ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Carb-loading for a cause—the 15th Annual Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting is this Saturday, May 12, 2012, and it benefits Cinnabar Theatre’s Youth Programs

Save Saturday, May 13, 2012, for the 15th Annual Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, Petaluma

Most of us don’t need an excuse to eat but this Saturday offers a great reason to indulge—it’s the 15th Annual Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting, an all-you-can-eat extravaganza— and all the proceeds fund Cinnabar Theatre’s wonderful youth programming.  The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. at Herzog Hall at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in Petaluma.  This year, 55 teams of chili and salsa challengers and 14 Bay Area breweries are participating and there will be chili and salsa galore to sample and judge, and plenty of beer, including special microbrews, to quench your thirst.  The goal—to determine the best-of-the-best when it comes to meat chili, veggie chili, traditional salsa, fruit salsa.  Defending their 2011 title for best meat chili by individual will be Tree Huggin’ Hippies; best meat chili by restaurant/ Whole Foods; best vegetarian chili/ Tree Huggin’ Hippies; best traditional salsa/ Tree Huggin’ Hippies and best fruit salsa/Sonoma Salsa.  There’s also a People’s Choice award given in each of the categories.  Come early, eat plentifully, and see if you can spot the taste of victory.

The cook-off’s founder and organizer, Laura Sunday, deemed “Empress”—who also runs Taste of Petaluma every September—has fond memories of last year’s contest and high hopes for this one.  “Last year we had 15 young guys from Chicago who attended our Chili Cook-off for a Bachelor Party.  They drove up from SFO in a limousine and partied all day long with us.  I asked them how they heard about us. They said they wanted to go to a chili cook-off to celebrate and when they researched it, ours kept coming up as the best in the West, so they planned their entire trip around our event.”

Last year, the event was attended by 1,300 people and raised $50,000 for Cinnabar Theater’s youth programs which include a variety of classes in the performing arts for children of ages 4 through 18; Cinnabar’s Young Repertory Company, which produces 4 fully staged shows annually; and Cinnabar’s very popular Summer Camps, which provide an immersive 4 week training leading up to a staged performance or musical revue.  This year, there are three camps offered that will perform Musical Madness (Broadway hits revue), Rock ‘n’ Music Roll (rock opera) and Les Miserable.

“We’re heading into our 40th season for our Young Rep program and are proud to say that no child is turned away for lack of funds,” said Elly Lichenstein, Cinnabar’s Artistic Director.  “We have between 450 and 500 students coming from all over the North Bay every year and we offer a range of scholarships and the Chili tasting is our biggest fund raiser of the year—it’s vital to our survival.”    Lichenstein is proud that her program has launched several careers in the arts.  One Cinnabar alumnus is in Hollywood making movies and several students, now sprinkled across the country, are pursuing acting careers.

“What I love about the chili cook-off is that it’s such a celebration,” said Lichenstein.  “Everyone’s having a great time, packed in this hall like sardines and eating away, and it brings out a whole different demographic than we see during our regular performance season—these are people who love chili and they don’t necessarily love theatre and it’s fabulous.”

How does the competition work?  Some chili contests adhere to purist rules about what chili is and isn’t and what it can and can’t be.  Some contests, for example, don’t allow beans in chili.  In Petaluma, things are flexible and Sunday doesn’t give entrants any rules about chili or salsa.   “I love beans! If you want to put beans in your chili, I will not say no.”

Because there are only 55 contestants, and entry is handled on a first-come, first-served basis, anybody with a hot recipe and the requisite $65 to $75 entry fee who entered before the March 15, 2012 deadline, made the cut.  Most of last year’s winners are back to defend their titles, including the mystifying Tree Huggin’ Hippies who won the meat chili, vegetarian chili and vegetarian chili by individuals divisions.

