The air at Evolve Chocolate + Café is full of excited whispers, the smell of roasted tomatoes, and the sound of clinking glasses. One would be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled upon a Parisian salon of the Jazz Age. However, on this beautiful summer evening, I find myself not in France but on the third floor of Fairhaven’s Village Books. I’m attending one of Evolve’s monthly book club events, Life Between the Pages.
Life Between the Pages is intellectual imbibing at its best; on the fourth Thursday of each month, Chef Christy Fox prepares a five-course feast and a guest mixologist creates five cocktails to pair with an emotion, action, or character from the book.
Tonight’s mixologist is Sara Galactica, a scholar, author, cocktail magician, and tarot reader. She’s prepared cocktails (with mocktail options) that will take guests on a journey through Everything is Illuminated, her selection for August’s book club. Written by Jonathan Safran Foer, the story tells of a young man who travels to Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Nazi occupation. What follows is a tale of love, family, and discovery.
Galactica’s cocktails and Fox’s cuisine take us on a similar voyage of discovery. The first course is designed to evoke the emotion of hope, and the drink, a saffron-honey cordial, is said to have elements of petrichor. “What’s petrichor?” asks a curious guest. “The smell of earth after the first rain in a long time,” Galactica replies.
For the next course, Chef Fox has prepared a tea-poached potato in garlic cream, and Galactica serves a berry and herb syrup with vodka using blackberries and sage from her garden. This is Eastern Europe we’re talking about, after all.
Galactica tells us that Ukranian tradition dictates at least 12 toasts per meal. The first is “to the meeting,” which seems appropriate, as this gathering has brought together people from all walks of life who share in their love of good books, good food, and good company. We forge on in the meal, as Galactica pours a ruby-red concoction that turns out to be a salt-roasted beet cordial with reduced orange, lime juice, and rosewater. The toast this time? “To love!”
That love is apparent in Chef Fox’s homemade cheese infused with a hint of lime, scooped up with a rose cracker and corn confit. The theme of this course is ‘where love meets sadness,’ and Village Books moderators guide the conversation gracefully to include thoughts about love, the difficulty of expressing it among men, and choosing your own family.
It wouldn’t be a Pacific Northwest feast if it didn’t feature fish, and Chef Fox delivers in a big way, presenting cured salmon alongside her fresh-baked bread. The server tells us that the salmon is so fresh that it’s carried through the bookstore by the fisherman himself, causing quite a stir among customers. The theme of this dish is belonging, and Galactica first perfumes the air by burning sweetgrass: an invitation, via sensation, into a time and place where we can feel at home.
The final course brings together the evening with its theme of resolve. Galactica has made a honey and red pepper vodka, and Chef Fox serves up a spiced honey baked apple wrapped in pastry and topped with a torched meringue. Their collaboration has taken us on a journey not dissimilar from the one Safran Foer so beautifully created in his novel.
Galactica describes the partnership as “organic and easy. Focusing on emotion and story allows unexpected magic to come through food and drink, and it was fun to see how that process looks when what’s developed separately comes together as a pairing. Art begets art, and I think that is the most joyful part of an experience like this. The more art is shared, the more we are inspired to create. Distilling story through food or drink is an artistic and spiritual journey as much as a culinary one.”
That’s what makes Evolve so special. The food and drink clearly has love, intention, and story interwoven in every aspect of its creation, from sourcing to cooking to eating and enjoying. Every dish on the menu, whether it’s on book club night or otherwise, could be paired with a work of literary art.
Take the House Chai, for example, a homemade blend of Assam tea, fresh spices, and steamed milk. Why not enjoy a cup (in a locally made mug, of course) and immerse yourself in the thrilling, provocative Delhi of Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness? Or if you’re in the mood for fresh fare, perhaps you’ll turn to the chopped salad, a showcase for the vibrance of Pacific Northwest produce with mixed greens, avocado, cacao nibs, Whatcom blue cheese, a salt-cured egg, roasted veggies, and a citrus vinaigrette. Best paired with Furious Lullaby, a book of poetry by Western Washington University professor Oscar de la Paz.
So bring your favorite book and get creative with one of Evolve’s offerings. If you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting next to the window and the curtains will part to let in the sunset over Bellingham Bay. And, for one perfect moment, everything will be illuminated.