I went to the best dinner party last weekend. A couple of our friends get together once a quarter and choose a theme or chef to inspire a meal. They tongue-in-cheek call themselves ‘half chefs’ but after experiencing the meal they cooked, I would seriously promote them. It was such a treat. They basically spend 2 to 3 days cooking and prepping a meal that is quite literally hand-made in every sense of the word. If they need pasta, they make it. If they need a ground spice, they do it with mortar and pestle. No store bought baguettes, the wine is chosen carefully to pair with the flavors of the food, and even the table décor fits the theme. It’s not unheard of for them to drive 200 miles in search of a specific ingredient. Obviously I was a little excited to be invited to this party.
Inspired by renowned chef Dan Barber , the founder of the farm-to-table movement, my friends created a menu that was not just seasonal but also sustainable. Barber has revolutionized how Americans are eating. If you’ve ever seen a hipster at the farmers market with a tote that says ‘eat local,’ you can thank Barber. But seriously, he really has brought a new understanding to farming practices and why it is so important to care for the land we farm and how that impacts the nutrition and flavor of the food we eat.
gorgeous table set with all repurposed items, menu made with recycled paper / the chef wants you to know that if you don’t like his food, he doesn’t care / lovely dinner group trying hard to be polite and not lick their plates
We started the night with salt-crusted roasted beets with a crème fresh and horseradish dip and baked vegetable skins (like really thin vegetable chips). Then we had a white bean and kale soup that was so good I wanted to lick the bowl and a parsnip rice dish that was lovely. The main course was pork belly that had been sitting in a dry rub for three days and then slow roasted in the oven. It was crisp on the outside, tender and juicy and insanely flavorful. On the side was brussel sprouts that had been sautéed in lemon juice, shallots and crushed pistachios. Simple but so good and perfect with the pork belly. They also served the bread recipe that I featured here on the blog and that was a happy surprise for me. Dessert was miso ice cream and charred green apples. The miso had a sort of caramel flavor with a savory finish. Absolutely delicious.
I love that I got to try food I wouldn’t necessarily make for myself in my own kitchen. I love that my ‘half chef’ friends are pushing themselves to try new things, pursuing a hobby that genuinely makes them happy. I love the conversations we had that night. Their hobby meant I got to learn something new and have an experience I wouldn’t have on my own. The eight of us say around until late in the night talking and laughing, playing stupid games and drinking too much wine. It was relaxed and silly in all the right ways and I think sometimes that doesn’t happen enough in regular day to day life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why I started this blog and what I want to try and accomplish out of it. And what keeps coming back to me is that food has gotten really complicated for so many of us. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. And when we come around the table, as a family, as friends, even as strangers and share the experience of a meal, we make a needed connection to our world. And I know that’s a little crazy and silly but I’m also serious. So while I probably won’t be making miso ice cream in my own kitchen, I’m so glad I got to sit at a table with friends and experience it. I hope this blog and the recipes I share here somehow find their way into your kitchen. And some of them will not be a great fit, but hopefully it will bring you to the table with the people you love.