News & Features

Cascabel – A Dining Experience

April 18 2012 - 10:38 AM

Rick BaylessA zesty Topolo margarita, a savory bite of king crab and guacamole atop crushed tortilla chips followed by a spoonful of liquid queso fundido with chorizo puree – all this before I found my seat amongst the wooden tables for Rick Bayless and Tony Hernandez’ production of Cascabel at the Lookingglass Theatre.

Hearing the rhythmic patter of a chopping knife hitting the cutting board– I found the cook, Rick Bayless, already busy in the center-stage kitchen. The hazy air, smoky sweet aromas and Carlo Basile’s flamenco guitar carried me away to a rustic family inn deep in the heart of Mexico.

At each place setting lay a carefully wrapped banana leaf sealed with a toothpick and a note reading, “Patience is a virtue. Do not open!” Diverting my attention from the hidden treasure, the waitstaff passed hints of passion: “not cherry Jell-O,” a cracker with a star-shaped shiitake-beet gelee and “burnt toast,” pork belly made to look like a plantain on crostini with a savory chipotle BBQ sauce. Has the show even started?

Indeed it had, with much encouragement and enthusiasm, as Maitre d’ (Jesse Perez), invited the audience to unwrap the banana leaf to discover tuna ceviche with jicama and red onion over passion fruit crema and avocado. Mmmmm, que rico!

There was a “stage,” but the action was happening everywhere: in the balcony, on tightropes overhead, and of course, at the table. It took me a while to orient myself to what was really going on. The actors swept the audience into frenzy, moving almost unknowingly from scene-to-scene. Watching contortionist Alexandra Pivaral balance upside-down by one arm on the ledge of a bathtub is riveting enough; but to punctuate that moment with the sudden, unmistakable aroma of Bayless’ mole made me realize just how intentional this all was.

Food and theatre have the power to transform, but in Cascabel, their forces combined to create a genre-bending sensate experience like no other. The fusion of Bayless’ food and the Lookingglass’ bleeding edge inventiveness blends nostalgia, comfort, danger and magic.

While the story unfolded into a tale of love lost and found with flourishes of acrobatics and aromatics, the mole stole the show. Bayless’ mole activates all five tastes in every bite. The deep smoky, spicy sweetness brought about a fury of something new and nostalgic all at once. While la Señora (Chiara Mangiameli) danced flamenco on the kitchen table the mole danced to the roof of my mouth. Not to mention the supporting cast of this course: perfect beef tenderloin, braised black kale and black bean tamal.

And just when I couldn’t imagine anything more satisfying, a denouement of Oaxacan chocolate cake with blood orange espuma and “shards of festivity” (paper-thin wafers).

Bravo to Rick Bayless, Tony Hernandez and the entire crew for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Cascabel is sold-out through the April 29th end date, but you may still have a chance: follow Lookingglass Theatre @gglasstheatre on twitter to find out about cancellations and last-minute ticket releases.  If given the opportunity, you do not want to miss this. Buen provecho!

–Carly Johnston