Each contestant has been asked to prepare a whopping 9 gallons of the recipe entered, enough for the panel of judges and community tasting.  Chili judging will be by a blind taste test and all chili and salsa will be served to the judges in 2 oz. plastic cups.  The judges will have no contact with the chili or salsa challengers.  Judging is on the basis of taste and personal preference of the V.I.P. judging panel—a team of 13 foodies and community members selected by Dick Kapash, the retired founder of Petaluma’s SOLA Optical.   “I can’t get enough of those fine chili dishes…the chili, salsa and beer just keep getting better every year,” said Kapash, who has worked with Laura Sunday for about 9 years planning the event.   Each judge tastes either chili or salsa and votes.  This year’s judges are Dick Kapash, David Glass, Ryan Williams, Yovanna Bierberich, Steve Jaxon, Jason Jenkins, Mike Harris, Geraldine Duncann, Mary McCusker, Jason Davies, Geneva Anderson, Joe Davis, Nick Grizzle.

When asked to judge again, I agreed immediately.  I love the competitive edge it brings out, the fun of people watching and the joy of eating.  I opted for salsa—refreshing, tart and spicy—I make it frequently and am always up for a new twist.  And, frankly, I am interested in seeing how others adjust their recipes to get that fresh flavor burst in non-tomato season.  When you’ve got juicy sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes at your fingertips, everything is already easier.

Awards: There will be 4 “People’s Choice” trophies given for Meat Chili, Veggie Chili, Salsa and Beer.  A panel of distinguished judges from the community will award “Judges’ Choice” trophies for Best Restaurant, Business, Service Organization, Individual, Salsa, and Vegetarian Chili, and an overall “Grand Champion Chili.”  Other awards will be given for best team costumes, best booth decorations, most spirited team, best salsa and chili display, and any other wacky contest that the organizers can come up.  Runners up will also be awarded.

Live Entertainment: Although the main event on Saturday will be the chili and salsa contest, in Behren’s Park, just next to Herzog Hall, there will be music by Soup Sandwich, an 8 piece local Ska band (1 PM to 1:45 PM), and Sonoma County favorites Stony Point, performing a crowd-pleasing mix of rock and blues plus some original tunes for dancing and listening pleasure (3 PM to 4:30 PM).  Local dance companies Raks Rosa Dance Company (belly dance, middle eastern)(1:45 to 2 PM) and FIERCE Dance Company (hip-hop) (2:45 PM to 3 PM) and are also on the docket.  The Amazing Caine will perform dazzling magic tricks and Fred Speer of Clark’s Pest Control will offer a Bug Zoo and promises a collection of very interesting insects.  (full entertainment schedule)

If you sign on for the beer tasting component of the event—an additional $15–you’ll have your fill of the offerings of 15 local micro-breweries producing the finest premium ales around.

More About Cinnabar Theater:
Cinnabar Theatre winds up its 39th  season with Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday,  playing May 25-June 10, 2012.  This 1946 hilarious tale features a not-so-dumb-blonde, her less-than-honest brute of a boyfriend, and the no-nonsense reporter who helps her uncover Washington’s dirty little secrets and life’s glorious possibilities.  Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920.

Sing We & Chant It, Cinnabar Chamber Singers, Spring Concert, with Michael Shahani, Directing.  Cinnabar Chamber Singers is a thing of rare beauty: breathtaking music arranged for several parts, sung by people who find fulfillment and fellowship, offered up to the public in concert.  They teach us something about music, art and life, as the notes wrap themselves gently around our hearts.  The Spring Concert features Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata #131, Mark Kratz soloist (Don Ottavio in this Spring’s Don Giovanni), as well as a set of beloved madrigals and exciting new works.  (May 27, 2 PM, Petaluma’s United Church of Christ, 825 Middlefield Drive, Petaluma) Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920.

Details: 15th Annual Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting is Saturday, May 12, 2012, from 1 to 5 p.m., at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, Herzog Hall, Petaluma (located at East Washington and Payran Streets in Petaluma) Chili, salsa and beer tasting $40, Chili and salsa Tasting $25, Kids under 12 $10, under 5 free.  ID necessary for beer.  Tickets can be purchased in advance online, or the day of the event.

