WHAT IS HIGH DESERT TEST KITCHEN?

High Desert Test Kitchen (HDTK) is an informal monthly dinner gathering in Joshua Tree, California. Participants bring a dish to share, made with or inspired by ingredients inhabiting this peculiar span of the North American desert. Exploring the Mojave from a culinary perspective, HDTK will naturally intersect with foraging practices and Native American traditions, and will inevitably ignite debates concerning ethical human-to-wilderness relationships. And hopefully challenge our taste buds too.

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE TEST KITCHEN, AND WHO CAN PARTICIPATE?

Everyone is welcome! Each month, the group will be posed with the challenge of incorporating a seasonal, preselected ingredient—be it a root, a fruit, an insect, or a handful of twigs—into their culinary repertoire, and are encouraged to bring a morsel of their experimentation to the monthly meeting. (But it’s not required, anyone can come and taste!) We’ll take some time to discuss how we sourced our ingredients, the manner in which we processed them, and consider the EQ (or edibility quotient). 

 

WHY SHOULD I TRY TO TASTE THE DESERT?

Joshua Tree lies on the cusp between the Mojave and the Sonoran deserts, the latter being more commonly associated with edibles, already harboring a rich ethnobotanical history originating from the Cahuilla Indians and other Native American tribes. As HDTK is situated between these two deserts, we’ll be tasting both areas and learning from traditional Native American wisdom, but will focus on applications of the more obscure, potentially inscrutable, offerings found in the Mojave desert.

As we come together to invent and sample this hyper-localized cuisine, HDTK will assemble a community-built database of these living resources, and generate a deeper understanding of human intervention within this ancient, inhospitable environment that demands adaptation from its inhabitants, and has produced remarkably resilient species from an evolutionary standpoint. We’ll question not only the ethics in eating from the wild—was this sustainably collected from a location with plentiful growth? have I diminished animal food resources, or disrupted their habitats? how many buds or blooms or seeds does this plant need to generate and disperse in order to reproduce?—but also consider the general impact of human presence across the entire region. This informal collective research is a way we can become more familiar with this fragile ecosystem we occupy, and provoke new ways of seeing, or perhaps even collaborating with, the wild. 

 

YOU'VE CONVINCED ME, NOW WHAT? 

Meetings are held at 7pm, the third Monday of every month, at the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center, 65336 Winters Road in north Joshua Tree. We invite you to be adventurous and share a dish made with the ingredient-of-the-month, which is announced here.

If you harvested or foraged the ingredient yourself, please follow best practices and make sure you have a 100% positive identification before using it in your kitchen. Please keep a sample of the raw material, and write down a list of other ingredients used in your dish so people with dietary restrictions can taste accordingly. At each meeting, I’ll have a limited number of the following month’s plant or ingredient available for purchase. If you want to join us, but you aren’t able to contribute a dish, that’s okay too! Feel free to bring a beverage or bag of chips…we might need those! If you have any questions or need help sourcing ingredients, please contact thesarahwitt@gmail.com

 

WhO runs the test kitchen?

HDTK was founded in 2016 by yours truly, Sarah Witt. It all started about a year ago, when I was driving down Old Woman Springs and saw a sign: “RESTAURANT FOR SALE, 39000 29000 OBO.” I lived in St. Louis, Missouri at the time, and was just visiting Joshua Tree, but I stopped anyway because the offer stirred my senses to a radical degree. I knew nothing about operating a restaurant, but had been toying with the idea for some time after recognizing that I felt serious about cooking. I knew I loved spending entire days in the kitchen, and I knew I wanted to make the career migration from visual arts into culinary—but that was about it. I had been earnestly steeped in the culture of food for over a decade: as a market attendant for a biodynamic farm in New York, as the designated “house chef” in collective living situations, as the home cook for my family during my mother’s cancer treatments, as the founder of a pop-up kitchen in which guests brought ingredients to be prepared into a communal meal. But I had never really worked in the industry. Right there, on the side of highway 247, I decided to change my life to accommodate this new, but deeply founded goal of opening my own kitchen featuring plants from my favorite climate: the desert. And so although HDTK is not a restaurant, it's a first step in exploring this challenging culinary terrain, and an invitation to the community to join me at the table. 

Thanks to the Copper Mountain Mesa Community Association for use of their space, to Stephanie Smith of Sunever Farms for consulting and input on how exactly to start to taste the desert, and to High Desert Test Sites for outreach and production support.