I have been cooking up this project over the last few months, inspired by a conversation over breakfast with members of the PDXsoupNIGHT crew, and an awesome talk I saw on Molecular Gastronomy / Food Hacking by Gweeds at the Hackers on Planet Earth conference last summer. (here is an .mp3) I wanted to put a draft of the project here, before it launches in earnest in August. Any feedback on the rules / categories / etc. would be greatly appreciated.


Vegan Ortolan is a migratory festival of open-source cooking competitions. Think Pecha-Kucha, with food. They can be hosted by interested parties in homes, restaurants, street corners or rock clubs. The recipes are shared online and will be compiled into a cookbook at the end of 2010.


At each VEGAN ORTOLAN event, 1-5 chefs prepare an amuse-bouche and serve them to audience members who eat them while wearing a large white napkin on their head.

The recipes take inspiration from the French dish: Ortolan.

Ortolan is a dish that consists of one small baked bird. During the migration of the Ortolan Bunting from North Africa to Europe the birds are caught with large nets. Then they are placed in dark boxes (or blinded) so that they think it is night time, and gorge themselves. After they have doubled in size the birds are drowned in Armagnac, and cooked for 8-10 minutes. Diners eat the hot bird whole, taking up to 20 minutes to chew through the feathers, meat and bones. Some Ortolan aficionados claim you can taste flavors from each of the lands that the birds have grazed in.

The Ortolan is illegal to sell in the EU, although it can still be caught and prepared by individuals legally.

Traditionally one eats the meal with a white sheet over the head. This ritual is thought to either hide one’s shame from God or keep all the smells and juices from the 15+ minute eating process close to one’s face.


There are three styles of preparation that chefs can follow and be judged on: SIMULATION, DECADENCE, LOCALITY

In the SIMULATION category the chef attempts to create a dish that simulates the experience of eating a whole live bird using only vegetarian or vegan ingredients. Ortolan’s are eaten whole (sometimes the head is included, sometimes it is cut off before it is inserted into the mouth). Feathers, bones and organs are eaten. SIMULATION chef’s might attempt to simulate the various body parts, or perhaps try to capture the range and variety of textures present in the ORTOLAN.

In the DECADENCE category the chef uses ingredients, flavors or preparation methods that are far outside the normal patterns of culinary culture. One might use expensive ingredients, utilize labor intensive preparation methods, or create flavors that most eaters have never experienced.

In the LOCALITY category chefs attempt to create a flavor geography with their dish. It has been said by some Ortolan aficionados that one can taste the flavors from each of the lands where the bird migrates. Chefs competing in this category might attempt to make the dish restricting themselves to food grown only within a 10 mile radius, or to serve the dish with a map showing the location of the ingredients and encouraging tasters to savor each landscape as they eat the dish.

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