Master Chef: Burning Man

The Huffington Post has published a story from Saveur about The Epic Food Scene at Burning Man:

photo from Saveur

photo from Saveur

…food was at the heart of this French Quarter: The Santopalato Supper Club featured a different chef’s cooking each night. I traveled there, and everywhere, from my tent using the festival’s preferred mode of transportation: a bicycle. It’s amazing what you can discover peddling through the dust, like the Pacificana pop-up at Santopalato. Marketing consultant Victoria Davies grilled ginger flank steak and chile-laced sweet-potato cakes over an open fire. Down the street, Darias Jonker and other volunteers at Black Rock Bakery turned out crusty breads from an old airport Cinnabon oven. The efforts of these temporary restaurateurs are astonishing. Yehonatan Koenig, an Israeli-born ad agency director from California, started planning six months out for his special boil dinner, for which he flew in 100 pounds of live crawfish, cooking everything in two 80-quart pots…

…To find the popular Dust City Diner — a ’50s-era greasy spoon run by California artists Michael Brown and David Cole — I biked into the central open sand, searching for its LED sign. At a Formica counter jerry-rigged in a flatbed truck, servers in blond beehive wigs sporting names like Dixie dished out coffee and pancakes on classic blue china. At other eateries, some of my favorite things are the sweets. When you’re tussling with sandstorms, you just kind of want a treat — something like Davies’ yogurt cake with passion fruit sauce — to keep your spirits lifted and primed for yet another crazy experience on, say, a 30-foot pendulum swing or an animal-shaped art car

The underlying premise to this post is an interesting one: taking. Is Burning Man like a shopping mall, where you just pick where you want to go and what you want to do; then when you show up, you’re entitled to get that for free? Or is it more like Christmas? A world of one wonderful surprise after another. You never know what you’re going to get next…and whether you like it or not, you have to say thankyou because it’s a gift.

BM2010-VegCamp-Sign-and-crowdI have enjoyed free food gifted to me by others at BM before. I’ve even gone to seek out specific camps because I was hungry and thought they might have food. But I have never thought to take a connoisseur’s approach – planning my meals around all the epic cuisine available, so that I may sample and compare. Seems like there could be a lot of queuing up involved, not to mention navigational challenges. Soon we will need TripAdvisor and OpenTable at Burning Man…

money burningAs the party grows beyond the limits, it seems that these are the type of things that will come under the most pressure. The pile of money floating to the promoters gets bigger and bigger, while at the same time the money required from camps to Gift something to an ever-expanding population increases. Our expenses go up as their revenues go up. The logistics of arranging food for 50,000 people were significant; the logistics of arranging food for 70,.000 people are at least 40% more expensive, and probably more complicated. Every year, the lines get longer.

burning-man-xanadu-kitchenThe party is only going one way: bigger. Ticket prices have only ever been going one way: up. Food, energy, labor, and other logistics costs are all increasing due to inflation. These have to be borne by the camps, while Burning Man relies 99% on volunteer labor- even those few who do get paid, choose “labor of love” wages over the lucrative, stock option-laden employment packages that are floating around this scene in San Francisco. This year BMOrg’s costs to put on the party went up to a whopping $11,232,928. Revenues also went up, to $30 million. BMOrg increases its prices much more than inflation, from $35 in 1996 to $200 in 2000 to $448 in 2014. Ticket prices feed back into the production costs, camps have to bring more people out to cater for a larger event, and there are many “hidden” costs like driver access for re-supply. Ticket prices also feed directly into BMOrg’s tax-free treasure chest, since most of their fixed costs are actually for their year-round staff, not the week-long annual event. Even the party-related expenses include $2.5 million in royalty payments to the owners.

Is there a limit to growth in this model? Or has The Burning Man Project truly mastered the sharing economy, and is offering us a revolutionary new business model? Maybe Burner benefactors just shrug their shoulders and say “last year, we made grilled cheese sandwiches for 50,000 people. They were all gone by the second day. So, this year we are going to bring triple the amount of sandwiches and kitchen staff”. Even if they do, is that infinitely scaleable? Is it replicable in places like Israel and Africa and Australia? If so, thirty years of social engineering experiments in conjunction with Stanford and other colleges have truly resulted in a disruptive breakthrough for capitalism. A corporate structure where:

  • 99% of the workers are free
  • the workers  are responsible for all their time and expenses
  • workers have to get their own insurance, in case the work they did was sub-standard
  • the workers bear all the cost increases
  • more, better work = more customers and higher prices = more costs for the workers, more revenues for the owners
  • the owners can increase revenues and customer numbers (workload) without reference to the workers needs or capabilities
  • a middle management layer is not required, the workers self-manage
  • there is no transparency, oversight, or accountability on the owners
  • the whole thing is tax-free

Forget the Maker movement or the Nobel prize winning idea of micro-finance! This magical organization model could be the economic miracle that fuels the New American Century.


