A Feast of Fire and Ice in Carrboro
Sixteen fervent fans of “Game of Thrones” would have done well to take a cue from the motto of House Stark (and a warning in the show) as they feasted on rabbit, lamb and aged mead.
Dessert is coming.
And what a dessert. Like the meal’s other four courses served at Acme Food & Beverage, it was themed to locations and characters in the wildly popular HBO series, which starts its seventh season on July 16. “Game of Thrones” takes place in a fantasy collection of medieval-type kingdoms where families vie for power, with vivid characters, and often with violent and bloody results. And there are dragons.
Acme Food & Beverage held three Thrones-themed feasts in February, which sold out quickly and had waiting lists, said chef-owner Kevin Callaghan. Two more were scheduled in advance of the new season’s premiere.
When reminded of the series’ poor track record on feasts (see the Red Wedding and Purple Wedding), Callaghan said, “There will be no mayhem at the dinners. People are told to check their swords at the door.”
However, Callaghan did run into a couple of unanticipated issues: Finding candles that would drip in a suitably medieval manner and wax to seal the menus.
“Use crayon, that’s my advice,” he said of the seals, which show the Hand of the King mark from the show.
Delving into the menu
Devising the menu was a welcome opportunity for chef de cuisine Dan Grodence. As a longtime fan of both the series and the George R.R. Martin books the series is based on, he knew the regions and characters well. Also, he knows a bit about swords: Grodence takes European sword training. His swords decorated the dining area.
The books go into a good bit of detail about food and their differences among the kingdoms, he said. Besides studying the books, he looked at “Game of Thrones” cookbooks (there are several) and read historical cookbooks from Escoffier and Careme. Then he thought about the climates of the regions.
“In the South, I can draw a comparison between Moorish culture and Dorne-ish culture, and I can imagine what the food might look like,” Grodence said. “Winterfell is north of Westeros, and it’s cold, rugged and harsh, like some Viking or Scottish cultures. Those would be heavier foods. I tried to identify each culture and determine what its historical analog would be.”
It’s incredibly fun, playing living in a fantasy world, where they baked thick pies and rich sauces appropriate for a king’s hall.
Acme chef-owner Kevin Callaghan
Acme’s “A Feast of Ice and Fire” began with Breakfast at Winterfell, continued through Lunch at the Crossroads Inn, Dinner in Dorne and Feast with the King in the North, and ended with Dessert with the Lady of Winterfell. The first course and dessert were straight from the books, Grodence said.
A character at Winterfell orders black bread for breakfast. For the cold climate, he added a smear of blackberry jam, a poached egg and bacon. Mint tea – also mentioned in the books – came with the course.
He prepared a lemon-based dessert for each “Game of Thrones” dinner.
“Several times in the book, (Martin) mentions Sansa enjoying lemon cakes, and she seems to have an affinity for lemon cakes,” he says.
For the other courses, Grodence pulled ideas from events and plotlines. A lunch at an inn likely was a hearty stew, such as the one he prepared with rabbit, barley, carrots and onions in an ale broth. Roasted leg of lamb with a fiery mustard sauce and roasted peppers fit the southern region of Dorne.
The fourth course was Westerosi Wedding Pie. Guests wondered as they waited just what that might taste like. The original pie contained live pigeons that flew out when it was cut open. And somebody died.
Raising a toast
“It was just one person. Not like the Red Wedding,” said Matt Waters of Chapel Hill, who attended the meal in a red Lannister T-shirt with three friends who were in full costume: Alex Grimm, in a red dress as Queen Cersei; Alana Zeitany, her sister, in desert colors as a Sand Snake; and Peter Grimm, Alex’s husband, in doublet and scarf as Jorah Mormont.
“This is who I’m supposed to be,” Peter Grimm said, passing around a phone with a photo from the show of a balding, middle-aged character. Similar outfit, but with Grimm’s head of hair, not quite the same. He tightened the scarf wrapped around his right wrist.
“I need to cover my grayscale,” he said. In “Game of Thrones,” that’s a disease, not a printing term.
The pie was a round of tender, flaky dough with pork belly, wild mushrooms and a rich gravy, resulting in no flights or fatalities.
Before dessert arrived – the lemon cake with blueberries and whipped cream – the table raised a toast to a Tyrion Lannister saying: “I drink and I know things.”
Despite the terrible things the character Cersei does, Alex Grimm admires her. “She fiercely defends her family. She’ll do anything to protect her kids, and I respect that,” she said.
The group agreed that the show’s powerful female characters contribute to their enjoyment of the show.
“Cersei was told all her life that you can’t rule because you’re not a man, you’re too weak,” Waters said. “But Cersei takes a man’s world and just blows it up. Literally.”
