This post is the first of three posts about Leapling dinners. Read post two here.
Five years ago, Francis Ford Coppola invited Carmen and I to join him at his North Beach Citizens dinner. Yearly, these dinners serve authentic Italian food to approximately 350+ guests, but this year, Francis went with a New Orleans–themed lobster boil. The sheer fire-power and organization in the kitchen tent was stunning— there was about 35 huge stainless pots, each under a massive propane burner and manned by a cook. The entire cooking process was carefully scheduled, since the ingredients cook at different times, and the Chef would call out the ingredient, “Corn!”, “Potatoes” or “Lobster!” and the team, in military-like synchrony, would quickly add the ingredient to the pots.
As the team added the last ingredient, the guests were asked to stand up, away from the tables, and the steaming baskets were lumbered out to the dining room by two–man teams in protective gear, and the contents poured out along the center of the tables. There was no plates and no silverware, only melted butter, spices and lobster–shaped bread, and everything was delicious, fun and honest.
Francis shared his thoughts behind all the decisions made that night, he was focused on the story-telling. For example, the tabletops were covered with New Orleans newspapers and clear plastic, and when everyone was done eating, the servers came to one side of the long tables, started rolling up the plastic, taking everything with it— a giant trash burrito, or real-life Katamari ball. This revealed drawings done by children of North Beach middle-school for dessert course. Newspapers, a physical artifact of a local community from far away, to drawings, a physical artifact of our local community = pretty nice.
I didn’t realize the affect this dinner had on me; I loved it was honest, dangerous, messy, layered, dramatic, simple, and focused on sharing, teamwork and community. And unconsciously at the time, this experience manifested itself into the Leapling dinners. They were attempting to express the same elements, but just in Japanese form— more on that soon.
There have been five years of Leapling dinners, here are some images from the 2009 Leapling dinner, held in the back of Stable, now restaurant Saison.