The Land Between the Lakes Nature Station has delighted visitors for many years with events such as nature hikes and its Hummingbird Festival. But now, some officials behind those events are using pop culture to boost interest. Casey Northcutt reports on their quirky mixture of wildlife and television that turned the Nature Station into the “Nature Stadium.”
Naturalists Andrea Woody and Joy Tamminga wear chefs hats made from colored paper and plastic grocery bags as they gather together a group of children. The kids watch as the two arrange vegetables and dead mice on a table in preparation for the afternoon’s nature program, which includes meals for the salivating bobcat, possum and vultures nearby. Tamminga introduces herself as “Iron Chef Coyotemoto” while Woody calls herself “Bobcat Flay”. Iron Chef Animal has begun.
“I am the challenger. My name is Bobcat Flay. I was culinary trained. I have been in school for 20 years. Yeah, I’m 26, by the way.”
Woody says the Nature Station has done variations on the game show, “Jeopardy”, for years. But recently, the naturalists have started to play around more with mainstream entertainment. Along with developing Iron Chef Animal, they also have performed a puppet show based on Dr. Suess’s environmentally-friendly story, “The Lorax”. Coming this fall to the Nature Station: a wildlife twist on “America’s Next Top Model”.
“This was just another way to engage the public because they already like shows on television like ‘Iron Chef America’. We do different spins on things that are popular so they’ll see that and think that that might be cool, come out to the Nature Station, enjoy it, hopefully like they did today and also learn something really cool.”
And while kids learn facts about the animals they adore, Woody says adults love the culture-savvy jokes. For example, the name, “Iron Chef Coyotemoto” is a twist on “Iron Chef Morimoto” from the actual show, “Iron Chef America. “Bobcat Flay” refers to the renowned chef, Bobby Flay. It’s these little touches that affect the audience.
“Most of them just appreciate the twist that we do. Generally, we’ll have people come up to us and tell us how cute it was and how it just really entertained them.”
The naturalists work hard for that element of entertainment. During “Iron Chef Animal”, the kids laugh and giggle as Bobcat Flay and Coyotemoto describe what dishes they will concoct for their esteemed judges: the bobcat, the possum and the pair of vultures.
They turn a conglomeration of fruits, vegetables and meat into fancy dishes like beef blood soup. Bobcat Flay serves the real bobcat its normal portion of meat, with an added flourish of celery sticks stuck through the flesh. Coyotemoto hollows out a melon for the vultures and fills the inside with a slice of beef heart. The ensuing contest at the vulture cage leaves the crowd voting for the melon versus Flay’s dish, which consists of a simple meat slice.
In the end, Bobcat Flay triumphs, but Coyotemoto, A.K.A. Joy Tamminga, lets me in on a secret—they have rigged the whole thing in the name of audience education. They knew from the beginning that the judges wouldn’t like all the meals.
We wanted them to really take away what some of these animals eat—whether a bobcat would want to eat soup or whether they would want to eat a hunk of meat.”
The Bobcat is full, the children had fun and the naturalists had a pretty good time too. The blend of wildlife education and pop culture is, apparently, fun for everyone .