(Spoiler alert: Last season, Cersei blew up a building where she was supposed to be on trial, killing a good number of her enemies.)
Talk turned to what they’d like to see in Season 7. The houses will have to find a way to come together to fight common enemies, and to survive the coming winter, which in “Game of Thrones” lasts years, like an ice age. (Hence the dark threat “winter is coming.”)
Waters has one request: “I want to keep seeing badass women doing badass things.”
Later in the week, Acme was back to its usual Southern-focused, locally grown menu, but Callaghan says he will do more “Game of Thrones” dinners. It’s fun for both diners and chefs.
“We really like the show, and it’s very rich. You can create a food world around it,” he said. “We cook the same Southern-style food every day but this plays on different themes. It’s incredibly fun, playing living in a fantasy world, where they baked thick pies and rich sauces appropriate for a king’s hall. It’s a persuasive world. The food you get to create has a seductive quality.”
Debbie Moose is a freelance food writer and cookbook author. She can be reached at debbiemoose.com, Facebook or Twitter.
Classic Mulled Wine
This spicy wine was an excellent counterpoint to the rich, mustardy flavors of the accompanying lamb dish. On a warm evening, serve it over ice; the spicy flavors won’t dilute. Acme Chef de cuisine Dan Grodence looked at Moroccan flavors to evoke the land of Dorne. Recipe by Dan Grodence.
20 whole cloves, divided
2 tangerines, clementines, or small oranges
2 (750-ml) bottles merlot
3 cups fresh apple cider
8 Lady apples (optional)
2 cinnamon sticks plus 8 for optional garnish, divided
2 green cardamom pods, cracked
2 cups tawny port
Press the stems of 10 cloves through the skin of each tangerine. Place tangerines, wine, cider, Lady apples (if using), 2 cinnamon sticks and all the cardamom pods in a large pot. Bring to a bare simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Use a strainer to scoop out the fruit and spices.
The recipe can be made to this point up to 2 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature. Rewarm gently over medium-low heat before continuing.
Stir in the port. Divide among glasses; garnish each with a cinnamon stick and a Lady apple, if desired. Serve warm, at room temperature or poured over ice.
Yield: 12 servings
Breakfast at Winterfell
This meal features House-Baked Black Bread, Local Blackberry Preserves, “Burnt” Bacon and Slow-Poached Hen Egg. Sweet and salty from jam and bacon, with creamy richness from the egg – and a shout-out to a breakfast mentioned in one of George R.R. Martin’s books. In this cold land of the north, you need a hearty breakfast before heading out to slay your enemies. Recipe by Dan Grodence, chef de cuisine, Acme Food & Beverage.
1 1/8 cups lukewarm water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 cup pumpernickel or rye flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup or molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons black cocoa
1 teaspoon espresso powder or instant coffee powder
1/4 to 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, to taste
1 3/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, divided
Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl except for 1 cup of the bread flour. Mix until a sticky dough begins to form.
Mix in the remaining 1 cup of flour and knead for 7 minutes, or until the dough becomes soft and elastic, but may still be somewhat sticky to the touch. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
After the first rise, shape the dough into an oblong loaf. Place in a greased 9-by-5-inch or 10-by-5-inch bread pan, cover with greased plastic, and let rise until almost doubled, about 60 to 90 minutes.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the dough has almost doubled, brush or spray the top with water, dust with pumpernickel or rye flour, and score (slash) the top. Bake the bread for about 35 minutes, until it sounds hollow when you thump the bottom, or the inside measures 205 degrees on a digital probe thermometer. Remove the loaf from the oven and cool it on a rack before slicing.
Store bread well wrapped at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.
5 cups blackberries
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil until the temperature reaches 220 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Set aside.
Grodence uses an immersion circulator at 145 degrees for 45 minutes to cook the eggs. These directions use a pot on top of the stove.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium pot, then reduce to a simmer. Add 2 tablespoons white vinegar. With a large spoon, begin stirring the water to create a whirlpool. Be careful not to stir too hard and splash water on yourself. When you have a steady whirlpool, crack an egg directly into the center. Continue making whirlpools and adding eggs. You can cook up to five eggs at a time. The spinning whirlpool forces the egg to contract into itself so you have a neat, compact egg. Allow the eggs to simmer for 2 1/2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.
24 slices bacon
Place the bacon strips on a baking sheet with a rim and place in a 350-degree oven. Cook for about 25 minutes or until bacon is crispy and beginning to brown. Leave to cool on the tray.
To assemble the dish: Cut 12 slices of the bread. Heat 2-3 tablespoons butter in a frying pan over medium heat and toast the slices on each side.
Place 1 slice of bread on a plate. Spread on about 2 tablespoons jam. Top with 1 poached egg and 2 strips bacon. Continue with remaining bread, jam, eggs and bacon.