On this evening in Bozeman at Dinosaur Park, the blue skies were edged with happy clouds. I use the word happy because I finally had the opportunity to meet Claudia Krevat of Claudia’s Mesa with mesa meaning table in Spanish. Friends, especially those who know food, have told me I needed to meet her. On this night she was hosting Barefoot in the Park. Monthly in the summers, she gathers people outdoors to share lentils and other foods from her childhood home of Colombia.
Krevat exuded energy and enthusiasm. With all the rain we have had this summer, I was convinced her spirit charmed Mother Nature in giving her good weather on this night. All rain ceased so she could feed, nourish and enrich old friends and new ones.
About eight years ago, “I found out that I could actually eat something from my childhood,” Krevat exclaimed after discovering a bag of Timeless Seeds lentils at a Bozeman market. She then went online to find out more about this Montana company. In her search she connected with David Oien on Facebook.
Liz Carlisle had just completed writing Lentil Underground which featured David Oien. She told the story of a man who left graduate school in 1976 to return to the 280-acre family farm south of Conrad. He returned to a culture of provincial farming while he wanted to work organically and realized he needed to figure out how to naturally replace the nitrogen in the soil.
Dr. Jim Simms from Montana State University Bozeman introduced Oien to lentils. Oien said, “Jim did some research and found out that lentils do quite well here and worked well in rotation in our more standard wheat production.” Oien then joined forces with Bud Barta, Jim Barngrover and Tom Hastings to form Timeless Seeds. At first, Barngrover said, “We called ourselves Four Guys Enterprise” with the name Timeless Seeds coming from when they were in the field looking at George Black Medic, a self-reseeding leguminous cover crop. One of them said they were feeling hungry while another asked what time it was. “We all looked at our wrists and none of us were wearing a watch, and if my recollection serves me correct, I said, “That’s it, timeless, Timeless Seeds.”
Early on, they sold their crops to natural food stores in Montana. Their product filled the bulk bins in these markets until they went to a trade show. A representative from Trader Joe’s fell in love with their French lentils. Instead of selling their product in large portions, Trader Joe’s wanted one-pound packages for their 60 stores they had in California at that time. David admitted, “As kids from Montana we had no idea who Trader Joe’s was.”
In a matter of eight weeks, the group put together labels and packaging that finally fitted Trader Joe’s format, but their relationship was short-lived. “We learned quickly. We learned on the fly and eventually that market went away, but what it taught us was we needed to be true to ourselves.” Trader Joe’s did not care that Timeless Seeds’ product was organic so their certification was not on the labels. They also learned that they could not depend on one product. These days they have ten products with different kinds of lentils, split peas, yellow flax, chick peas, barley, and farro.
With Claudia Krevat’s help, David said, “She’s a very creative chef and she has really helped put us on the radar screen around the country.”
When Krevat and Oien connected on Facebook, he invited her on a conference call with Liz Carlisle. For Carlisle’s book release, she invited Krevat to join her and create food for her book signings. At UC Berkeley, she created 400 bites and impressed Michael Pollan, author, journalist and activist with her vegan lentil tamales. The masa harina and lentil tamale with kale, mushrooms, and butternut squash flavored with lemongrass and Madras curry powder was made with coconut oil instead of the traditional lard. Krevat continued to tour with Carlisle to Stanford University and then to Jaime Oliver’s Mobile Kitchen to provide more samples.
During Carlisle’s book tour in Missoula, Krevat had the opportunity to teach a cooking class at the Good Food Store. There she said, “I could not believe that people from Montana don’t know lentils and yet, I was in Colombia, a little girl eating lentils every Friday.” At the end of the work week, Krevat and her family would eat fish, rice, avocados, tomatoes and lentils.
She returned to Bozeman determined to teach Montana about lentils. Since she had no money, friends directed her to Sarah Calhoun of the Red Ants Pants Music Festival which gave grants through The Red Ants Pants Foundation Community Grant Program for those aligned with the mission statement of “Fostering strength and self-reliance in women and in rural agricultural communities.”
After receiving the grant, Krevat traveled to small towns where farmers would give her lentils. When she weighed how much she had collected, her bounty totaled nearly 100 pounds. Then one day after driving back from attending a writing course from Rick Bass, she was listening to The Splendid Table on NPR when she heard Francis Lam interview Pableaux Johnson, from New Orleans, who hosted open door Monday night suppers featuring beans. Krevat had a revelation, she said, “That’s it. I am going to feed the community so I started using my studio as a venue to do it with only ten people and today we have between 50 and 60 guests and I can’t wait until we run out of room.”
Claudia settled in Bozeman with her husband Steve, who she called Marco Polo. She credited him for settling them in Big Sky country after ski vacations in Big Sky. Eventually they bought a home with some property. “Everyone thought that these snowbirds, these tropical birds were going to leave the area, but here we are,” Krevat said enthusiastically.
Krevat’s preparations incorporated the food she ate while living on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and later, Miami, Florida. “Since my childhood I have always supported local growers. It wasn’t uncommon for my mother to go to the open market to buy freshly grown vegetables.”
She started her dinners along with teaching cooking classes and catering. Her pop-up dinners would often times take place at construction sites, as early on, she was an interior designer for a flooring company. With her skills and access to materials, she would creatively decorate the spaces for her events. At the same time, she was selling her green cilantro salsa at the Farmers Market.
Susan MacCall, who is a regular participant in Claudia’s pop-up dinners, shared, “I discovered Claudia at the Farmers Market when I moved to Bozeman about 5 ½ years ago.” MacCall who became enamored with Krevat’s tamales said, “You would not expect amazing tamales in the middle of Montana, but she had amazing tamales.” She also appreciated Krevat’s support of local farmers and producers.
This night’s dinner consisted of Beluga Lentil Nectarine Salsa with Arepas, cakes made with ground corn; Fresh Greens Mango and Avocado Salad; French Beans and Potatoes with Pickled Lentils; Coconut Farro and Lentil with Butternut Squash served with Ancho Chili Orange Pork.
Krevat asked for donations to help with purchase of ingredients as she made the food flavored with her love. From last month’s dinner, she collected $190 which she used to create the food for this Barefoot in the Park Dinner
Before eating, Krevat gathered everyone around a circle. Here she told the story of her meeting the Lentil Underground and her desire to share the recipes in a cookbook. She introduced her guests, starting with Doug Wales of the Havana Bridge Project, who hopes to share Havana’s art and music throughout the United States and Cuba. At every dinner, Krevat invites a special guest, usually someone in the arts.
“I just love promoting people and lentils,” Krevat said happily.