I Want a Steak the Size of a Toilet Seat

Warning: I’m a bit under the weather today and can’t seem to get my head right, so this post may swerve a bit.

I’m not one to gloat (I am actually, but this is not the place), but after several weeks of writing about college football, I feel the need to pay it off. I will tread the middle ground and say that I had the kind of weekend that makes the next 365 days livable. The bigger picture, however, is dependent upon voters and computers…naturally, the way sports championships should be decided, no?

Speaking of Auburn, as we were returning from the Loveliest Village on the Plains a few weeks ago, I heard an excellent radio interview on NPR. It was with a writer who compiled a book of  interviews with chefs. The chefs were asked to describe their ideal last meal. Mind you, I have not read the book, can’t remember the author’s name and I’m too lazy to do that research. So this is based on memory. (Ok, I got off my bum and did the research: My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals by Melanie Dunea)

In the radio interview, the author explained that she found essentially two camps of responses from the chefs she spoke with. The first was the group of chefs who identified their favorite opulent and luxurious ingredients such as fois gras, truffles, caviar, lobster, jamon iberico, and the like. The second camp were chefs who identified meals that had some form of nostalgic comfort – their mother’s chicken soup, their grandmother’s chocolate cake, or some other remembered comfort food. I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I bet that some smart person out there has a model that describes why a group like that divides itself in such a way. Of course, the author has simplified her analysis to a black and white accounting. I suspect the reality is a range of grey shades in between the two polar extremes, but for my purposes, I’m going to roll with it.

Cooking is a creative process, and it is about design (some people take it more seriously than others). I think design philosophy is transferable across creative disciplines. Philosophies of cooking could be applied to city building, and vice versa. Following that line, lets borrow the authors question and apply to the built environment- if you have one site to design anything you wanted, what would you do? I imagine that architects would fall into essentially the same camps as the chefs. One group would attempt to take the latest technologies and materials and create a great monument to themselves for humanity. Another group would choose to honor time-tested and proven materials, forms and orders to express their view of the human condition.

The Urban Design Challenge has given me pause to consider what I might do given a blank slate. In a sense the Urban Design Challenge has posited an equivalent question to architects and planners. Consider the sites to be the question, the blank slate, the opportunity to do as one sees fit, the “last meal”. Would I design my version of urban foie gras, or a building that channels Baba’s collard greens? I will disappoint you if you think I’m going to make the case that one approach is better than another. If you have seen any of my couple of works, however, you might be able to guess which way I would likely lean. Despite my bent toward expression that speaks to our time, having considered the question in this light has softened my view to some degree.

Ok, that was the kind and gentle C.Rush. The reality is that the question is a false one. How many of those chefs will actually get to eat their “last meal” for their last meal. Even if they did, no matter how expertly prepared, would it actually live up to the expectations of a “last meal”? This is not, however, a pointless exercise. In answering the question the chefs are giving us an insight into what makes them a great designer and what makes them tick as a person. In answering that same question, it gives those of us who are not genius chefs an opportunity to go through the process and to think about what we would do in their shoes.

That is one of the great values of the Urban Design Challenge. It is great to see what our city’s fantastically talented designers propose for each of the sites. I am hopeful, however, that each of the challenges give the layperson or interested observer pause to think about the city in those terms. To think about what they would do on each of those sites. Hopefully, after thinking about those things, they will join in the civic dialogue concerning how we should build our downtown in the future and contribute their ideas.

In case you were wondering:
-Veloute of cauliflower with scallop crudo

-Steamed royal red shrimp
-Seared foie gras with a mascarpone crepe
-Crispy pig’s foot with quail eggs and white truffle
-A dry-aged Wagyu strip
-A slice of New York Cheesecake
(but you can’t hold me to this one, it has changed 6 times over the course of the day)

In case you were wondering 2.0:
My prediction: 35-13 
Final score: 42-14

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