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The Summer Farm Bowl

August 1, 2016

Nature is amazing. On one hand, it can unleash a devastating flood on Ellicot City in Maryland. On the other, it can create a perfect peach. Having lived in Miami during Hurricane Andrew, I’ve seen nature’s fury first hand, and know the feeling of waking up in what looks like a war zone.

Of course, there are plenty of actual war zone’s around the world today. And I would rather wake up in a flood ravaged town, than face the prospect of more war machines unleashing destruction from above.

Okay. That got really dark, really quick. I want to get back to nature’s perfect peach.

Last Saturday night was the FarmOn! Foundation’s 6th Anniversary Hoot! It’s a fundraiser for this non-profit that does a lot to support local farmers. Perhaps my favorite of the foundation’s efforts is its “Milk Money” campaign which helps to subsidize the cost of getting better milk into schools. The goal is “cow to kid in 36 hours.” And I’m thrilled to be able to highlight Tessa Edick’s efforts both here and on Yelp.

What I want to share today, isn’t about the foundation or the farms themselves, but about the food.

I love the style of food presented each year at the Hoot! I went last year too, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget last year’s standout dish, the stracciatella with roasted fennel and crispy lamb. This year it was Alfred Portale who took over the main meal, but the family-style farm-centric simple, seasonal menu is what this event is all about.

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Without question, the best things to make it to the table were the starters. Those plates and bowls filled with simply prepared, local, seasonal, fruits and vegetables shone a spotlight on our regional bounty.

And my favorite of those was the roasted beet salad. Take a look.

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Man, there are so many farms represented in that bowl, it’s nuts. The nuts, by the way come from Tierra Farm. But Coach Farm Cheese, Rock Steady Farm, Breezy Hill Orchard, Hawthorne Valley Farm, and Migliorelli Farm also had their produce in the mix.

We had a great conversation at our table about the difficulty of trying to execute food like this every night in a restaurant dining room. And there are a lot of challenges. One is sourcing. The other is kitchen talent, not head chefs mind you, but rather the people actually working the line. A lack of demand can’t be overlooked either. Albany is still a market where chefs get pushback when they try to take baked scrod off the menu.

God help you if you try to take away people’s chicken parmesan.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t chefs who are trying to do the right things. Just yesterday chef Dominic Colose posted an Instagram pic of an heirloom tomato salad with watermelon, arugula, feta, mint, basil, olive oil, and sea salt.

It’s summer. This is what you do. You get great produce, put it in a bowl, and it’s going to be delicious. The trick is to find the best fruits and vegetables you can. And more likely than not, they are going to be found outside of the commercial food business where crops are grown for their shelf-life and durability in transit.

What you want are the fruits and vegetables that have been allowed to ripen in the sun, and are picked when they are almost bursting with flavor. Supermarkets don’t get these special gifts from the earth. You’ve got to go closer to the source.

But I assure you, finding the best produce will be time well spent. Especially in summer.

If these are things you care about, you really should check out the FarmOn! Foundation, and if you would like to help contribute to its cause, you can pledge a donation by text. Just text FARM to 56512 (message and data rates may apply). Or you can donate the old fashioned way on the website.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 2, 2016 11:06 am

    I think this event highlights the difficulties in feeding a large group hot dishes which continues to be a big pet peeve of mine. I was there with Daniel, and I agree that the cold starters were outstanding. Each was light, bright, fresh, and delicious.

    But our hot mains were disappointing. The pork especially was lackluster; it was barely lukewarm, bland and dry. We were also served a potato dish that fell flat.

    Never having worked for a catering company, I can only imagine the complicated and challenging logistics of serving a large group. Nevertheless, it needs to be said that almost always, hot dishes at events like this fail to shine a positive light on the farms, chefs, and catering outfits that are involved in them.

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