Airlifting Out The Pizza recently announced Prime Air: they are going to deliver packages via drone. San Francisco innovators Skycatch announced TacoCopter, drone-based taco deliveries. They just raised $13.2 million.

Francesco’s Pizzeria in Mumbai, India – a city of 12 million people on the Ancient Silk Route – has upped the stakes in the global robot fast food market, using a drone to deliver a pizza a mile away from their store. They see the $2000 drones as a way to beat Exodus Mumbai’s notorious traffic.

From Upriser:

22pizza-drone3Inspired by Amazon’s plans to deliver goods by unmanned drones, a pizzeria in Mumbai, India shows this video that their flying pizza delivery drone delivers
They’ve always come topped with pepperoni, chicken tikka or vegetarian; but the flying variety is new.
drone-pizza-deliveryStaff at Francesco’s Pizzeria in south Mumbai were inspired by the news that online retail giant Amazon was planning to use unmanned drones to deliver goods, and decided to try one out as a means to beat the city’s notorious traffic.
“We successfully carried out a test delivery by sending a pizza to a customer located 1.5 kilometre away from our outlet on May 11,” Francesco’s Pizzeria chief executive Mikhel Rajani told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
“What we have done now will be common place in the next four to five years,” he said, adding that the customized four-rotor drones each cost around $2,000.
Perhaps it’s called “chicken tikka” after the noise the rotors make.
The pizza company got questioned by the local authorities about the flight. It seems they hadn’t figured out all the palms they need to grease. If you’ve read Shantaram you have an idea of how Mumbai works.
From NDTV:
The usage of unmanned drone for the first time in India by a city-based pizza shop for delivery here has come under scanner of Mumbai police, which will seek an explanation from the outlet as to why it did not inform them before carrying out the experiment.

Police will also ask Air Traffic Controller whether Francesco’s Pizzeria outlet had a correspondence with them.

When contacted, an ATC official said he did not know whether the outlet had sought permission from them.

The official, however, categorically stated, “As per norms, permission must be taken for flying any such object.” 

DCP Madhukar Pandey“We are very sensitive towards anything that flies in the sky with the help of remote control. We will certainly ask the outlet’s administration as to why it did not inform us before carrying out this experiment. We also seek full details pertaining to the drone test,” Madhukar Pandey, Additional Police Commissioner (Central Region) in whose jurisdiction the drone was flown, told PTI.

“We will also ask the ATC if it was consulted by the outlet. After studying all the aspects, we will decide the future course of action,” Pandey said.

According to sources, terror threat has been lingering over the city and inputs available with police suggest that terror organisations might strike using paragliding and unmanned drones.

Hungry Birds

One benefit of drone delivery? Like Über, you don’t need to tip.

These pizza guys should team up with Burning Man aerial catering specialist Steven Gluckstern.

Used to be, if you wanted food from the sky, you had to shoot a bird. Now there’s an app for that…maybe they should call it “Hungry Birds”
fbi drone



Airlifting in the Challah

Our compendium of Cargo Cult cyberspace coverage begins with this gem from Bloomberg – who seem to be having a bit of a love affair with Burning Man at the moment. Maybe last year’s Burn Wall Street really did help get Wall Street’s attention?

gluckstern300_0“We’re airlifting in the challah again,” said Steven Gluckstern, as he stood chatting recently with a few people. “Enough for 2,500 people,” he added casually, taking a sip of his cocktail.

A siege on the Upper West Side?

Burning Man, actually. It was to be the fifth year at the festival in the Nevada desert for Gluckstern, a venture capitalist and chairman of Mortgage Resolution Partners, and his wife, Judy. Every August, about 40,000 people pay $380 to attend the weeklong celebration of countercultural art, music, sexuality and lifestyles. The festival operates on a barter system, and each camp is expected to offer entertainment, food or some other service. The Glucksterns’ camp, now numbering a little more than 90 people, offers French toast. Hence the challah.

…Reached for further comment a few days later at his house in San Francisco, Gluckstern, 62, explains how he came to be an impassioned ringmaster for what the Burning Man crowd calls French Toast Thursdays. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the line to the Glucksterns’ tent is long enough that it can be seen from space. Last year, a satellite photograph of the festival showed a thousand people lined up for breakfast. 

Burning Man 2003 - 475 200308311223 FrenchToastBreakfast NoryWhen they say “seen from space”, I’m pretty sure they’re talking about high resolution satellite imagery, not an astronaut peering out the window of the Space Station…or my former guest Sir Richard Branson (White Kinght Too, Space Ship 2, Eve)’s or Burner Elon Musk (Grasshopper and Dragon) ‘s latest Spaceships . From space these days, they can probably see exactly what strain of weed that is you’re smoking while you wait in the massive line.

