[Photos: Gizelle Lau]
Chef Nathan Isberg wants everyone to get lost: or, at least, embrace the idea of throwing away all prescribed roadmaps and let nature take its course. That's one of the reasons why the adventurous owner/chef/server of The Atlantic has gone experimental with his restaurant: "You'll pay what you want, I'll make what you want." Isberg used to employ the practice on days he was supposed to be closed, but now he does it "almost exclusively," but he won't force the concept down unwilling throats. As Isberg says: "I still have a menu. It puts people at ease."
Pushing the limits has always been Isberg's trademark – The Atlantic has been known to serve crickets, pigeon, and sea snails – and now the easygoing but radical chef has written a manifesto - the launch party is tomorrow night - that looks to dismantle the reliance on systems he thinks are broken. The Atlantic-Griffin-Manifesto encourages people to look beyond Google searches, or Wikipedia entries, to gather information, formulate opinions, and to live (and eat) fully in the present.
Though food is just one tendril of a larger concept, Isberg has a lot to say about the state of restaurants. In conversation, he admits that he's "tired of restaurants in general" and struggled to apply all the skills he's acquired over time and "not recreate banal bourgeois institutions of mediocrity and support unhealthy destructive habits." An excerpt from the manifesto explains:
When I started cooking, there were a set of skills that I was taught by my betters… I began to take their expertise as something definitive… I realized I was performing a script learned from others…so I started to improvise. The best, most absurd, impulses come from the practice of performing in the same way as the busker… a hat is passed and people support them as they see fit…a process that in turn allows people to lose their sense of expectation toward the food (in my case) and assess it experientially.
Isberg's experimental approach has been a big success. For him, it was "a quantum leap in creativity." The other night, he says that out of 20 diners, only four ordered from the menu. And everyone "paid more than what I would have charged. It's a functional model but even if it weren't, it's a lot more enjoyable." The Atlantic-Griffin-Manifesto is one part of a multi-venue art show titled Network Consciousness, presented by Art Metropole, an internationally renowned artist-run centre and Isberg's neighbours. The month-long exhibit launches tomorrow at Art Metropole (1490 Dundas Street West) with a screening of La Consommation, a 1973 video by Montreal's anonymous collective, Bloc Coop, that calls for equal access to systems of food production and consumption. Simultaneously, Isberg will launch his manifesto at The Atlantic with a meal. When asked what he'll be serving, his response is predictable: "I'm not sure yet."