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May 9, 2012 Posted by | Food, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review: “Heaven + Earth + Joe Davis” Peter Sasowsky’s new documentary looks at the unconventional pioneer of transgenic art

There’s a fine line between genius and madness and artist Joe Davis, the subject of Peter Sasowsky’s documentary Heaven + Earth + Joe Davis (2011), is walking it.   The film screened this weekend at the 14th Annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival (IndieFest), at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater and is an absorbing and inspiring but frustrating portrait of the artist Joe Davis whose unconventional melding of science, technology, and art have helped popularize the field of transgenic art (manipulating living things for artistic ends).   It’s very easy to get drawn into Joe Davis and his world.  Davis a peg-legged, wild-haired, scraggly-looking guy from Mississippi who is brilliant, eclectic, and radically non-conformist.  In 1982, after being expelled from several schools for counterculture activities like writing about atheism, running for student body president on a free marijuana platform, running an antiwar newspaper, and rarely completing what he started, he walked into M.I.T.’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies, where he had been denied admission to their program for artists and demanded face to face meeting with the chairman.  The secretary called the cops.  Forty-five minutes later, Davis walked out as a research fellow, an unpaid but prestigious appointment.  Since then, he has used his charisma and zany innate curiosity about the way things work to foster impressive connections at other M.I.T. departments, Harvard Medical School, UC Berkeley and to collaborate with a number of global biotechnology scientists.  And he’s literally been around the world─Amsterdam, Ljubliana, Puerto Rico─championing fascinating ideas and projects that neither the official worlds of art nor science are entirely comfortable with but have gotten him profiled in Scientific American and on ABC’s Nightline (July 6, 2001) as a pioneer of transgenic art.

Davis is a natural subject for a film.  He applies himself to esoteric artistic endeavors at the nexus of art and science, often coaxing very improbable connections.  He’s the first man to record women’s vaginal contractions and translate these into text, music, phonetic speech and reduce these into radio signals, which were beamed from M.I.T.’s Millstone radar to Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti and two other nearby star systems.  His million-watt Poetica Vaginal 20 minute broadcast was ultimately shut down by the U.S. Air Force but the project’s driving concept was to say hello to extraterrestrials and to convey vital information to them about how humans reproduce, putting his own stamp on the message that Carl Sagan and Frank Drake had transmitted from the giant dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, 26 years ago and improving upon the first sanitized visual images of humans, with no facial hair and no female sex organs, that NASA had beamed into space on the Pioneer and Voyager space probes.  Conceptually, Davis was correcting what he perceived was an act of censorship that led to misinformation about our species.

Joe Davis, the subject of Peter Sasowsky's "Heaven + Earth + Joe Davis," poses for painter Michael Costello in his Cambridge, Massachusetts studio. Production Still, courtesy Serious Motion Pictures.

Sasowsky takes us along on an unforgettable ride into Davis’ world, producing a film a notch above Danish director Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s humorous documentary, The Invention of Dr. Nakamats (2009), which I reviewed for the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival in 2010.  Several of Davis’ expansive art projects are introduced with very little contextualization from the filmmaker.  In the end, the viewer is left with a highly creative but dizzying portrait of Davis and some gaping holes.  How credible and unique are Davis’ ideas?  Given that the official worlds of Art and Science both essentially rejected him, and his positions at the venerable MIT and Harvard have all been long-term unpaid internships that allow him to experiment but leave him dependent on donations of equipment and expertise from fellow scientists, what is the impact of his work for science and art?   There’s no question that Davis has done extensive research in molecular biology and bio-informatics for the production of genetic databases and new biological art forms.  So far though, he’s creatively applied the existing tools of science to artistic ends which leads me to suspect that most scientists would say that they like having him around but he’s not furthering serious science.  Art is another matter, lacking the rigorous standards of science.  Given that transgenic art is a relatively new area of art, how should we evaluate it?  What is its cultural impact?  What is Davis’ legacy and who are his artist peers?  The puzzlement about how it all adds up is annoying.