1000 people in line for French Toast? What is this, England? Mecca? Miami? In San Francisco, you can’t even get 1000 homeless to line up for the soup kitchen. At least in Vegas, you can comp your way past the line. I mean, I love French Toast, but I’m not standing in line behind 1000 people for anything at Burning Man. Well, except maybe the gate. This year Camp Hot Mayo threw an Irish Car Bomb party at 4:20 (location: 9:15 & Holy), it was well attended and had deep lines for the cocktails. Too much for me and my neighboring Fucken Prawn Distrikt 9 camp-mates, who preferred to help themselves to cold beers from the fridge and watch the line from air-conditioned comfort (Burner-than-thous, let the bashing commence!)
Anyway, we’re small time. Air conditioning and refrigerated beers, woo. We obviously can’t be Burners. But what about these guys?

The couple’s involvement began four and a half years ago, when they were invited by their daughter to take part in her honeymoon, which was held at Burning Man. “We rolled in that first year with a camp of about 20 people,” says Gluckstern. “We decided we would purchase a simple set of things to make a misting tent, which wasn’t very successful.”

OK, so, weddings at Burning Man, I kinda get it. Like, for Rockstar Librarian, that’s dope. If I were ever to get married, it’s about the only way I could think of where I could get most of my Burner friends in a single hyper-focused place at one time, and also most of my family and last remaining hold-out friends and Juno Reactor and Jamé Forbes and Subsqwad to be there at Burning Man at the same time.

But, isn’t a honeymoon supposed to be a romantic one on one with the newlyweds? Not, Orgy Camp and Comfort and Joy and Critical Tits? To each their own. For this particular VC, his daughter’s honeymoon, inspired him to take the SACRED PRINCIPLE OF GIFTING to another level. French Toast? How can that be Commodification? It’s just feeding the hipsters… (BTW, of all Larry’s 2004 “ten principles to rule them all”, Gifting has been the least popular in our Burner poll, neck and neck to be Biggest Loser with Civic Reponsibility…)

As he wandered the festival, Gluckstern noticed lots of camps serving pancakes. The old analytic skills kicked in. “That was too easy,” he recalls. “It’s a mix, and you add water.” Sensing an opportunity, Gluckstern decided to raise the stakes. “It would be much more of a challenge to do French toast,” he says. “You need fresh milk, fresh half and half, fresh eggs… “

french toastA challenge it was. “The first thing is you have to find 100 loaves of challah,” he says. “We have to commission to have them made from a place in Berkeley. One of our colleagues has his own small private plane, so we organized a challah airlift.”

Then, as they say, if you want to feed a hipster, you have to pre-break a few eggs. “Two thousand pieces of French toast is around 1,000 eggs,” Gluckstern says. “How are you going to bring in 1,000 eggs without breaking them?” He spoke to a friend in the catering business, who recommended that he buy the eggs pre-broken, and managed to find a dairy in Reno that would sell him 72 quarts of pre- broken eggs and 32 quarts of half and half.

“Then we also figured, ‘Well, hey. We’d better use real maple syrup, too,” says Gluckstern. “So we had our airlift pilot track down five-gallon buckets of grade A maple syrup.” Other ingredients, like cinnamon and butter, don’t need to be purchased on such a massive scale. 

toast girlUsing private planes to fly in maple syrup? Now that’s extravagant. Extravagant enough to get Bloomberg to cover your VC firm, using Burning Man as the hook to differentiate you from the thousands of other VC firms out there – some of whom also have representatives at Burning Man looking to cut deals (I know this for a fact including having watched a $15 million one go down right outside my RV a couple of years ago, as well as having met others of these Burner VCs).

The quality of these privately-airlifted French Toast ingredients is so amazing, that everyone will line up? Or maybe Burners are just hungry and can’t be fucked cooking.

Perhaps this is the reason for thousands of people to wait in line:

“The reason everyone says this is the best French toast they ever had is that for most of the people who’ve come in, they’ve generally eaten no dairy and no sugar by the end of the week. Their bodies just condition themselves to granola,” he says. “Then all of a sudden you’ve got a piece of French toast and it’s hot and it’s full of butter and eggs and your body releases endorphins. People literally become ecstatic.”

It seems that French toast is the new drug recycling. Expensive food logistics for them, greater bang for the buck for Burners.

Gluckerstern sounds interested in other French techniques beyond the toasting…

he likes the challenge, yes. And he likes the change of scene.

“We have five doctors in our camp, four of whom are ER doctors and the other’s a psychiatrist,” Gluckstern says. “As a coincidence, they all happen to be extremely handsome young gay men. Hanging out with these people is not what a 60-year-old businessman gets to do every day.”

