A different take on potlucks, for adults only

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by Eric Ginsburg

It’s a simple idea, really: An open invite goes out, people bring ingredients and then come together in the kitchen to cook.

It’s a potluck of sorts, except that the preparation happens on site. Usually the events, organized a few times annually for the last several years under the banner of Chaos Cooking Winston-Salem, happen at somebody’s home or farm. On Oct. 23, for the second year in a row, the food and community-building event took place at the Edible Schoolyard in Greensboro.

A barn set up for diners in the Edible Schoolyard.
A barn set up for diners in the Edible Schoolyard.

Not far from giant gourds, fruit trees, chickens and a kids play station called the Mud Café, the cooking was underway, with friends and strangers working side by side at a handful of different preparation stations.

This was a 21+ event, the Facebook invite advised, and at a long metal table, two women who work at the Edible Schoolyard — part of the Greensboro Children’s Museum — prepared rose margaritas. Over by the stove, Chaos Cooking organizer Marcus Hill checked on some simmering mushrooms next to a Center for Creative Leadership employee making gluten-free pasta carbonara with sausage.

Marcus Hill, center
Marcus Hill, center

Hill and Salem Neff, who started Chaos Cooking with Winston-Salem photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez, are deeply involved in the local food movement. In addition to their collective brainchild, Hill has been involved in underground dinners and farmers markets. Now he’s helping to put together the Winston-Salem Food Policy Council, he said.

Salem Neff, gesturing
Salem Neff, gesturing

Neff, who started the Old Salem Cobblestone Farmers Market and runs Beta Verde pickling and preserves with her mom, works as a local food-access coordinator with the Rural Advancement Foundation International. Looking around the kitchen at the Edible Schoolyard, she said plenty of the people in attendance are also involved in the local food movement in the Triad. Ideally, Neff said she hopes some of those people or other folks in Greensboro will create a spinoff of Chaos Cooking.

“It doesn’t have to come from us, we just feel like we keep the ball rolling,” she said. “It’s very communal.”

Each of the group’s dinners has a theme. Last week, attendees were asked to bring a song to pair with their dish, under the theme “Turntable Kitchen.” The most on-the-nose selection belonged to a mint Oreo cake, matched with Weird Al’s jam “The White Stuff,” all about the small dessert sandwiches.

DSC02984The openness of the invitation led to a grab-bag of food choices, including deviled eggs, candy corn blondies, nachos, sweet-potato spring rolls with a healthy dose of cilantro, kale salad and fresh-pressed apple cider with pear and persimmon brandy. Neff and Hill even named their dish: Fleetwood Mac & Cheese, a cheesy orzo risotto.

About 20 people turned out for the event, taking turns sitting by a fire pit just outside the door or strolling through the Edible Schoolyard where kids come to learn about food.

All sorts of cooking classes happen in the space, including monthly events aimed at adults, periodic teen cooking classes, monthly family classes and something with kids almost every day. The food ranges — recently covering Salvadoran, Greek and crepes— and occasionally involves well known local chefs.

DSC03019It’s all part of the Edible Schoolyard’s mission to educate people, especially children, about everything that happens from farm to fork, a priority that aligns easily with the aim of Chaos Cooking. The Edible Schoolyard was recently awarded a grant enabling students at Peck Elementary School to participate in a garden and kitchen program for three years.

But for the Turntable Kitchen, it was all about the adults. With the exception of some brief remarks from Neff and Hill and a very short presentation about the mobile farmers market being tested in Greensboro, the focused remained on reverie.

Visit chaoscooking.com or gsoedibleschoolyard.wordpress.com for more information.