Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Putting the Out into Dining

In my line of work it’s not unusual to eat good food in beautful places. But last harvest season, I had one of the more memorable meals of my career. It had all the trappings of an elegant evening: wines thoughtfully paired with each course; crisp white linens, fine china and flowers on the table; candlelight and live music. The menu was a masterpiece of sophisticated culinary creativity featuring a mix of local farm fresh and artisan ingredients with rare and pricey things like truffles, saffron, wild boar and antelope. But I was on a farm, not in a restaurant, seated beside the barn along with 19 other guests and within sight of the woods where we had foraged for the wild ginger and puffballs, a type of fungus , that were washed, chopped, and tossed in a bowl minutes after we found them.

The occasion was a Plated Landscape dinner. The brainchild chef Ben Bebenroth, this is the 4th year he’s setting up a kitchen in fields and gardens. His idea is to give people a fun first hand taste of what eating locally and seasonally really means by bringing them where ingredients are actually grown and made. Bebenroth, who also runs Spice of Life Catering out of a Lakeseide Avenue building, is passionate about forging a deeper connection between eaters, the wild and wonderful paces where food comes from, and those who do the hard work of coaxing it into being.

Our hosts for the event I attended were Tom and Wendy Wiandt of Killbuck Valley farm in Burbank, Ohio. They raise oyster, shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms and gather other varieties from their own 46 acre certified organic forest. Meeting them- along with their kids and dog- learning about what they do, and hanging out at their place only added to the night’s many pleasures.

The food was extraordinary, the setting charming, the spirit friendly, and when darkness wrapped itself around our gathering something kind of magical took hold. I have thought about it many times during the intervening months. There are four more Plated Landscape dinners scheduled for 2009 and my problem is I can’t decide which to attend.
-Urban Garden eating in Chef Karen Small’s Backyard, Tremont 8/9
-Heirloom Veggies at Muddy Fork, Wooster 9/20
-Fall Fungus Forage at Killbuck Valley Mushroom, Burbank 9/27
-Goat roast and Goat cheese at Mackenzie Creamery, Hiram 10/11

Each is sure to be an unforgettable experience. Reservations are required (216-432-9090). Make yours. I have no doubt you’ll be glad you did.
Photos courtesy of Barney Taxel

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