“Now we’re making a separate foray into the world of ice cream. We’re building a vehicle … one of my responsibilities is the electrical system on it,” Gluckstern says, with the relish one might take in plotting a bond trade. “Last year we went out into the desert with ice cream sandwiches. They were incredibly successful but they ran out quickly. What we needed to do was have a much larger system, so we essentially built a covered wagon with freezers built in.”

So, who is this guy, winning over the hearts and minds of Burners with exotic breakfast foods, desserts, and handsome gay doctors?

sbeeOh, no-one special, just another Burner: albeit one accused of having a bad reputation, who likes to hang out with young San Francisco hipsters in the Mission, and is using the controversial “Eminent Domain” laws to underwrite struggling cities to seize peoples’ homes for real estate developers.

“The broad category of property that we are taking about here is intangible property, and there has never been any question that intangible property can be taken,” Hockett explains. He cites examples of eminent domain being used to seize railroad stock and municipal revenue bonds. Of course, cities must demonstrate that taking private property accomplishes a public good, and the benefits of seizing underwater mortgages are somewhat speculative. But so was the public benefit of seizing homes in New London, Connecticut, to make way for a Pfizer research facility—a use of eminent domain that the Supreme Court approved in its controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London ruling.

save richmond

According to the Chronicle, these people are protesting in support of Gluckstern’s plan  (photo: SF Chronicle)

Gluckstern wants to win so much, to him it’s war. Just like beating pancakes with French Toast.

We are not going to stop fighting. In a real war you get killed, but in this war, my partners and I believe this is the right thing for people and we will fight to the finish, whatever that means.”

His war sees him taking on the Rockefellers, the Mellons, and PIMCO, the world’s largest bond fund:

Trustees Pacific Investment Management, known as Pimco, BlackRock and Bank of New York Mellon are seeking a court order blocking Richmond and Mortgage Resolution Partners of San Francisco from using eminent domain to purchase mortgages of homeowners whose properties are underwater.

The city’s plan is unconstitutional, according to complaints filed by mortgage-bond trustees in federal court in San Francisco. The trustees, including Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, were directed to take the action by investors in the debt, said John Ertman, a partner at Ropes & Gray.

“Mortgage Resolution Partners is threatening to seriously harm average Americans, including public pension members, other retirees and individual savers, through a brazen scheme to abuse government powers for its own profit,”

Former SF Mayor and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, believed to be a Burner and known to be a champion of the homeless and disadvantaged, is not a fan:

“I know what threats are. I know what bullying looks like. And I didn’t like it coming from the folks that I helped bail out,” Newsom tells me at the Balboa Café, his white tablecloth restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina District. He goes on to convey his feelings towards Wall Street with an expletive, adding, “You can quote me on that.” Then he changes his mind and asks that I not. He ribs his press aide for not reining him in. “But I feel that way,” he adds. “I have a visceral reaction.”

When you’re chomping down on that ecstatic French Toast, standing in line admiring the hunky gay doctors on call to prescribe whatever pharmaceuticals are needed to accompany your Playa pancakes…think about all that went into that. To pay private planes to fly around getting maple syrup for you.

[Update 10/1/13]  Ellie K, who may or may not be a Burner, has chimed in on the comments, complaining that we got it wrong: Gavin Newsom IS a fan. Although his letter to the Attorney General is unequivocal: “ let me state unequivocally that this letter in no way constitutes an endorsement of any proposal currently being developed “, perhaps this is just politician speak. Maybe when a politician writes a letter saying “I don’t endorse any proposal”, you can disregard the contents and infer from the mere act of letter writing that they are, in fact, very much endorsing the proposal. Adding some weight to this theory, perhaps, is the fact that Newsom’s former communications director is now running PR for Gluckstern and MRP, and donated $25,000 to the Governor’s campaigns.

Mortgage Resolution Partners’ spokesman is former Newsom communications director Peter Ragone, who donated more than $25,000 to Newsom’s campaigns for governor in 2010 and lieutenant governor in 2010 and 2014, records show. One donation, of $4,950, came from Ragone’s public relations firm, PWR LLC.

In response to an inquiry, Ragone sent the Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch, a statement from major Democratic Party fundraiser Steven Gluckstern, who is Mortgage Resolution Partners’ president. . . . . . . .

Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles think tank that focused on campaign finance, said it’s possible that the donations, and Newsom’s advocacy, were unrelated. “But 90 percent of the time, when we look at the money, it’s because it’s something donors want from officials,” Stern said.

As always, make up your own mind Burners. Maybe it’s great to fly French Toast ingredients around on private planes, while using impoverished and financially unsophisticated local cities to exercise their Federally self-given right to seize peoples’ homes. We’re just bringing the issue to your attention. If you want to understand more about the financial side of it, here’s an expert for you comparing the situation to “scalping” and a “plague of locusts”:

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