“The most absurd things are connected in very absurd ways,” Davis says.  “I like to take the least connected things and try to build connections between them.”   Davis’ innate curiosity is seductive and poetic and the film captures him jumping from one immersive project to the next while navigating his chaotic daily life.  He is captured conversing with a scientist from Clondiage Industries in Jena Germany who will assist him in genetically modifying an apple that will “tempt the Devil.”  In another sequence, he and assistants slather honey over the body of a naked and quite buxom young woman and then sprinkle her with gold dust for a project that tested his audio microscope and allowed him to investigate different types of bacteria by turning their natural movements into unique audio patterns.  He’s also shown amputating and then using electrically stimulated frog legs to power an aircraft, basically applying something we’ve all seen in high school biology labs—the nervous system reacting after death–on a grander scale.   Not your cup of tea?  His Microvenusproject (1990) encoded a simple symbol—a Y and an I superimposed—that is both a Germanic rune representing life and an outline of the external female genitalia into the E. coli genome.  It promptly reproduced into billions of cells and Davis declared himself the “most successful publisher” in history.

Joe Davis returns to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, a trip that served as inspiration for his project, "Call Me Ishmael." Production Still: courtesy Serious Motion Pictures.

Any scientist watching the film might well say… “I could do any of that but I’m just not interested because I’m applying my time to something more important.”   Davis knows that art has no boundaries and is out there passionately probing all sorts of connections, some of which have an amazing hidden logic.  Sasowsky offers a portrait of a man who explores the outer reaches of the cosmos, picks through Cambridge’s trash for materials and constantly battles the forces of eviction from apartments, labs and part-time gigs.  The film alternates between Davis’ daily life, footage of some of his early and most famous projects, family movies from his childhood, and conversations with his mother, sister, ex-wife and adult daughter.  His sister is frustrated and keeps hoping that something he does will lead to income and a means of supporting himself.  But Davis can’t be bothered with these practical concerns—he’s got bigger and more existential fish to fry.  As Davis discusses a number of complicated ideas that he’s got his own creative spin on, the film meanders along without a clear arch—an abstract poetic portrait that ebbs and flows like a kaleidoscope.  If you want substantive details about his processes and contributions, you’ll need to do your own research.

Director, Producer, Director of Photography, Editing: Peter Sasowsky.  Co-producer: Amy Grumbling.  Additional photography: Cecile Bouchier, Andrew Neumann, Stephan Baumgardner

DetailsHeaven + Earth + Joe Davis screens Saturday, February 18, 2012, at 2:45 p.m. and Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 2:45 p.m. at Roxie Cinemas, 3117 16th Street (at Valencia) in San Francisco.  Tickets are $11.

General Information about IndieFest:  All screenings take place at the Roxie Cinemas, 3117 16th Street (at Valencia) in San Francisco.  Film tickets are $11 for each regular screening and $20 for Opening Night (includes the film plus the after-party). 5-film vouchers are $50, 10-film vouchers are $90; $160 for FilmFestPass good for all films and parties.  The parties are $10 each or free with ANY festival ticket stub. Remember, passholders are always admitted first.  To purchase tickets in advance, or for more information, call 1-800-838-3006 or click on www.sfindie.com.

February 21, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feel the heat at the 14th Great Petaluma Chile Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting, this Saturday, May 7, 2011, Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds

Save Saturday, May 7, 2011, for the 14th Great Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa & Beer Tasting

Leave lunch open this Saturday.  You’ll be having chili for a cause–Cinnabar Theater’s fabulous children’s programs.  In case you haven’t seen the huge banners displayed all around Petaluma, the 14th Great Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa & Beer Tasting takes place this Saturday, May 7, 2011, from 1 to 4 p.m., at Herzog Hall at the Sonoma Marin fairgrounds.  50 teams of chili and salsa challengers and 15 Bay Area breweries are participating and there will be plenty of chili, salsa and beer to sample and judge.  The goal–to determine the best of the best when it comes to meat chili, veggie chili, traditional salsa, fruit salsa.  Defending their 2010 title for best chili by individual will be Tree Huggin Hippie; best chili by restaurant/ Larray’s Corner Market; best vegetarian chili/ Whole Foods; best traditional salsa/ CIA and best fruit salsa/ Petaluma Woman’s Club.  There’s also a People’s Choice award given in each of the categories.

