Dinners at the Farm
From now through early October, there will be ten dinners, each held on a farm, each benefiting a local non-profit organization and each serving only the foods sold at the Lyme Farmers Market – translation: foods from within about a 30-mile radius of dinner.
The series is the brainchild of Chip Dahlke, owner of Ashlawn Farm and host of the Farmers Market; the gifted Jonathan Rapp, chef/owner of River Tavern in Chester, Drew and Claudine McLachlan, who own Feast Gourmet Market in Deep River, and, of course, the farmers.
Friday night, under a sky that was alternately threatening, wet and gorgeous – we had a ray or two of sun, a couple of downpours, a rainbow, black clouds, then stars and a peek-a-boo moon – there was a kick-off dinner for the farmers and winemakers whose products we would be savoring all summer, organizers from the groups that will receive donations from the dinners, and local press.
We all ate at one very long table and it was magical to look in either direction and see people eating and drinking fresh, beautifully prepared food, laughing, talking and marveling at the setting.
The menu was put together late in the afternoon, only after Jonathan knew what ingredients he’d have in hand, and everything was prepared on River Tavern’s “chuckwagon,” a red 1953 Ford flatbed outfitted with a commercial range, a smoker and some racks and counters.
The food was both simple and amazing for its goodness, quality and perfect preparation: warm squid (see below), a mixed seafood salad with scallops, lobster, Stonington red shrimp and bass on a bed of pristine greens, a porchetta with roasted tomatoes and a strawberry crostata with whipped cream. Every bite of food came from a farmer or producer who was seated at the table and we drank wine from local Chamard Vineyards with the winemakers right there.
Everything was served family style and it was lovely to be passing the food among us and serving one another.
There was a lot of table-hopping (if you can call jumping up to talk to people who are all at the same table table-hopping) and even truck-hopping – yes, that’s Jacques Pepin up there with Jonathan, who’s on the right.
In fact, Jacques will be cooking at one of the summer dinners and Jonathan asked me if I’d do desserts for a couple of them. Yes, yes, of course, I said “yes!”
It was an inspired evening and I left wondering if such evenings would be possible at Farmers Markets around the country. The effort is huge and it’s not every chef who wants to cook for a crowd when he doesn’t have a clue about what will turn up in the larder, but the rewards for a community are tremendous.
For me, it was extraordinary to be able to share the food of our region with the people who grow and produce it. It was another lesson in the power of food and one I wish everyone could have.
Can we start a movement? Is there already a movement?
For a list of the organizations that will benefit from Dinners at the Farm as well as dates and locations, click here.