This past Monday October 7th there was a gathering of twelve people at a small loft space in West Oakland. This is not a neighborhood known for about anything but light industry and cheaper rents. But there are gems to be found in nasty old Oakland, CA and this is one of them. It was the return of an irregular (approximately monthly) series of dinners and dinner concerts hosted by local vegan caterer and chef extraordinaire (and shakuhachi teacher as well) Philip Gelb. These concerts, according to Mr. Gelb, were inspired by the Creative Music Studio which flourished in Woodstock, New York from 1971 to 1984 which featured many of the brightest and most innovative musicians in jazz, free improvisation and experimental music. But the inclusion of such high quality creative cooking is unique here.
It has been many months since he last hosted one of these at his loft space. Phil has chosen to combine his substantial cooking talents with his interest and connections with the music community to create this unique blend of freshly shopped and created vegan dishes with local and visiting musical talent. This series, dubbed “In The Mood for Food”, is named after one of his favorite films, “In the Mood for Love” by Wong Kar-Wai. The series has occurred more or less monthly for the last 8 years. To date I have enjoyed the creative and varied multi-course meals (which are frequently themed to the season or to the performer’s preferences) and have enjoyed both dinner conversation and performances by Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, Stuart Dempster, Gyan Riley, Tim Rayborn, Michael Manring, Barre Phillips, Mark Dresser, Amy X Neuberg and Pamela Z to name just a few.
The meals are always multi-course, locally created, sourced and shopped meticulously by Phil himself. He serves only farm fresh ingredients, never canned or packaged and the recipes are his personal creations. Food is served by the chef and one or two assistants depending on the size of the audience (maximum capacity is about 20 people). Cost ranges from $40 to $60 per person, about what you would pay at a good area restaurant. The musicians are either people with whom Phil has collaborated or found by word of mouth from other musicians and friends. He has had many musicians call him to ask if they can play at his venue. Why would that be? There is no significant publicity or profit to be had here. The answer, I believe, is the intimacy which is a combination of the loving creation of both food and music, both raised to an art form by their execution as well as their content.
There is reportedly a cook book in the works which, in addition to many carefully tested vegan recipes, will tell some of the history of this series. Phil is occasionally soliciting recipe testers via Facebook. He is also known for his hands on cooking classes.
As it happened, Monday’s event did not include music but it did include some familiar faces who I frequently encounter at these dinners as well as an overall interesting collection of guests who make for great conversation and frequently share their BYOB offerings. In fact the bartender from the great San Francisco vegan restaurant, ‘Millenium’, asked to attend and to prepare some delicious cocktails specially designed by him and incorporating some of the food ingredients to enhance the experience. Two of the guests were the operators of a local new tempeh making business called Rhizocali and their superior product was featured in the night’s food offerings.
Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of the wonderful dessert course which consisted of pumpkin waffles, spiced pumpkin sorbet and maple tea poached pears. Characteristically the attentive chef went around offering more scoops of the refreshing pumpkin sorbet which no one appeared to refuse as they engaged each other in pleasant conversations. It is good to have this series back again and, well, let’s just say no one walked away unsatisfied.