Food Arts: A Glimpse inside the Watermill Center’s Dining Rituals

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We first toured the Watermill Center last winter and were immediately struck by the kitchen. Austere and meticulously provisioned for large-group communal cooking and eating. We learned that, in summer, millenia-old bowls from Indonesia are filled to overflowing with local tomatoes, peaches, cucumbers, garlic and other seasonal veggies. And that the resident artists eat breakfast, lunch and diner together al fresco on long tables and benches made from massive chunks of wood that are at once ancient and industrial–like so much at the center.

We had to know more. And so it was that last week we found ourselves on a wondrous tour of the center with its founder Robert Wilson–a director, playwright and tireless collaborator with all arms of the arts–who has birthed such avant-garde creations as the opera “Einstein on the Beach” and “Deafman Glance.” Wilson led us past the simple plywood beds of the dormitory, the flawless rows of glasses on the shelves in the kitchen, and his own collection of Indonesian art, early American furniture, and mementos from storied friends and collaborators.

With the planting of a spacious rooftop garden, on top of this former Western Union telecom laboratory overlooking potato barns, the Center is now growing some of its own food. And, according to dancer, Center manager and garden manager Nixon Beltran, the planting, weeding and harvesting offers residents yet another platform for creative cross-pollination. (“There is no difference between living and making art,” Wilson has said.) Last weekend, mint garnished local granola and honey from beekeeper Mary Woltz who spoke on the state of the bees to a crowd of visitors. During our visit, Wilson, who grew up in Waco, Texas, where his family kept a Victory garden, plucked peas and handed one to each of us–an offering to chew in a moment of quiet reflection–as he spoke fondly of Gordon Matta Clark, whose SoHo restaurant-cum-art installation FOOD was a neighbor to Wilson’s SoHo loft, joked that “I’d rather garden than learn Hamlet,” and invited Edible East End to return this summer to sample the fare of this season’s resident chef from Indonesia. Our mouth’s already watering.

If you don’t catch tomorrow’s tour, plan on a visit in the fall. And stay tuned for our story later this year.