Lovers of George R.R. Martin's book series Game of Thrones and avid watchers of the HBO show know that feasting is an important part of the conniving plotline (and often the locale for a central character's demise). While the fabled banquets have inspired recipe blogs, cookbooks, and even beer, San Francisco-based Guild of Cookery takes it one step further. The group of GoT-loving chefs recreate elaborate seven-course meals from the series pop-up style around the city.
Last Monday, July 28 the Guild put on an encore performance of The Feast of the Red Viper—in honor of (spoiler alert!) Prince Oberyn's untimely and gruesome death— with delicacies like “Lamprey" pie, snake stew with blood orange and hot peppers, and (exploding) sugar skulls filled with plum and cherry custard. (What, too soon?)
We chatted with one of the culinary wizards behind the magic, superfan Chef Graham Bellefeuille, to see what got him into the GOT business, and what else The Guild has up their sleeve.
Who are the chefs behind The Guild of Cookery?
GB: The head chefs of the Guild are Ty Cox and me. After graduating from the California Culinary Academy, I did my externship in Italy, followed by stints at restaurants such as Incanto and Cortez. I'm currently the sous chef at Contigo. Ty also graduated from the CCA, and has worked at restaurants such as Foreign Cinema, Slow Club, and Contigo. He is currently working at Smoke Stack BBQ. I met Ty at the California Culinary Academy in 2004 and we've been friends ever since. We recruited our longtime friend and co-worker Lauren Giblon to help out in the kitchen, and our girlfriends, both servers, run the floor staff.
What made you want to launch GOT pop-up dinners?
GB: I began reading the books when I was in culinary school and really wanted to try the food that George R.R. Martin was describing. After almost ten years of fantasizing, that dream became a reality when Ty and I decided to pool our experience and love of Game of Thrones and put together the first feast. It is a passion project. Finding the right plates and cups, combing through cookbooks that are written in Chaucerian English, sourcing ingredients. All these things that have taken countless hours were done in homage to George R.R. Martin's epic series. It is that deep seated nerdiness in both Ty and I that has driven us to make these feasts a reality.
How much of the feast ideas comes from the books, and how much from your imagination?
GB: While we pull the menus verbatim from the books, it's up to us to fill in the blanks. The menus are specific enough to give us a firm guideline, but vague enough to allow for quite a bit of creativity. We flesh out the dishes using recipes from 15th and 16th century cookbooks and our own experience working in professional kitchens. Combing through those cookbooks is quite the challenge, as some of them are not written in modern english and need to be translated before they can be cooked. Chefs back then didn't include amounts of ingredients in their recipes, either, so there's a lot of trial and error when attempting them. Our goal is to make the meals as authentic as possible and capture the essence of what we imagine these meals would taste like. In the end, though, our real goal is to make something that we feel proud to serve and that we would be excited to eat.
Where do you source the ingredients?
GB: We source most of our produce from the Ferry Plaza farmers market. We try to use local, seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Golden Gate Meat company can find us just about any type of meat from wild boar and venison to squab and game hen. For our fish, we work with four or five local fish markets including Sun Fat on Mission and May Wa on Clement. Finding the more obscure ingredients can prove to be a challenge, but Pacific Gourmet has most of the spices we need, as well as things like verjus and purple barley. We are very lucky to have found the SF Mead Company as well, since what's a Medieval dinner without mead?
What was the first feast you hosted?
GB: Our first feast was the Feast of The Hand at King's Landing. This one was in honor of Ned Stark's appointment as the Hand of King Robert in King's Landing. This was back in GoT season one. We did it at Contigo Restaurant in Noe Valley in March of last year, and we served a nine course feast that included dishes such as snails with honey and garlic, trout baked in clay, and pigeon pie. We used squab for the pigeon pie, by the way!
How did the latest Red Viper feast go?
GB: The latest Red Viper feast was one of the most fun experiences we've had doing these dinners. We love talking to the people and seeing their reactions to the foods, most of which are unfamiliar and exotic. It's so cool to hear someone say that our feast is the first time they've tried an ingredient, such as snake or catfish, and that they really liked it. Geeking out about Game of Thrones is always a highlight for me, and is one of the main reasons we started doing these feasts in the first place. Also, seeing how much fun people had cracking the sugar skulls was pretty awesome. There's something so satisfying about smashing something, and the people definitely got into it. This feast included dishes such as catfish with sauce jance (a sauce made with almonds, garlic, and ginger from 14th century Spain), game hens glazed with honey, spicy snake stew, and the aforementioned sugar skulls filled with pudding.
When's the next banquet?
We are constantly working on new menus from the books, and we try to tailor them to the season and our venue. For example, we would like to do a Feast at the Wall in honor of Jon Snow. This one will have to wait until winter, though. We have at least one feast for each season, and while we still have summer in San Francisco, we will continue to serve our Red Viper's Feast. Our Fall feasts include The Feast of The Hand and Tyrion's Feast, both of which we would like to revisit.
(Photos by Sheldon Steere Photography)
Be sure to like Guild of Cookery for details about their next Game of Thrones feat, and more.