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Night School, Volume 1: Minimum

Posted by on 11/4/11 at 12:48pm

Is this the next big thing? Yesterday evening a large group gathered in an empty apartment unit in Southtown to mark the beginning of NightSchool. The objective: to broaden our knowledge of subjects removed from our regular routines and through discussion better understand one another. Food and drink play a significant role—members must provide something for everyone else to enjoy. Each month, a different member hosts Night School and they determine the theme. David and I launched the series with minimum.

 

David and I sought a theme which could be applied to anything. As architects we are of course familiar with the concept but wanted to explore how perhaps minimalism is embedded in some cultures or religions. David was interested in looking at how people can live minimally, with the obvious example being monks. Minimum is a rather open-ended subject which is exactly what we wanted for the first NightSchool.
Squatting in an apartment lit primarily by candles, we sampled what everyone had brought to the table, excuse me…floor. You could bring anything of your choosing, as long as it was minimal. The dishes were so spectacular in their quality that they deserved their own descriptions. What you’re about to read is in no particular order and just to note, these are NOT reviews.
The Food

 
Laura: Wanting to replicate a particularly divine garden tomato she had tasted recently, Laura pursued the best in San Antonio. To complement the deep purple fruit, she also brought mozzarella and basil to make a tricalore.
Gus: Two bottles of wine—a red and a white. As with most people (admit it) Gus buys his wines based on the label. Conforming to the theme, he chose two bottles with unbelievably minimal labels. The 2009 Edge Cabernet Sauvignon’s label was only as big as needed to display its name and the 2006 Saddlerock Chardonnay was also contained in a fine looking bottle.

Alberto: He prepared an amuse-bouche—a type of hors d’oeuvre that is typically one small bite. His embodied the notion of minimalism through the amount and execution of ingredients. It consisted of only three ingredients; a thin crispy water cracker, a thin layer of robust goat cheese finally covered by a thin layer of blackberry preserve. Each ingredient covered minimal surface area and took minimal effort to eat but created a delightful flavor profile.
Kendall: Pasta Carbonara—one of the most minimal pasta dishes made in Italy. It has minimal ingredients and takes minimal time. Simple and delicious, this was a great interpretation of an everyday classic.
Rebecca: Over the course of the NightSchool series, she will pursue the art of making bread since it is so essential to modern human life. While present at most meals, she has spent essentially no time making it herself. Bread can be good, bad, healthy, indulgent, crusty, soft, delicate, savory, sweet, ad infinitum. It can be the center point, supplemental or structural. Bread is simple and yet extremely versatile. Her recipe, made with flour, salt, yeast and water can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html)
Vicki: Cotes du Rhone was chosen as her minimalist wine selection as it is known to be a simple table wine that does not overpower a meal but enhances it, and yet also works well with various types of food pairings. Coming out of a very productive region in Southern France, Cotes du Rhone is typically a good quality and accessible wine easily found at a good price point as well.
Myself: Pappardelle with gorgonzola, marcapone, marjoram and garlic. I wanted to experiment with ingredients uncommon in my regular diet. The simple recipe is contradicted by the richness and complexity of the flavor. Very easy to prepare and perfect for large numbers.

Lewis and Bekah: Like Rebecca, they will pursue a food type over the course of the series and have decided upon “superfoods”. For the first meeting they brought a minimal salad comprised of spirulina, kale and spinach.

Corey: Five ingredients make up her tomato toast. One herb, one fruit, one cheese and a touch of garlic placed on a slice of crusty white bread.
Grace: Minimal distance to table. All produce for her grapefruit and pear salad was locally sourced. Ingredients: Grapefruit, pear, pecans, spinach, Roquefort and Brianna’s Fine Poppyseed Dressing from Brenham, Texas.
Thomas: The Classic Martini—which, he will be eager to note, is made with vermouth and gin, not vodka. In a 5:1 ratio, the gin and vermouth are added to a cocktail shaker filled with ice, which is then strained into a glass, without ice. Garnish of choice may then be added, and for the first NightSchool Martini, mint was chosen due to the lack of a lemon peeler. A few fun facts: The dryness of a martini is a function of the quantity of vermouth—very dry having little to none. A dirty martini has a splash of olive brine added. Origins of the martini are disputed, although it is agreed to be distinctly American, and the Prohibition era gave rise to the drink’s popularity, as the illegal manufacture of gin was comparatively easy to that of other liquors.

Erica: Seeking inspiration from Japanese minimalist cuisine, Erica created cucumber rice rolls. Truly minimal in appearance and ingredients, the artfully crafted rolls were made with jasmine rice rolled in peeled cucumber slices. She added a thin slice of avocado and a pinch of crab meat to finish off the bite-sized dish.

The Lecture
The name of the series is NightSchool so it’s only appropriate that there is somewhat of an educational aspect to it. Following the meal, we watched a lecture by Kenya Hara, the art director at the Japanese store Muji. The lecture can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PG4uRmTJUU8. Sitting in an empty room became all the more appropriate as the title of the lecture was “emptiness”. He explained the origins of Japanese design culture, and noted the differences between Japanese and Western design. Using a simple kitchen knife as an example, he explained how a Western knife with a handle sculpted to receive a human hand was simple, yet the typical Japanese knife is empty. Empty because the user can decide how to best use it, while the Western manufacturer assumes everyone holds it in the same way.

The lecture prompted an impromptu discussion about the concept of emptiness. Why is Japanese design so distinct? How have they maintained such a distinct and influential aesthetic? Sitting in near darkness, slowly consuming great wine and food—the night felt like the perfect college theory class. Luckily no papers are required.
NightSchool will be a monthly event, hosted by a different person each time with a large variety of locations and topics promised. The hosts have been determined through April so if you have a good theme for a NightSchool event, please tell us and May is all yours! Each meeting will be documented and shared throughout the office. The series is open to everyone. If you are interested or know someone who would like this sort of thing, just speak to David, Vicki or I and we would be delighted to tell you more