Friday night marked the debut of Kudzu dinners, a series of ten "secret" gatherings masterminded by the Taste Network to realize the vision of farm to table. The concept is for the guests to sign up for a dinner without knowing the "secret" location, which may be either inside the city or on a local farm. Each dinner strives to marry the talent of one local chef with the season's best from a number of local farms. The dishes are paired with wines selected by the Taste Network, in some cases to showcase the wines of a particular maker.
Twenty four hours prior to dinner, an email revealed a house in Vi-highland as the "secret" location for this first meal featuring Adam Biderman of Star Provisions. I turned up, along with twenty plus other guests, at the fantastic-smelling venue to find not only Adam, but a team from the wonderful Bacchanalia, including Anne Quatrano herself, in the kitchen. With a glass of Henriot Brut in hand, we observed the chefs at work while munching on D'Avignon radishes with sweet butter and sel gris.
After making some fast friends, we got seated for dinner with a glass of Henriot Rose Champagne. To pair with it, Adam introduced a first course of roasted Woodland Gardens baby beets, beet chips, Sweetgrass Dairy chevre, beet sorbet, and citrus emulsion. My photo (above) falls way short of illustrating the beauty of this dish, especially the beet sorbet, which was of the prettiest shade of deep fuchsia. To my untrained palate, the sorbet seemed far richer than the pedestrian sort. It was very creamy with a smooth and rounded mouth feel. Somehow it also retained the refreshing tart qualities despite the creaminess. It fast became my favorite on the plate. Around me, I heard many compliments for the roasted beats, some from self-proclaimed beet haters.
Poached Georgia white shrimps came up next paired with a rose, a 2006 Prieure De Montezargues Tavel to be exact. Not the least bit rubbery, the shrimps were delightful to chew on, overshadowed only by the great rose, which, to my unsophisticated palate, the best sip of the evening. This wine was far more robust than any rose I've sampled in the past and presented layers of flavor. I loved it!
Anne introduced the main course, Riverview Berkshire porchetta, braised Crystal Organic farm greens, and baby carrots in a lamb broth, apparently a change from the initially planned lamb dish. Anne explained that the change was warranted when the lamb failed to show-up, an important lesson one must learn in cooking fresh from the farm: the menu must remain flexible enough to anticipate the unexpected changes such as ingredient alterations. While Anne said that she would have liked more time to brine the pork prior to dinner (which I learned, from my own experience with the Zuni Cookbook, could make a world of difference), I found that the pork in this dish suffered very little in its shredded form. My heart, however, belonged to the greens accompanying the pork. Perfectly tender without being mushy, the greens exuded their own savoriness beyond what's imparted by the broth. This savoriness is a dimension I find often robbed from the supermarket variety. Whenever I experience it in vegetables, I am transported back the dinner table of my youth where my mom served her vegetables from the morning farmer's market. While my mom's kale hailed from the soil a world away in central China, I found the same deep savoriness perfectly resonated in the southern greens from Anne's farm. What I never had growing up was the wine. The 2004 domaine Bouchard pere et Fils was flirty. It played with the pork, made eyes at the greens, but also stood up to their strong flavors. It was a playful combination that worked.
Younger brother to the 2004, the 2005 Domaine Souchard pere et Fils, in my opinion, surpassed its older sibling in finesse and depth. I have heard that 2005 was a better year in most regions of France, but have never tasted any wine vintaged a year apart side by side to experience the difference. This was a very interesting presentation by Brady of the Taste Network. I certainly loved the 2005 more, perhaps a bit too much to also equally appreciate the cheeses, a valencay, a Camembert, and a Bonrus (from right to left).
The sweet ending came in the form of an old fashioned caramel cake paired with Panorama apple farm's warm apple pie cider. The cake was served simply in giant slices. I could barely finish a corner. The corner I got was a tad dry but not too sweet. I am no expert on cider, but in this case, the cider was made special by the fact the people who made it also sat at the dinner table. Somehow a meal has a way of tasting better when the person who grew, cooked, or labored over what went into it sat next to you and spoke lovingly of it, which is, well, the point of this whole experience.