish + shishito peppers + fried capers with lemon

Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad [ The Art of Simple Food, 240 ]

Carbonara with fresh fresh thick cut noodles [ Canal House Cooks Everyday, 201 ] — duck eggs?

Roasted Pumpkin Soup [ Canal House Cooks Everyday, 189 ]

Simmered Gyoza with whatever I find [ Japanese Farm Food, 128 ] — hmmmm

Apple Tart [ inspired by Canal House, 174 ]

Smoked Duck Breast with celery root puree + dragon beans +… something else [ Chez Restaurant menu ]

Confit Duck Leg with polenta, some kind of pumpkin + mustard greens + baked spiced goat cheese [ Husk menu ]

11:30 am

Farmers market time.  This is where all the fun inspiration and menu changes happen.  It was a fairly successful mission but far less produce than last week.  I’ll need to fill in the gaps at Whole Foods and elsewhere.  I managed to get really sweet Gala apples for the tart, beautiful dark red pomegranates, more Fuyu persimmons, frisee, padron peppers, meyer and eureka lemons, yukon gold potatoes, romano beans, delicata, acorn and butternut squash, rapini (score!), new crop walnuts, garlic and herbs.  Overall a pretty good haul totaling about $50.

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The guest list is up to 5 but at this stage in the day and considering who the guests are (over-commited JPD students) it could change by this evening.

1:30 pm

I’ve learned that I need to eat lunch in between shopping for food and cooking (or more shopping, in this case).   Otherwise I get cranky and lose motivation.  So I’m eating last night’s left over kung pao chicken that I made in our new wok on our wok burner.  And watching Mind of a Chef.  So much inspiration — writing down everything I want to try.

I watched Season 2, episode 5 on Preserving and serendipitously watched Sean Brock‘s Husk pastry chef, Lisa Donovan, make pastry dough.  She says it’s best to keep the butter cold and in bigger chunks and smear it into the flour and add water as sparingly as possible.  Once you need the dough together there should be tiny little “pretty” butter flakes visible in the dough.  Noted.

Sean also jokes about how he’s a food “hoarder” and is always curing, fermenting and storing all kinds of weird stuff that allow him to expand his menus in ways that most chefs can’t.  When he’s looking for that last ingredient or aspect to complete a dish he can just walk around the restaurant and look at the stuff he’s curing and storing, get inspired and try it out.  I love that idea of being a food “hoarder” especially because the average eater would never think of eating something that’s been in storage or drying out or whatever for 6 months or a year!  But the flavors get so concentrated and aspects of the ingredients are revealed that otherwise go unseen (or, I should say, un-tasted).

2:30 pm

I’m reading up on pastry dough making methods before I go and get the rest of my ingredients —  just in case there are some tips and tricks I can apply to my tart.

3:30 pm

And I’m off to Whole Foods to track down the rest of these ingredients.

4:40 pm

Back from procuring more ingredients.  No tiny fish anywhere so simplifying the small bites to just padron peppers and possibly something else if I come up with it in time.  Had to go to a second market to get non-frozen duck breasts and pancetta.  Going to start with pastry dough, which is very intimidating to me and then move to pasta dough.

5:00 pm

This is how I attempted to break up the next few hours of prep and cooking, after calculating out the ratios for pasta:

  • make pastry dough using technique observed earlier in Mind of a Chef, form into block and refrigerate
  • make pasta dough, wrap and let sit (this is my ratios sheet)
  • boil water
  • render fat from duck breasts
  • peel and slice celery root and potatoes
  • blanch potatoes
  • saute celery root in butter
  • prepare apples for tart
  • roll out pastry dough – didn’t work so well with bottle instead of rolling pin
  • arrange apples – in addition to cinnamon and brown sugar, added nutmeg because its a spice I love.
  • drain potatoes and puree in Cuisinart
  • bake tart for 45 minutes
  • attempt to roll out pasta dough failed — too dry
  • wash Radicchio, Belgian Endive and Frisee
  • add celery root to puree with milk and pulse puree
  • pick out Pomegranate seeds
  • slice pancetta
  • grate cheese
  • peel persimmon
  • roast walnuts
  • realized forgot to add cream to tart, added it in
  • transfered duck to smoker box with Alder wood chips
  • remove walnuts

