Thursday, June 12, 2008

Grateful Growers Farm Dinner

Grateful Growers Farm Dinner
The hands that Feed You - Real Food and Real Farmers

On Saturday May 31, 2008 I had the pleasure of attending the Annual Grateful Growers Farm Dinner at the Grateful Growers Farm in Denver North Carolina.
Less than an hour from Uptown Charlotte is the 10-acre Grateful Growers Farm. While not a huge farm an amazing amount of growing happens here.

Co –Owners Cassie Parsons and Natalie Veres grow vegetables, produce; Shitake mushrooms and raise Tamworth hogs, Delaware chickens, Blue Swedish and Khaki Campbell ducks.

All of the animals are raised outdoors on rolling pastures, which are not treated with chemical fertilizers or herbicides. The diets of pasture forage and grains are highly nutritious and free from hormones, antibiotics, and meat byproducts. They comply with animal husbandry standards established by the Animal Welfare Institute, ensuring the animals are safe, free from stress, and are able to behave naturally. There are no stuffy confinement pens or waste lagoons here.
The Pigs are free to roam, root, and play in the sunshine and fresh air. The breeds they raise were especially selected for superior meat quality and hardiness for outdoor living.
The Chickens are free ranging, producing delicious, nutritious meat and eggs.
Produce is grown without synthetic pesticides, weed controls, or chemical fertilizers. As they believe food is a valuable gift, and shouldn’t be laced with poisons.

Other farms participating in the event and supplying ingredients were Laughing Owl Farm, N’ Thyme Farm, Gilcrest Natural Farm, Rosemary Pete Herbs, My Bosky Acres, Fisher Family Farms and Pecan Lane Farm.

The chef’s who participated in transforming these splendid ingredients into magnificent dishes were Ben Miles – formerly of Table Restaurant, Chris Vergili - Barrington’s, Mike Vergili- Carmel Country Club, Paul Malcolm - Johnson & Wales University, Paul Verica - The Club at Longview, Marla Thurman- Art Institute of Charlotte student, intern at Longview, baker at Downhome Bakery, Christine Strzepek - Down Home Bakery, Greg Balch and Mark Hibbs - Ratcliffe on the Green, Karl Hoffmann - Chef for executive staff, ACN and Liz Hale - The Compass Group.

Perhaps the same skills set that make for an outstanding farmer also serve to make an outstanding event planner. The organization, level of planning and eye for details made this event move like a Swiss watch. The warm greeting, the interesting farm tour, the amazing entertainment featuring singer extraordinaire Melissa Reaves and the way the food and wine flowed to the tables were all flawless.

For me all of this was eclipsed by one thing the quality of the food. Upon entering the farm our path was lined with several food stations. The smoking station offerings included Applewood smoked Whiskey brined heritage turkey, Mexican style chorizo wrapped in smoked chicken served with a mole sauce and Braised Pork Shoulder. Next the Vegetarian section with a Spring Peas salad and a Tomato and goat cheese Aroncini. The Charcuterie station featured a house made prosciutto a pork terrine and a pork rillette. The bread station had a fantastic array of artisan-baked breads. The beverage very needed as it was a very warm day served herbal tea, Belgian style white beer and Alligator ale and of course water.
A brief tour of the farm allowed us to see the area where produce is grown and the shady area used to inoculate logs to grow shitake mushrooms (who knew). We also received a personal introduction to many lovely chickens and hogs and even a few dandy ducks.

Having stretched our legs a bit it was time to enter the large white tent and begin dinner. Dinner was a magnificent tasting menu that followed a progression of light to richer dishes. Dinner included a salad with goat cheese and a light strawberry dressing. Succulent duck breast and ravioli stuffed with duck confit. Next a chicken dish with a sauce that contained bits of caramelized garlic that had become crispy and added a crunch almost like a mild garlic candy. Last was an unctuous braised portion of pork belly. It was at once juicy, smoky, and slightly crispy around the edges and just all around fantastic. Desert was not memorable and this is a shame as it is the last taste folks leave with, could be challenging to represent local ingredients well thru desert. Perhaps a simple fruit tart would fare better.

The event was truly amazing and a huge success. I am grateful for Grateful Growers Farm and all of the farmers and chefs who produce healthy, delicious and local food for us.

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