I did this thing:
I went to Burning Man.
My friend Michi (on the left) asked me a few months ago if I wanted to go to Burning Man and I didn't even hesitate... it was a YES!
Burning Man is a collaborative event where people from around the world gather together in the middle of the Nevada desert to share art in all forms - during 1 week each year, people transform this isolated, vast space of sand into a place of community where awe-inspiring art and music is shared. What began as a small gathering of people 36 years ago is now 80,000....
Here is how the Burning Man Project describes itself: "We will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring, and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community, and civic engagement."
The result is a time that can be not only challenging to the senses but inspiring to the spirit.
Understand please that I do not like the heat, large crowds, EDM music, staying up all night, dust, camping in extreme situations, and everything that goes with what you might imagine Burning Man stands for.
But this lady has been my friend for more than 10 years and when she asks, I usually say yes.
We applied to be part of a camp, some people camp on their own but we thought we wanted to have the full experience of being in a community and some of the emotional and physical support like shade and water.
After going through several interviews, we were asked to be team leads, Michi was in charge of decorations, which is her specialty as she is the art director and stylist of Obsidian & Blush.
I was asked to be the head chef for 76 people, which included three meals per day plus snacks plus some beverages, like coffee & iced teas.
For months I met with people online and in person from all over the globe to discuss, plan and design a game plan. We created a book full of recipes, schedules, shopping lists, etc. to feed and hydrate everyone.
In retrospect, I appreciate that my co-leads, who all have been to Buring Man several times, did not start laughing when I suggested, beard nets, face masks, and high cleaning standards.
Don't get me wrong... we tried, but washing hands, wearing a clean shirt, and tying our hair back was about the extent of what we were able to pull off on a daily basis.
The dust was incredible (and I don't mean in a good way).
Black Rock City, where the event takes place is in the basin of an ancient lake flat made of alkaline dust.
Here is how someone describes it:
"Playa Dust: The dried lakebed dust of the playa is an all-infiltrating constant of Burning Man. It's not dirt. It's not sand. It is a fine, fine powder that turns skin ghost gray, shades all fabric with a chalky cloudiness."
You keep your skin from cracking by washing yourself with a mixture of vinegar & water to replenish the PH of your skin.
At any given moment it could blanket every single surface even inside our kitchen shelter and I am sure we all ingested a pound of that stuff throughout the week.
We had a dishwashing station, and we had clean running water (most of the time) - which is pure luxury!!!!
We had several fridges and freezers, a BBQ smoker and a couple of camp stoves, and one electric stove top.
Right before we went into the desert, we got a few crockpots and one huge instant pot (I named her Bertha - she was my BFF)
In spite of challenges and these curveballs, we managed to make some incredibly yummy meals and every meal also had vegan options.
As you can imagine with a group of 76 people, there were many dietary needs and requests.
Anything from Gluten Free, Dairy Free, high protein, vegan, vegetarian, Keto, high calories, low calories, ..... the list goes on.
Our menu was ambitious: Toddy Coffe, Breakfast tacos & a bagel bar with overnight oats, fresh fruit, bacon, and eggs every day for Breakfast. Lunches were pita pockets & wraps, loaded with lots of fresh veggies and protein. Dinners were crowd-pleasers, like burgers, Frito pie, hot dogs, peanut stew, Indian Butter chicken, lasagne, enchiladas and we even had a steak night (which I have to say was probably the best meal I have had in a while).
I used many recipes from our classes which felt amazing because I felt like I was taking all of you with me on this trip.
Teaching these recipes to my fellow campers brought me right back to teaching your kids.
Many of my fellow campers told me they don't eat this well in their day-to-day life!
You can imagine that ordering everything, calculating the numbers, and delegating everything was a challenge. We only had three days in Reo to prep and shop- we placed orders with various stores, and some of the orders were not fulfilled. So we ended up with no pita pockets, no eggs (but we ended up getting some delivered to the desert!!), too many snacks, too much salami, bacon, onions, lettuce, and apples to keep fresh etc.
But if you know me, you also know that I thrive in situations where I have to pivot, so we made our adjustments and some of the things we created like an apple compote to save the many apples we had received, ended up being one of the groups' favorites.
It was an ongoing struggle between keeping everyone fed, keeping things clean, and also having some time to go out and explore the event.
I was surprised by how many people my age were actually at this event. So many parents whose kids had just left home, like mine, and just like myself, they are doing things that they have not been able to do while raising their kids.
Seeing all the incredible art was so inspiring, meeting people from all over the world, with nobody on their phones (there is no WIFI!!!), actually talking to humans because there are no distractions, lots of hugs, and every time you turned a corner, there was someone happy to see you.
It was a beautiful reaffirming experience that we are all still a big family.
In closing here are a few facts:
Top 5 meals in our camp at Burning Man:
1. Pancakes with apple compote served during a dusty day while setting up hex tent.
2. Warm Vegan Chickpea Curry in big Bertha, served in the early morning hours when people came home from watching the sunrise.
3. On Friday night we had an epic Steak Dinner with mashed potatoes and a giant salad, as a celebration, and thank you for everyone's huge effort.
4. Frito Pie, to my surprise some people were like "what's Frito pie?" - It was an uphill struggle, LOL, but they all loved it.
5. Chef Pavla's (my culinary teacher's) Mexican Wedding cookies - not necessarily a meal but a delight! She had sent me with hundreds of these cookies, plus banana bread, and her famous jalapeno jelly which was devoured!
34 lbs coffee
27lbs chicken tenders
20 lbs ground beef
and I could go on.
We served 1776 meals to our campers
65 gallons of iced coffee
and about 45 gallons of iced tea
I could have not pulled this off without some key players here in Austin and abroad who helped me brainstorm and execute this undertaking. I am so grateful for everyone who showed up for their shifts and helped when needed.
Next year, yes I know it's crazy to think I might do this again, I want to create a more magical menu, and I am already brainstorming fun titles and new menu ideas.
If anything comes to mind, please let me know.
"Sparkle Pony's delight"
Michi and I are safely back in Austin, diving deep into our work again and inspired by all the incredible impressions from this event.
And if you are ever inspired to go, I am happy to share my packing list with you. I learned A LOT!
Happy to be home for now
Before founding Bake Austin, Pascal Simon earned her degree as a Pastry Chef from the prestigious Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. A mother of two, Pascal is passionate about cultivating the next generation of bakers and welcomes children from all schooling backgrounds, whether public, private or homeschooled.