Butchering a buffalo is bloody, smelly work. It takes strength, it takes time, and it draws flies by the hundreds.
The Plains Indians did it as often as they could, following the herds, hunting them, breaking down the animals they killed and taking away the meat, the skin, the bones, the horns, even the stomach, which they used to make water jugs. White buffalo hunters who came later, men like Buffalo Bill Cody, also pursued the herds, nearly to extinction, slaughtering, skinning and dressing the animals on the spot. But they'd leave behind most of the animal, taking only the choice cuts if they took anything at all.
While both scenarios would have been fascinating to watch, it's hard to imagine that the men who butchered these bison saw themselves as performance artists. And none of them were serenaded by vegetarian guitarists as a commentary on food and nutrition.
On November 10, Jimmy "the Butcher" Cross of Marczyk Fine Foods will perform in the round in the garage of MCA Denver, an appropriately postmodern venue, breaking down an entire buffalo (although it will arrive skinned and halved) for a paying audience. It will be bloody. It will be smelly. And it's intended to remind people that food doesn't come pre-packaged and ready for the grill. Luckily, drinks will be served.
"The butcher usually works overnight. He usually practices his art when no one is looking," says MCA Denver programming director Sarah Baie. "So this is a way of demystifying food. It's part of a larger movement right now."
When the carving is finished, hunks of meat will be doled out to some of the city's most well-known chefs, the ones involved with 50top, an underground supper club created by Lola chef Jamey Fader and his merry band. The chefs have 24 hours to turn whatever parts they end up with into a meal that could serve up to 500 people the next evening.
The show is part of a three-day extravaganza at MCA Denver titled "Art Meets Beast" that explores food, art and the cultural history of the bison.
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On the first day, MCA will host "Cave Paintings and Buffalo Bill," one of its creative Mixed Taste events that combine two seemingly unrelated ideas to see where they come together. Day two will feature the bison-butchering workshop (accompanied not only by vegetarian guitarist Roger Green, but also by flugelhorns playing Buffalo Springfield).
Day three will include lectures and conversations about Denver's history and relationship with meat. That will be followed by Beast Roast 500, a feast prepared by local celebrity chefs, including Fader, Joe Beggs of Three Tomatoes Catering, Troy Guard of TAG, Goose Sorensen of Solera, Tyler Wiard of Elway's Cherry Creek and Sean Yontz of El Diablo.
The dinner will be accompanied by performances by Machine Project, L.A., "an artists' collective that does crazy stuff," Baie says. "There will be bison horns, we will make bison masks, and there will be the sounds of a bison stampede rumbling through the dinner."
For times, ticket prices and more info, go to MCA Denver's website.