The tables were set with wooden plates and hand-stamped menus, the latter personally addressed to each lord and lady attending the Feast of Highgarden. For one night only, Contigo, a tapas restaurant tucked away on Castro Street in Noe Valley, became the fictional kingdom of Westeros.
Thanks to pop-up supperclub Guild of Cookery, a handful of San Franciscans were able to dine like the characters on HBO's Game of Thrones, the wildly popular TV series based on the fantasy books by George R.R. Martin.
Chef Graham Bellefeuille tells us about his dishes, inspired by a scene in Martin's A Clash Of Kings. (Video: Jennifer Cain/Hoodline)
“I’m here for the goose and more wine,” said a young man clad in burly fur and posing as a member of the series' Night’s Watch. When not in costume, he said he is studying to get his dental license.
Lifted directly from Martin’s books, the menu for the sold-out event included salted little fish, immense hams, stuffed capons, roast goose and venison stew. The Guild's chefs and co-founders, Ty Cox and Graham Bellefeuille, have researched recipes that date back to Renaissance-era Europe, unearthing centuries-old delicacies that are rarely found on restaurant menus today.
“Everything I had read going into it said that it was really hard,” Cox said of the roast goose, the dinner's centerpiece. Geese are high in fat, with a strong gamey flavor, making them almost impossible to cook well. Thankfully, the dish turned out to be a lot easier to prepare in a modern kitchen. “It definitely isn’t the nightmare I had read people say it was.”
A group of diners dressed as characters from Game of Thrones await their first course. (Photo: Emily Snyder/Hoodline)
Cox and Bellefeuille first met while attending the California Culinary Academy more than a decade ago, where they discovered a passion for historical cooking and feasting. Bellefeuille, whose day job is cooking at Contigo, found George R.R. Martin’s descriptions of feasts so inspiring that he delved into recipe manuscripts dating back to the 12th century, in order to be as authentic as possible. The pair founded the Guild in 2013, putting their first tickets up for sale at the stroke of midnight in March.
“By the time I woke up the next morning, it had already sold out,” recalled Bellefeuille. “It’s just great to have other Game of Thrones fans around to geek out with.” Every subsequent dinner has also been a sellout.
Cox preps dishes before guests arrive. (Photo: Jennifer Cain/Hoodline)
On this particular evening, many of the 50 guests arrived in costume as ladies of Winterfell, the King of the North, and wildlings. One man had even dressed up as King Joffrey, the loathsome adolescent monarch notorious for his love of torturing women.
Bellefeuille was thrilled. “I’ve always wanted Joffrey to attend, but it’s never happened,” he said, as he seated some guests. “I can’t believe it!”
The entire feast bubbled with excitement as minstrel music played in the background. Diners sipped on wine or tea in ceramic cups as they awaited the first course, pears poached in wine.
“We’ve read all the books and watched the show, and we’re interested in trying some of the food from the period,” said attendee John Stewart, who introduced himself as Lord John of House Stewart. Stewart said he and his wife had tried unsuccessfully to get tickets to the last feast in March. “I’m most excited to try the stuffed capon, which I heard is a tiny bird, stuffed with mushrooms and onions. It should be interesting.”
Bellefeuille talks to attendees. (Photo: Jennifer Cain/Hoodline)
Two hours later, as the guests groaned about how much food and wine they had consumed, the dessert course arrived. Servers placed rose-shaped lemon cakes with little swans made out of whipped cream at each place. The whisk used for the cream was made from white birch trees; according to Bellefeuille, whipped cream made with a modern metal whisk just isn’t the same.The Guild has not announced a date for its next pop-up dinner, but you can keep up with their activities via their website and Facebook page. Dinners are typically held on Monday evenings, when Contigo is otherwise closed, and announced a few weeks in advance.
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