Just imagine yourself in the scene above – a calm late summer evening, low to mid-seventy temperatures (Fahrenheit) without a cloud or breeze present, wine that is seemingly infinite in its pours, yet isn’t in excess, and food that is harvested just feet away from the table, and with the talents of a local chef, masterfully turned into a four course meal.
Such is the evening I had the opportunity to experience this past Saturday at Welcome Table Farm near Walla Walla, Washington. Pairing two great talents in their field of expertise – Isenhower Cellars (Brett and Denise Isenhower) and Walla Walla Bread Co.‘s chef Michael Kline, Welcome Table Farm along with providing the location, provided all of the meat and produce for Kline to work his magic and Isenhower Cellars completed each dish with their wines made with grapes fermented with native yeast that were each hand-picked (not kidding).
For some time, I have been eagerly wanting to attend a Farm-to-Table event as they are held outdoors around the country, and no doubt around the world as well. With the concept of using primarily naturally-raised and organic ingredients sourced directly from local farms and farmers’ markets, both outdoor events and restaurants are more frequently being established to cater to a demand from diners who are becoming particular about where their food comes from. At the end of the post I’ll share a few links to calendars of Farm-to-Table events.
So why should you consider spending an evening eating outside in the middle of a field with strangers? Let me share what I discovered and learned during my experience.
1. Good food isn’t complicated
As I’ve shared many times on the blog, eating well doesn’t involve deprivation – quite the contrary in fact. When the food is fresh, properly cared for and of great quality, very little must be done to achieve a magnificent taste. While it would take years and a deep passion to be able to cook as well as Michael Kline, there are cooking basics that can ensure each meal you cook is delicious without defeat. Being able to taste a tender cut of the braised lamb presented on wilted chard takes precision, but not a mess of products or ingredients. Start with understanding the basics of roasting vegetables (see a simple recipe here) and come to appreciate the beauty of cared for livestock (I highly recommend this book by a once-vegetarian, not beef advocate, Lynne Curry – Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut). As with so much in life, the scrumptious flavor we seek along with the satiation comes from quality food, not the excess of it.
2. Renew your appreciation for where food begins
Prior to sitting down for dinner, the owners of Welcome Table Farm, Emily and Andy Asmus, took their guests on a tour of their acreage. Simply viewing the rows of broccoli, ubiquitous vines of tomatoes and garlic hanging from the barn rafters waiting to be dry enough to be taken to market was a treat, but when they talked to us about their process – no mechanized vehicles, only two draft horses and man-power are used – the appreciation deepened for what we were about to sit down and eat. Completely sustained by distributing to local restaurants and St. Mary’s hospital along with the weekly farmers’ market and a produce stand that is open on their property for passersby (locals can also become part of their CSA program which distributes a produce box full of fresh food from the farm weekly June through Thanksgiving), further understanding the effort and attention served as a worth knowing reminder that eating well doesn’t just happen. Not only is it worth the effort to eat well but to support people dedicated to such a time and labor intensive occupation.
3. Support local farmers and food and wine artisans
Sometimes it seems it’s easier to pop into your local Safeway or Wal-mart, but then you have to ask yourself, what do you want to see more of in your town – superstores with large cement parking lots or small friendly booths and markets that tend to rows of corn, lettuce and endless other produce that are not only beautiful to see in the countryside that surrounds the city, but also support the families and thus their fellow neighbors.
4. Expand your wine tasting experience
If you are a wine lover, you no doubt have stopped into tasting rooms or toured vineyards. But when we look at the purpose of wine, it is to be paired with food to expand the full flavors of the meal being served as well as bring out the depths of flavors in the wine itself. Beginning with Isenhower’s Cabernet Franc Rose “Pink Paintbrush” followed by four other glasses of different wines, each dish is carefully chosen to pair with a preferred wine. And the cherry on top is that the wine maker is sitting just a few seats away from you explaining in detail what he intended us all to taste as well as sharing the process he followed to create his masterpiece. Does it get any better?
5. Discover a new way to grocery shop
Depending upon the farm you are dining at and where the produce comes from, you will often discover a new option for grocery shopping. As I mentioned in #2, Welcome Table Farm offers three different ways for shoppers to pick up their farm fresh produce. Part of the obstacle that initially stands in the way for people who wish to purchase fresh produce is knowing where to buy it. Keep asking around your community and eventually you will find your new local market of choice.
6. Meet people with similar tastes
As each ticket for attending Farm-to-Table events is a bit more than simply enjoying an entrée at your favorite restaurant, those who choose to purchase are typically sincerely interested in what they will be sitting down to enjoy. While I went by myself, most people attend with a partner or friend, but either way, you will no doubt find people with similar tastes and interests. The conversation at my little pocket of the table ranged from chicken coops to sharing recipes to discussions of regions of France. Right up my alley, no?
7. Enjoy an unforgettable evening
Doing anything new can be intimidating, but so long as you show up with an open mind and willingness to try what is presented on your plate – did I mention that the first course was a Parmesan Truffle Custard served artistically in the half shell of a farm-fresh egg presented on a bed of julienned arugula? – you will walk away thankful you stepped out of your comfort zone. My experience far surpassed my expectations and introduced me to wonderful new acquaintances and a place to pick up fresh local produce.
8. Learn a valuable life lesson
As Emily Asmus took us on a tour of the farm one of the statements she made has stuck in my memory most profoundly. While talking about her two draft horses, someone asked about their yearly schedule, and as one might imagine, the winter is their slow season (nothing to plow!). She pointed out that they are far less rambunctious when they have a task (the spring and early summer months) – a task that they are undoubtedly best suited for – plowing. And while they are well-cared for and have clean and comfortable quarters when they are not working, it is when they are in the fields tilling up the ground, fulfilling a purpose – a purpose that they are uniquely designed for, that their restlessness is quelled. So too is the case for each of us, when we discover our purpose that intersects with our passions and what we are drawn to do, that is when we find contentment. So whether you’ve found your place of contentment or you are still searching, know that when you do, you will know and it will be worth the search.
More than anything the evening was something I, nor my tastebuds, will soon forget. Denise Isenhower mentioned that they hope to offer another Farm-to-Table dinner next year, so if you live in the area or will be in the area in the future, be sure to sign up for their newsletter as that was how I was alerted to it earlier this month.
At the heart of Farm-to-Table events is to build an appreciation for how food arrives at our table and the importance of good food (economic and health benefits). After all, when we remind ourselves of the fuel that energizes our day, we live and eat more mindfully and those benefits help to establish a more fulfilling lifestyle in the bigger picture of how we go about our days and chase our dreams.
~Farm to Fork (food adventures throughout Oregon)
~Plate & Pitchfork Dinners (Oregon)
~Farm to Table (South Carolina)
~Outstanding in the Field (entire US and 8 additional countries)
~Field to Table catering (central California)
~SIMILAR POSTS FROM THE ARCHIVES YOU MIGHT ENJOY:
Images: all images via TSLL, more images would have been taken, but I vowed to just enjoy the evening (I wish I would have broken this vow to capture a picture of the Parmesan Truffle Custard I mentioned in the post – organically chic).