The 100-Course Meal at the West Bank Social Center

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“It was one of those five second ideas — it just clicked into my mind,” said artist Mitchell Dose, speaking about the genesis of the last night’s 100-course meal. Dose conceived of the dinner and pitched it to the newly opened West Bank Social Center, which eagerly embraced it. The event stretched from 7:30pm until 11:30, and when all was said and done, 101 dishes made it out to 60+ attendees. (Possibly 102; it depends on whether you count the foie gras and tarragon butters, which were passed together, as two different courses.)

A donation of $5 to $20 was all that was required to attend; the event sold out.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Chef Chris Olson (left, who cooks at Corner Table and co-created Paired) worked with Dose (right) to realize the idea. Using three crock pots, two electric skillets, and a hot plate in the WBSC’s makeshift kitchen, Olson, Dose, and a team of volunteers turned out food ranging from individual drops of brown rice vinegar dispensed by eyedropper to more elaborate creations such as polenta cakes with tomato and basil.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Custom-made pottery dishes and cups, created in the week before the event by artist Tony Angelino, acted as receiving stations for the onslaught of liquids and solids. Pacing varied — the first eight or nine courses took an hour to arrive, but the action heated up considerably as servers fell into a groove.

Sitting through 101 courses, however small, has a curious effect on the diner. Each individual component — even if it’s as ordinary as a dollop of yogurt or a piece of spinach — is tasted on its own merits, discussed, evaluated, considered. The 101-Course Meal was, as the organizers explained, really a deconstruction of a 7-course meal; assemble the various components, and you might see something resembling a traditional (if lavish) dinner.

Considering the complexity of the task, the crew tasked with tackling it performed admirably; dishes arrived in a steady stream, and only a couple of planned courses (including a tapioca pearl course that seemed intriguing) were derailed due to technical snafus. At 7:10pm, right before the event, Chef Chris could be heard asking — without any particular tension in his voice — “Hey, where’s your breaker box?”

Within moments, power was restored, and the courses began rolling out. What follows is a collection of photos — more suggestive than strictly documentary of which course came out when — and a compilation of hastily scribbled notes, ratings, and reflections for everything served.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

1. Radish — wicked hot Rating: ★★½☆
2. Pickle — intensely and classically seasoned Rating: ★★★½

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3. Mustard green leaf — lingering mustard burn Rating: ★★★☆
4. Dried apricot — austere Rating: ★½☆☆
5. Pepita (squash or pumpkin seed) — forgettable Rating: ★☆☆☆
6. Peapod — fresh and sweet Rating: ★★½☆
7. Red Russian Kale — iron-y and richly “green” Rating: ★★½☆
8. Galia Melon — buttery and mild Rating: ★★☆☆
9. Guava Juice — Sweet and thick as whole milk Rating: ★½☆☆
10. Arugula — a bit bitter and challenging Rating: ½☆☆☆
11. 30-Year-Old Balsamic Vinegar — much like fancy-pants hoisin sauce, sweet and quite thick Rating: ★★★½
12. Date — chewy, surprisingly good with salt Rating: ★★★☆
13. Sunflower seed — kind of a blank, honestly Rating: ★☆☆☆
14. Spinach — fresh and cooling Rating: ★★★☆
15. Olive — moist, flavorful Rating: ★★★☆
16. Popcorn — underpopped Rating: ★☆☆☆
17. Dill — tastes like dill Rating: ★½☆☆
18. Papaya Juice — refreshing and sweet Rating: ★★★½
19. Carrot — sweeter than expected, mellow Rating: ★★★½
20. Brazil Nut — solid Rating: ★★½☆

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

21. Smoked marbled egg — bit of red peppercorn tingle, tasty Rating: ★★★½

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

22. Sunflower sprout — tasteless, inoffensive Rating: ★☆☆☆
23. Edamame — frickin’ tiny (my piece only) Rating: ★½☆☆
24. Tomato — rich and juicy Rating: ★★★★
25. Onion — a bit intense, really Rating: ★★☆☆
26. Wasabi pea — mild, but nuttily pleasant Rating: ★★★☆
27. Broccoli — meh Rating: ★☆☆☆
28. Jicama — mild and cool Rating: ★★½☆
29. Olive oil — underpowered and retiring Rating: ★½☆☆
30. Spring roll — fresh and well-spiced and balanced Rating: ★★★★
31. Raisin — very natural and sweet Rating: ★★★½
32. Red pepper — eh Rating: ★☆☆☆
33. Mung bean — aggressively bland Rating: ½☆☆☆
34. Tomato preserve — really pleasant, sweet, clever Rating: ★★★★
35. Pancake and mini pancake — that’s what I’m talking about Rating: ★★★½
36. Maple syrup — solid Rating: ★★★☆
37. Kombucha — vinegary, yeasty, shocking, entertaining Rating: ★★★☆
38. Sweet brown rice — a bit al dente Rating: ★☆☆☆
39. Kimchi — stellar, soulful Rating: ★★★★
40. Yogurt — sour rather than tangy, still quite nice Rating: ★★½☆
41. Tofu maki sushi — earthy and low-key Rating: ★★☆☆

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

42. Vegetarian chili — mild, pleasant tomato flavor Rating: ★★★☆
43. Rice cracker — crispy, seaweed inflected Rating: ★★★☆

