I’m going to step out on a limb and say that most folks out there don’t start salivating when they think of a fish in a jar, flesh breaking down, fermenting with koji and other unknown ingredients evolving daily towards its final destination of becoming a sauce. And perhaps the thought of raw meat hanging in a hidden fridge for months on end doesn’t make you immediately reach for a fork and knife. But if you’ve ever had Misti Norris’s food, it’s no secret that with the proper care and attention, these methods produce some of the deepest, most interesting and satisfying flavors you could imagine. Now, not just anyone can pull off these techniques. It requires a certain kind of person with a bit of a dark sensibility to find beauty in decay, and a lot of patience. It takes guts to let something transform past the point of being edible, and give it the proper time to let it run it’s corse and come back to life with flavors that you’d never possibly find in the original form. Misti Norris has guts.
I was first introduced to Misti through Barrett Tillman. He had nothing but praise for her, and being a bit of a mold breaker himself, I expected Misti’s work to be interesting and different, but the more I familiarized myself with her food, the more intrigued I became. We tried scheduling a shoot over the corse of a month an a half or so, and finally were able to find a few hours, and decided that we would step out of the studio, and shoot at her loft. When I stepped into her home, I felt as if I had been transported into another world. Jars filled with mysterious and slightly intimidating experiments lined the countertops. Bottled Vinegars at different points in the aging process were stowed on racks underneath the island. Dried flowers, two very curious cats, a pet snake, and self commissioned artwork brought something interesting and beautiful to look at anywhere you turned your head. When you see a fridge in the corner in most homes, you assume that there may be a few beers or refreshments inside, but here I knew better. I was not disappointed when the tour landed at this fridge and the doors opened to reveal an array of extremely beautiful cuts of meat that had obviously been curing and developing into something delicious for quite a while. This experience got even better when Misti unwrapped a particularly nice looking specimen, sliced into it revealing a gorgeous deep red color with intense marbling, and offered me the first slice. I was overwhelmed with a rush of savory meaty flavor, and an unmistakeable likeness to butter. Even though you could look at the thing and know it had been curing for months, you couldn’t help but describe the taste and finish as fresh. I asked Misti if she could put together a dish for the shoot. While I set up a few lights she started pulling together ingredients. She pan toasted bread, scrambled a few eggs to perfection, and topped it with cured ham, shaved radish, dried mushrooms, and fermented saltwort she had hand foraged in Maine. It made a great subject for a photo, but the real treat came when we tasted it afterwards. She cut it into four generous pieces, and asked me to try it. The only thing that would have made this better, would have been if I took the second piece as well. Leaving that bite on the plate still haunts me…
Misti is an open book to anyone she speaks to, but even still there is an aura of mystery. You never know where she will go next, and honestly, neither does she. Petra and the Beast is her latest project where her food has been on display. So far it has lived as a series of pop up restaurants, but we all hope that she will set her roots back in Dallas, and give us a permanent restaurant to visit for an exciting food experience. But when asking what’s next, for Misti, look to her food for answers. Her personality is reflected in each dish she creates. Wether curing, fermenting, or cooking fresh, she cooks in the moment. Ingredients she has either foraged herself, or sourced from an expert. It’s always delicious, always exciting, and gives you something different to think about and look forward to.