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  • This time last year (and the three years before that), you would have found me at Black Rock City, Nevada. Depending on the year, I might have been at the 4:30 plaza, or the 7:30 plaza, or 9:30 and G. But all four years, my camp's presence would be marked by a 40-foot geodesic dome, distinct with its trapezoidal cloths in bright blue, green, yellow, and purply pink. This dome served as the stage for our gift to the Burning Man community: a sit-down breakfast restaurant, opened from 10 AM - 1 PM throughout the week.

    Welcome to the Shady Waffle.

    We brought cast iron skillets and waffle irons, giant woks, and an ebelskiver mold. We hauled out enough flour, milk, eggs, and butter to feed hundreds of people. Hell, we even got a food establishment inspection from the Nevada State Health Division.

    During the burn, we had a rotating menu of specialty pancakes, waffles, french toast, scrambles, and home fries. We got fancy after a year of serving just coffee and tea, adding chai and hibiscus tinctures to our beverage list. And no matter what you were wearing, what state you were in, or how much (if any) sleep you got the night before, we would seat you at one of our fifty places and give you a full-service meal.

    Though it meant the sacrifice of several hours of sleep, I always made sure to sign up for multiple server and cook slots at our restaurant.

    I can't tell you what it feels like to be standing in the dome with soft technicolor light above you and carpeted ground beneath you as guests fill up the communal tables. As a server, you were the liaison between restaurant-goers and the hectic Shady Waffle kitchen (two car ports zip-tied together with milk crates for storage and coolers full of dry ice for refrigeration). Over the three hours that the restaurant is open, you worked the tables, delivering morning comestibles to Black Rock denizens.

    They are always glad to have coffee and especially excited for waffles.

    Having had just a few hours of sleep yourself, you empathized with your guests, understanding just how profound a stack of steaming pancakes drizzled in maple syrup will appear after a night out on the playa.

    Working in the kitchen was a different type of joy. Two car ports shared between twelve people, several days' worth of food, and myriad camping stoves turned food service into a game of resource management. You take to a station (say, the French toast station) and set to making as many slices as you can. You engage in a delicate dance with the servers, making sure there is always enough French toast to go around, but also that no one server is getting too many slices.

    All around you, people are cutting potatoes, mixing eggs, and checking waffle irons. Working in the kitchen, the guests inside the dome seem to be part of another world, one that does not concern you at all.

    Even on days I wasn't working at the restaurant, the clanks and hums of the kitchen and the din of people talking as they breakfasted provided a sense of stability amidst the sensory overstimulation of Burning Man. I would nip into the kitchen to give quick massages to the cooks, jump in with the dishes, take a bite of the chocolate chip pancake fresh off the griddle. Or I would spend time in the dome with guests waiting for food, chatting and making new friends.

    With our restaurant, we aimed to help take care of and nourish the Burning Man community. Reflecting on those dusty, sun-lit mornings serving up breakfast in the desert, I think we succeeded.
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