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7:55 pm 

At this point, I took a quick 5 minutes break to shower because I like to be clean for my guests. I then resumed cooking.  I had my guests help me by picking parsley, snapping the ends off the Romano beans and peeling persimmons.  I like when my guests are involved somehow with the meal and feel like they’ve contributed, even if its the smallest thing that allows me to focus on something else for a few minutes.  Even having one guest dress the Romano beans side was great because another guest asked a few times how they were cooked and dressed and was surprised to find out it was just lemon, salt and oil.

  • remove tart from oven — 8:15 pm
  • pound garlic
  • render pancetta
  • remove pancetta, wipe out pan and sauté rapine with garlic and hot pepper
  • separate eggs for carbonara and create mixture with parmesan, pepper, pancetta
  • boil more water for two kinds of pasta (gluten free and fresh papardelle)
  • blanch romano beans
  • drop corn pasta that takes 7 minutes
  • drain romanos and toss with lemon, salt and oil
  • drop papardelle
  • reheat puree
  • turn off duck and let rest
  • reserve a bit of each pasta water, drain pastas and toss in egg mixture
  • plate pastas and finish with parsley and cheese on top
  • toss salad
  • slice duck and plate family style with puree and rapini
  • everyone finally sits down and to eat

9:15 pm 
Eating. Everything turned out pretty well.  Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t perfect with two different pastas and a few elements that were all cooked at the last minute and were only warm when we finally ate them.  The best pairing of flavors was the smoky duck breast and the celery root and potato puree.  My guests were pleased and didn’t seem to notice temperatures and when I asked, they bushed off the question, saying everything was delicious.

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9:45 pm 

Dinner went at a fairly quick pace and by the end we were all full.  One guest even commented that she thought she overate, which I attribute to serving things family style.  I made enough food for about 10 and we ate almost all of it.

I plated the tart which was a bit dry because of the extra cooking time but not bad for my first attempt.  The apple, cinnamon and nutmeg combination was pretty perfect.

10:15 pm 

We wrapped up with a quick dishes session and left most of it for tomorrow.  Cooking alone, I was forced to use a lot of pots to boil and par-cook ingredients.  Usually I wash most of my dishes as I go but tonight I had to move so quickly that I filled the sink.  To me, that feels like a bit of a failure because I didn’t plan well enough or move fast enough.

Wrap-up & Learnings
7:45 am to 10:30 pm is a long day but not uncommon considering the time it takes to come up with a menu, research the methods, track down the ingredients and actually prep and cook a meal. There are many little disappointments on the way as well: not finding small fish to fry as appetizers, failing at making pasta dough, forgetting to add an ingredient here or there. All these things affect my perception of the success of dinner but in fact it is only I who knows about these failures — the inexperienced eater has no idea I’ve forgotten to add cream to my tart or pecorino to my carbonara, or even that my celery root puree is supposed to be piping hot. To them, each thing on the table is an element of the experience I’ve created for them and because they trust me, they believe everything is as I intended. So, beginning to understand a few things about myself and cooking:

  • starting with way too many options is exciting and fun — it’s when I get to learn about all kinds of new things to make and recall old dishes I loved from the past
  • some element of every meal is something I’m trying for the 1st time
  • color on the plate is about as important as flavors on the plate
  • sacrificing feels like failing
  • sitting down to eat is the highest point of the experience for the people I’m cooking for–it’s when everything comes together–and yet often I feel like excusing myself and getting a breath of fresh air right as it happens
  • I like watching others enjoy the food almost more than I enjoy eating it myself
  • I love the ephemerality of the entire process — prepare one thing to immediately use it for another, paring down and combining many, many ingredients to produce 2 or 3 dishes.
  • Cooking very cleanly, unobtrusively and with as few cooking tools as possible feels really good. Being messy almost ruins the experience for me but is maybe something I should try
  • my high point is at the very beginning of the day, planning the entire meal, when anything is still possible

Hours:
10/11 – 3 hrs
10/12 – 14 hr