Chaos Mussels

[Text by Lynn Wolsted]

[Photos by Joe Che]

It’s hard to know what to expect when you hear the phrase “Chaos Cooking.” Images of stovetop fires, bandaged thumbs, and hungry dogs sniffing the floor come to mind. While the participants in Saturday’s Chaos Mussels event managed to avoid major disasters and injuries, that word does seem an appropriate characterization of the evening. Everyone had a lot of fun while  working in groups to prepare some interesting mussel recipes, whose sampling made for the perfect conduit of both social interaction and a satisfying culinary experience.

Turning left onto the staircase, my boyfriend Matt and I encountered several other people with hungry bellies who had also been on the hunt for the location of Chaos Mussels.  Chaos Cooking events are held in a variety of different spaces through out the city and country, so you never know where you are you are going to end up. As it was a bit chilly outside, we were happy to finally knock on a door and be greeted by the event’s hospitable orchestrator, Joe Che. He welcomed us and gave us a quick tour of the space. We then proceeded into the kitchen area, where we were shown the ingredients, tools, and introduced to our teammates with whom we would be preparing a unique recipe.

Since we were Team #1 and would be serving our chorizo mussel dish first, we immediately began chopping, dicing, and slicing anything and everything that crossed our paths. It was a messy business, and several team members came close to chopping off appendages, but I was able to use my kitchen training to provide some safety guidance and help avoid any mishaps. Cameron, who had procured the mollusks earlier that day, enthusiastically returned from the back yard with a bag of mussels in his hand. With our mise en place prepared, we headed for the kitchen where we incorporated the ingredients into a large simmering pot from which delicious aromas began to emerge.

Waiting impatiently to complete our masterpiece, we entertained ourselves with a fine variety of ice-cold beer from the Brooklyn Brewery and tried our hands at oyster shucking. It was touch and go with the hard shells and sharp tools for the first-time shuckers, but everyone eventually got the hang of it and enjoyed their raw oyster experience with a touch of freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar based mignonette. It was a great chance to get to know the other guests, most of whom were in their 20’s and 30’s and had interesting stories to tell about their myriad of professions and international backgrounds.

Finally, after putting on our personalized finishing touches, our dish was ready for tasting. Warm pieces of crusty bread fresh out of the oven served as an accompaniment and a means by which to soak up the delicious chorizo-based broth. Whether the nearly universal praise expressed by the thirty plus participants was motivated by a great recipe well executed, or if it was simply a matter of everyone being grateful about having their hunger pangs subside, I couldn’t say. Regardless, everyone seemed happy and ready to sample the next recipes throughout the duration of the evening.

As if the cooking excitement weren’t enough, Joe had organized a culinary themed raffle with an array of prizes including a couple cutting boards, shirts, and canvas bags, to name a few. Everyone was excited as Joe’s wife and fellow orchestrator rifled through the multitude of tickets in search of the winners, and a lucky few went home with the coveted prizes.

With the thrill of wielding sharp knives had worn off, Cameron broke out les pieces des resistance: two cooking torches, a bag of granulated sugar, and individually prepared pastry cups filled with a creamy and delectable custard. The daring participants took a step forward, but proceeded with caution as the blue flame spouting from the torch’s nozzle proved to be quite hot. Matt was one of the first to take up arms, but ended up by the beer cooler, nursing his burnt finger with a piece of ice. Other thrill seekers took notice and focused the heat on the sugar-coated custard rather than their skin, resulting in a satisfying crispy caramel dessert, which everyone enjoyed.

The chorizo, coconut curry, spicy miso, and vegetable recipes were all delicious, but in my opinion, the dish that took the cake was the bacon cider mussels. Any dish that contains bacon is always the winner in my book, but what made this dish unique was that the mussels swam drunkenly in a creamy, buttery pool, whose flavor combinations danced on my palate with each satisfying bite. I can’t wait until I’m invited to participate in the next Chaos Cooking event. I hope to see you there!

Posted on