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Burning Man: A foodie heaven
- Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, September 4, 2005

(09-04) 04:00 PST Black Rock City, Nv. -- Eating at Burning Man is an art.

The annual desert festival may require more than a week of camping in a harsh environment with nearly 40,000 others, but that doesn’t mean subsisting on a Boy Scout diet of beef jerky, Gatorade and canned beans.

Burning Man has some of the most haute cuisine imaginable, making it possible for campers to show up empty-handed and leave 10 pounds heavier. From pulled pork sandwiches to chilled dirty martinis and pizza delivery, Burning Man is like an Iron Chef contest without the equipment – a challenge for any foodie eager to show their skills and share their culinary gifts.

“I just love the absurdity of doing something like this,” said chef and sommelier Eric White of San Anselmo, as he prepared Nutella crepes for a seated crowd of 15. Diners were treated to their own food show, as White explained what was in the array of crepe toppings he’d prepared: pear butter with rosemary, blueberry jam, raspberry jam, and strawberry jam.

“Now I’m putting blood red orange olive oil in the pan,” he said, as the crowd cooed in anticipation. Others are decidedly less high tech, but they still find ways to please the palette. Robby Frank of Santa Cruz mounted an old-fashioned apple peeler to the back of his bicycle, and in a matter of seconds, sliced, peeled and cored Fuji apples for unsuspecting revelers.

Even the Johnny–On–The–Spot guys who clean out RV toilet tanks and refill depleted water tanks – at $100 a pop -- dine in style. They too spend a week or more in the desert, doing their dirty work during the day but dining on steak and lobster brought in each night from a restaurant in Reno.

“The sanitation business is very, very good,” said John Kilgariff. Meki Tate of New York spiced things up with soul food. She listed her daily lunch in the Who, What, Where? Guide handed to each burner at the gate, so she had a hungry crowd eager for fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

“I wanted to do this, because, let’s face it, there’s not much soul food at Burning Man,” she said, referring to the predominantly white crowd the festival attracts.

“Plus, it tastes good,” she said, adding her secret ingredient to the macaroni and cheese roux: Tony Chachere’s Original Creole seasoning.

Burning Man has a soup kitchen, where anyone can come at sunset for a bowl of whatever’s in the pot. Tuesday was roasted red pepper soup. Friday was tortilla soup.

In the morning, there are espresso bars, the Pancake Playhouse, or for the really adventurous, the 4 a.m. breakfast at Porn ‘n Eggs camp, which offers just what its name implies.

As in any city, there are also underground restaurants at Burning Man, little hideaways purposely left off the map and found only with the help of an insider.

Such is the case with the “Tuna Guys,” who brought 500 pounds of fish they’d caught themselves off the Oregon coast, packed into a moving van full of ice and rushed to the playa. Friday night’s menu also included wild elk stew.

All meals are free in Black Rock City, where money is taboo. Burning Man exists on a gift economy, and so sometimes burners may be required to dance for their dinner. Or, in the case of visitors to the Freaky Tiki, a motorized Tiki bar, beat the driver at blackjack.

Zachary England of Sacramento steered the Freaky Tiki with one hand while mixing a blender of Zombie drinks with the other. He parked, passed out the cards to players and shouted, “I’m gonna bet your ass against my liquor!”

Winners got a frozen libation. Losers had to put their hands on the tiki bar, bend over and wait for a nurse to spank them. She whacked them so hard that the word “naughty,” in raised letters on the paddle, appeared on one loser’s hiney.

Black Rock City Pizza delivery invites anyone to assemble their own pie and bake it on their barbeque. Pizza workers also make surprise deliveries to theme camps.

Falon Stoval of North Carolina made a personal pizza, put it in a box, and stood on Burning Man’s main street until someone stopped to take it. The pie was still steaming, decorated with pepperoni, bell peppers, sun dried tomatoes, rosemary and mushrooms.

“Hey, those are magic mushrooms,” Stoval said. The customer thanked him for the warning, smiled, and put the slice back. The food is fantastic at Burning Man. Sometimes a little too fantastic.

E-mail Meredith May at


©2005 San Francisco Chronicle


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