I have been wanting to go to a farm dinner for a long, long time. The idea of eating outside on the land that sourced and inspired the menu has always seemed like the Jenna Temkin ultimate foodie experience. Amazing meal guaranteed, outside, among potential new friends. I am all over that. This Saturday, I finally got my chance thanks to Red Frog Events invitation to their event called Farm to Fork. The farm dinner took place in Naperville, IL. on the historic McDonald Farm which is now owned and operated by The Conservation Foundation and Green Earth Institute. Check out my preview for the event on Chicago Foodies or click here.
Let’s start at the beginning. Matt and I were inevitably late. We are always running late when it comes to any event that is happening outside of city limits. I don’t know if we underestimate our driving time or if the “we can be 20 minutes late” vibe of the city does not fly in the burbs, but alas we found ourselves dodging in and out of traffic, hitting congestion on Lake Shore Drive to 55 South, anxious-ridden from Google Maps estimated time of arrival and fraught that we would miss the shuttle from the parking lot to the farm therefore missing the aperitif and farm tour! We didn’t even listen to music on the way over. This is obviously ridiculous. At one point, I laughed to myself and had the thought “This is a farm dinner. No one is dying.” But I was so excited, I could not stand the thought of missing one single part. But everything has a funny way of working out, and when we arrived to the parking lot we were assured that the tour would not start for several minutes, and once we got to the farm we were warmly greeted with Two Brothers Farm to Fork Pale Ale (specially brewed for this event only I might add), Chateau Chantal wine, and a roaring fire against an intense fall sunset. Yep. Everything was going to be fine from here on out.
After an introduction by Red Frog event director Tyler Bradley, we were swept away to meet Martin Lemos; farm manager for Green Earth Institute. Martin spent time talking about the history of the farm and it’s organic and sustainable practices. He also spoke about the farm’s connection to the surrounding areas including their CSA that provides 700 local families with produce throughout the growing season. Afterward, he took our group into the fields to pick through the last of the season’s tomatoes. Matt and I trampled through the dirt, the brisk air filling the night, as we popped sweet and crisp tomatoes into our mouths. I could taste the earth in each bite and knew if this were any indication of what was ahead for dinner, I had probably uncovered my deepest foodie fantasy.
Next, we were lead over to one of the farm’s greenhouses where our table and farm dinner were awaiting us. The greenhouse was delicately strung in twinkling lights, tables were dressed in white linens, a name card and a menu presented to each guest. The air smelled of roasted veggies, freshly over turned dirt, and the energy was buzzing and bright. Lucky for us, we were seated next to Martin for dinner!
Among excellent company on both sides of our table, dinner began. Wine from Cheateau Chantal in Traverse City Michigan (yay!) was poured for those that chose the wine pairing while a selection of Two Brothers (Illinois represent!) filled the pint glasses of those that opted for the beer pairing with dinner. I was certainly excited to see what former Top Chef contestant Valerie Bolon (along with direction from Tyler Bradley) had designed for the menu. Warming our bellies, we began with an apple and onion soup with gruyere croutons and crispy bacon. Only a few of us at our table were able to taste the original soup as they had run out during the last seating. However, a port reduction took its place and it was a very fair replacement. Perfectly balanced, the reduction set the mood for the marriage of savory and sweet we would see throughout the evening, as I imagined the apple and onion soup intended to do. Cane and Able from Two Brothers and a 2011 Pinot Blanc sealed the deal on the first course.
The second course was a delightfully prepared arugula, pickled cucumber, radish, and goat cheese salad topped with pepitas. This was one of my favorite dishes all night. The pickled cucumbers were exceptionally tart and crisp and lovingly paired with the crispness of the radishes and the nuttiness of the arugula. The pepitas were an added surprise reaching beyond the snap of the radishes and cucumbers and adding an entertaining crunch to every bite. Goat cheese from La Clare Farms in Chilton, Wisconsin softened the salad proving it to be a well-rounded and dimensional dish.
Roasted beets and eggplant with fennel, mixed pears and creamed tatsoi ( an Asian varietal of Brassica Rapa…otherwise referred to as spinach mustard) is what our appetites met halfway through dinner. Paired with Chateau Chantal’s 2010 Malbec and the ever so lovely Domaine Du Page from Two Brothers, this was the perfect set up for the next plate.
For the main course, our eyes widened as the candied jalapeno squash and roasted honey pork were brought to our tables. The pork was delicately crisped and buttery while the squash melted away on our palettes … just like candy. 2011 Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Gris added depth to the dish while Matt gushed over the Outlaw IPA.
The final course was a brown butter berry tart with honey basil yogurt and honey balsamic caramel. Need I say more? Riesling and Ebel Weiss finished off the tart impeccably.
By the end of the night, Matt and I felt like we had made new friends, ate a deeply satisfying meal, and learned a thing or two about organic and sustainable farming in the process. If the future of food culture is in educating society and encouraging ownership over the food we eat, The Green Earth Institute and The Conservation Foundation along with Red Frog Events are surely making it easier for the average person to experience the benefits of local eating firsthand. In the meantime, I got to indulge in an event that I have been dying to be apart of for years. All in all, a damn good night.