Friday, November 21, 2008

Focus on Farming Lunch

For the second consecutive year, I participated in the menu for the lunch at the Focus on Farming conference, held in Snohomish County at the Lynnwood Convention Center. It is always a pleasure to participate in an “agriculture-first” event, where the chefs are not in the spotlight. An even greater pleasure is being able to help out Linda Nuenzig of Ninety Farm in Arlington with her conference. Linda was among the first farmers in Washington I met at my first Farmer-Chef Conference. As a matter of fact, after the event in 2006, she brought me out to her car and loaded up my arms with samples of her pasture-raised veal. I had been cooking this type of meat already for some time, so I was pleased to see that the flavor was not diminished and the rosy color reminded me that I was eating beef. This was the being of a long and continuing relationship in which I’ve bought many other carcasses from Linda, primarily lamb and veal.

Last year’s lunch, in which I contributed a salad to the menu, was a bit rough as far as the composition of the meal and the process of feeding 650 hungry farmers. I told Linda after that lunch that I’d like to step up and help create the menu and to run the kitchen on the day of the event. So with two weeks left on the clock, I contacted the four chefs responsible for the lunch menu and we shaped a nice meal.

Potato and Leek Soup
Larry Fontaine – Everett Convention Center
Baby Spinach and Roasted Beets with Feta and Hazelnut Vinaigrette
Seth Caswell – Emmer Restaurant
Braised Beef and White Bean Cassoulet with Caramelized Onions and Fresh Herbs
Russell Lowell – Russell dean Lowell Catering
Emmer Farro with Local Mushrooms
Seth Caswell – Emmer Restaurant
Glazed Carrots
Jodi Bardinelli – Kirkland Farmers Market

Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream
Chocolate Truffles
Autumn Martin – Theo Chocolate

The execution of the meal could not have been done without the assistance of Lynnwood Convention Center’s Executive Chef Michael Felsenstein. He spent all day Wednesday getting the plates, plate covers, hot boxes, and everything in place for a smooth plate-up on Thursday. I spent the entire day making farro, roasting beets and mushrooms, and making the vinaigrette. We spent a little time at the end of the day discussing the strategy for plating all of the meals for the following day’s lunch.

The event could not have gone any smoother. We plated 550 hot lunches and salads, and then waited for the guests to be seated before serving the soup. All in all, we fed everyone a four-course meal in an hour and fifteen minutes.

The conference itself provides a wealth of useful information for Washington farmers. The panel discussions bring experts from all over the country to share their knowledge in many areas of expertise. I had a chance to listen to Carrie Balkcom discuss the development of the American Grassfed Association, a group that is defining the standards for grass fed meats, and providing free audits to farms. Carrie is a former member of the Chefs Collaborative board of overseers and her transition from helping chefs to helping farmers is a great story. I hope to entice her to return to Seattle for the 2009 Farmer Chef Connection conference next February.

I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet more farmer this year and to sit in on more of the panels, but I managed to keep myself pretty busy all day anyhow. Next year, I look forward to helping in the kitchen again, and to create meal that rivals the years’ past.

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