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

44. Sweet potato — instantly forgettable Rating: ★☆☆☆
45. Champagne grape — really sweet and pleasant Rating: ★★★½
46. Yellow pepper — phoned in Rating: ½☆☆☆
47. Baby squash — fresh yet tasteless Rating: ★½☆☆
48. Molasses — smokey Rating: ★★½☆
49. Arnold Palmer — a bit weak Rating: ★★☆☆
50. Kohl Rabi — palate cleansing Rating: ★★½☆
51. Tempeh — woof Rating: ☆☆☆☆
52. Potato — creamy and pleasant Rating: ★★★☆
53. Beet — dag, not ideal Rating: ½☆☆☆
54. Cracker + Cream cheese + Cranberry salsa — Aces, great combination Rating: ★★★★
55. Camel — like camel-flavored chewing gum Rating: ½☆☆☆
56. Honey — well… sweet Rating: ★★★☆
57. Filbert — sour on its own, nice with honey Rating: ★½☆☆
58. Salmon — mild and pleasant Rating: ★★★½
59. Polenta rounds with basil and tomato — tasty Rating: ★★★☆
60. Navy bean — forgotten immediately Rating: ★☆☆☆

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

61. Pork hock — pork chewing gum, decent flavor Rating: ★½☆☆

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

62. Lemon — well… it’s lemon Rating: ★★☆☆
63. Green bean — fresh and snappy Rating: ★★★½
64. Bison sausage — salty, lacks depth of flavor Rating: ★½☆☆
65. Grapefruit — pleasantly mild Rating: ★★★☆
66. Wild rice — could’ve been more cooked Rating: ★½☆☆
67. Soy sauce — balanced and mild Rating: ★★★☆
68. Lamb liver — chalky Rating: ★☆☆☆
69. Spiced pineapple — looked spicy, tasted very sweet and mild Rating: ★★★☆
70. Adzuki bean — sandy Rating: ★½☆☆
71. Cucumber — yep, that’s a cucumber Rating: ★★☆☆
72. Feta — mild and agreeable Rating: ★★½☆
73. Sourdough cracker — neutral and pleasant Rating: ★★½☆
74. Cantaloupe — sweet and ripe Rating: ★★★½
75. Tarragon butter / Foie gras butter — rich, restrained, delicious Rating: ★★★★
76. Plum — vivid Rating: ★★★½
77. Baguette — nice bold crumb to it, good crust Rating: ★★★½
78. Spanish Mahon Cheese — creamy, salty Rating: ★★★☆
79. Brown smoothie — spinach works in fruit smoothie, neat Rating: ★★★☆
80. Cherry — ripe and perfect Rating: ★★★★
81. Zucchini bread — soulful and homey Rating: ★★★☆
82. Blueberry — as you’d expect Rating: ★★☆☆

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

83. Jalapeno — medium hot Rating: ★★½☆

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

84. Red Currant — woo that is kind of tart Rating: ★☆☆☆
85. Morbier Cheese — decadent Rating: ★★★☆
86. Watermelon — very sweet and summery Rating: ★★★½
87. Brown Rice Vinegar — vividly sharp and funky Rating: ★★★☆
88. Peach — classically tasty Rating: ★★★☆
89. Kiwi — perfectly ripe Rating: ★★★★
90. Oatmeal Mint Cookies — beautifully crisped and caramelized Rating: ★★★★
91. Apple — apple…y? apple-ish? Rating: ★★½☆
92. Gelee — very mild and minty Rating: ★★★☆
93. Nectarine — underpowered Rating: ★½☆☆
94. Wheat-free Brownies — kinda burned-tasting, need more wheat Rating: ★☆☆☆
95. Orange — nutty tasting? I dunno, a bit off Rating: ★½☆☆
96. Mango — tasty, kind of a pineapple note to it Rating: ★★★☆
97. Chocolate truffles — the brandy in these things make them soar, fantastic Rating: ★★★★
98. Thistle flower coffee — neat concept, not really getting much of a curveball on the flavor, though Rating: ★★☆☆
99. Blackberry (black raspberry?) — decent Rating: ★★½☆
100. Strawberries — sweet and classic Rating: ★★★☆
101. Fennel Seed — would’ve preferred a wafer-thin mint at this point [link: horrifically funny vintage Monty Python] Rating: ★★☆☆

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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8 Comments

  1. The meticulous cataloging and photographing of the meal for this post impresses me more than the meal itself. Nicely done.

    In the end, did those 101 little morsels constituting a whole meal?

  2. Author

    At the end, people seemed to range from “satisfyingly full” to “overstuffed.” The courses eventually added up. That said, the first hour or so, when it was mostly slowly-produced greenery, was worrisome from a blood sugar level perspective.

  3. I would like to host a Georgian Feast sometime… lost of music (singing) and toasting….. it would be a great fall harvest thing….. let me know if this is something the WBSC would be interesed in??

  4. this reminds me of a book I read called ‘Instinctive Nutrition’- an approach to a healing diet where you kind of decide on what foods you will eat the way a wild animal would- by sniffing and tasting individual items and seeing if they taste good. This system does require everything to be raw, as in the natural world. And they have found that your tastebuds actually go through a change when you have had enough- the taste of the food changes, and it is no longer appealing. People have healed from some major illnesses using this approach and there is a clinic in France where you can go to be supervised in the therapy.

  5. Thanks for this! I was wondering how they were going to pull this off!

  6. I love the hastily scribbled notes! Super funny and very interesting project! Looks like The vegetarians in the crowd were well fed – I approve!

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  1. […] James Norton eats and writes about every course of the West Bank Social Center’s 100-Course Meal (while Becca Dilley provides heroic photography), before heading out to Black River Falls and […]

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