At Zak Pelaccio's second Play with Fire event, chefs cooked over open flames with the help of massive metal cauldrons, tridents and pyramids designed by artist Kris Perry.

By Alison Spiegel
Updated August 15, 2018
Play with Fire grilling sculptures
Credit: Evan Sung

At an all-day, outdoor cooking extravaganza set in the middle of a farm, rain might not sound like a welcome component, but even a torrential downpour couldn't dampen the spirits, or the flames, at the second installment of Zak Pelaccio's Play with Fire in the Hudson Valley this past weekend. No, it only added to the experience.

Pelaccio, of Hudon's Fish & Game and BackBar, hosted the event on the 170-acre Fish & Game Farm with his partners, Patrick Milling Smith and Kevin Pomplun, and Resy. Chefs cooked under tents, between which guests traveled quickly, staying longer under cover than they might have in clear weather—eating more, drinking more and talking more. And everyone who showed up really wanted to be there.

Play with Fire
Credit: Evan Sung

From afternoon until after dark, chefs the likes of Victoria Blamey of Chumley's; Seamus Mullen of whirlybird + greens; and Negro Piattoni of Mettā cooked over fires, each at their own station under a tarp. There was ice cream from Sam Mason of Oddfellows, drinks from Elad Zvi and his team from Broken Shaker, as well as from Yana Volfson of Cosme and Atla. Jori Jayne Emde, of Lady Jayne's Alchemy, did demonstrations, and Club d’Elf played trance live music that matched the mood. Proceeds from the event are going to The Heirloom Foundation, which aims to help improve quality of life for hospitality industry employees. If it all sounds a little Woodstock, the rain only helped.

Pelaccio was out at 6:00 a.m setting up fires that would hold under the weather. But neither the individual fires nor the massive bonfire that was lit at the end of the night proved to be the biggest spectacle of the event. That was reserved for Hudson-based artist Kris Perry's massive sculptures, which he built for the chefs to cook with over the flames.

Play with Fire chefs cooking
Credit: Evan Sung

Perry is interested in people experiencing art outside of galleries. "There's not a line they can't cross," he says about his artwork. The artist goes way back with Pelaccio, having designed the oven door for Fish & Game, among other contraptions for the chef. When Pelaccio said he wanted to bring Play with Fire back this year after its first run in 2014, he suggested that another cooking apparatus from Perry "would be dope." Perry's response was, "Why don't I just do all of them?"

And so he did.

Play with Fire Grilling Sculptures
Credit: Evan Sung

In addition to an asado grill that arrived on the day of the event just as the lamb meant for it showed up—lamb to be cooked by The Four Horsemen's Nick Curtola—Perry built a piece he calls The Chandelier, on which Piattoni hung whole chickens to cook with the help of Joel Viehland of Swyft in Kent CT. Another piece held a large cauldron in which Blamey simmered a spicy broth that evolved throughout the day. "She was making a perfect brew that she used to warm and serve and lightly cook a fish wrapped in a corn husk," Pelaccio says.

And there was plenty to go around. The cauldron was so big that they need a cherry picker to install it.

Kris Perry's sculptures at Play with Fire
Credit: Evan Sung
Victoria Blamey at Play with Fire
Credit: Evan Sung

Jess Shadbolt and Clare de Boer, the chefs at NYC's King and Food & Wine Best New Chefs this year, cooked over an abstract pyramid-looking piece with a grill that swung off of it, while Elise Kornack and Cortney Burns of Berkshire hotel Tourists grilled whole cauliflower on a trident that clamps down on the grill. Pelaccio once used the same trident for cooking rabbit at Fish & Game.

Mullen, meanwhile cooked a massive paella.

Elise Kornack at Play with Fire
Credit: Evan Sung
Seamus Mullen's Paella at Play with Fire
Credit: Evan Sung

Local chefs teamed up with visiting chefs, learning from one another as the fires burned. And that collaboration was an important part of the event for both Pelacchio and Perry.

A California native, Perry has chosen to make the Hudson Valley his home in no small part because of the people he's found there.

“So many people have migrated to the Hudson Valley because they have an idea that they really believe in and they want to make it happen, and this is a place where they can focus on this thing. People have extreme respect for the product here," he says.

Play with Fire was also an opportunity to engage with the idea of connection, which inspires his work. Having created sculptures for musicians before, this isn't the first time Perry has collaborated on large-scale installations like this, and the decision to contribute to Play with Fire was similarly driven by his interest in what it means for people to convene and come together.

Kris Perry's sculptures at Play with Fire
Credit: Evan Sung

"I’m really interested in ritual and people connecting, and sharing a meal together is a great way to connect," he says. He was also in it for the fun.

"We're kindred spirits in this way," Pelaccio says. "I'm just happy that people had fun." And there's no doubt they did. At the end of the night, "the rain let up and we were able to light up the bonfire." It was a fitting end to the day.

Credit: Evan Sung

As for the sculptures? "Some are still sitting in the field. Some are back to the studio, and some are for sale," Pelaccio says. If you're lucky, you might see them at the next iteration of Play with Fire, because when asked if he'd do it again, Pelaccio said without skipping a beat, "We're going to do it next year. There's no doubt in my mind."