The cook-off’s founder and organizer, Laura Sunday—who also runs Taste of Petaluma every September– has high hopes for this year’s contest.  Last year, the event was attended by about 1,000 people and raised about $35,000 for Cinnabar Theater’s youth programs which include education in the performing arts and Cinnabar’s Young Repertory Theater, which produces several fully staged productions annually and serves hundreds of students from Sonoma County and beyond.

Some chili contests adhere to purist rules about what chili is and isn’t and what it can and can’t be.  Some contests, for example, don’t allow beans in chili.  In Petaluma, things are flexible and Sunday doesn’t give entrants any rules about chili or salsa.  “We’re not internationally sanctioned.  I don’t disallow beans.  I love beans.  Beans are healthy and delicious.  If you want to put beans in your chili, I will not say no.  My only rules are no roadkill.”

How does it all work?   Because there are only 50 contestants, and entry is handled on a first-come, first-served basis, anybody with a hot recipe and the requisite $65 to $75 entry fee who entered before the March 15, 2011 deadline, made the cut.

Each contestant has been asked to prepare a whopping 9 gallons of the recipe entered, enough for the panel of judges and community tasting.  Judging is on the basis of taste and personal preference of the V.I.P. judging panel—a team of 13 foodies and community members selected by Dick Kapash, the retired founder of Petaluma’s SOLA Optical.   “I can’t get enough of those fine chili dishes…the chili, salsa and beer just keep getting better every year,”  said Kapash, who has worked with Laura Sunday for about 8 years planning the event.   Each judge tastes either chili or salsa and votes.  This year’s judges are Dick Kapash, David Glass, Ryan Williams, Pamela Torliatt, Steve Jaxon, Jason Jenkins, Michael J, Mike Harris, Elece Hempel, Chris Samson, Pete White, Geneva Anderson, and Joe Davis.

When asked to judge, I opted for salsa–refreshing, tart and spicy–I make and eat it several times per week and am always up for a new twist.  And, frankly, I am interested in seeing how others adjust their recipes to get that fresh flavor burst in non-tomato season.  When you’ve got juicy sun-ripened tomatoes at your fingertips, everything is already easier.

As for chili, Sunday remarked that it’s amazing how often the judges’ and people’s choice winners are one and the same.   ” There are some good chilis, some that are not so good and some that rise above the rest and truly sing,” said Sunday.  “We find the chili winners tend to be medium in heat. Highly spiced, burning chili is not very popular with the judges or the public for their votes.  People like a rich tomato flavor and color, thick with good texture, with meat that is easy to chew, very flavorful.   Not one distinct flavor should hit you first like salt, or any particular spice or ingredient.  All the flavors should be blended and melded perfectly.  One spoonful of a great chili is not enough.  A great chili should make you crave more.”

Although the main event on Saturday will be the chili and salsa contest, in Behren’s Park, just next to Herzog Hall, there will be music by Stony Point and Rule 5 and entertainment by dance companies FIERCE Dance Company and Raks Rosa Arabic Dance Production. (full entertainment schedule), plus plenty of refreshment.  If you sign on for the beer tasting component of the event—an additional $15–you’ll have your fill of the offerings of 15 local micro-breweries producing the finest premium ales around.

What’s the likelihood of coming home with a great chili receipt?  According to Sunday, it’s not up to her.  “Some entrants want to share, but some want to take their recipe to their grave.  Some are family traditions passed down through the generations.  But not many stay with the same recipe year after year.  It’s always evolving and changing.  Everyone is trying to perfect their chili.”

Details:  1 to 5 p.m., rain or shine at Herzog Hall and Behren’s Park, Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds (at East Washington Street and Payran Streets), Petaluma, CA.  Tickets: Chili and Salsa tasting only $25; kids under 12 $10, under 5 free.  Chili, Salsa and Beer tasting: $40.  Purchase in advance online or in person at event.

May 5, 2011 Posted by | Food, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment