Thursday, July 26, 2012
Chef John Foster: ‘Taste of Farm’ is ultimate local dinner party … hope to see you there
The time has come once again to gear up for the Farmers Market “A Taste of the Farm Dinner,” a multicourse extravaganza featuring food from the local farms, cooked by local chefs and students from Sullivan University Lexington, and served in the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion that the market calls home. This may sound a tad premature but the dinner is slated for Saturday the 25th of August, about a month away, which begs the question: Why plan so soon? Well, consider several important elements of the dinner that have to fall in place, just at the right time, to make this event a success.
The first is the food. In the past, as an inspiration for our menus, we have used the bestselling book “Beyond the Fence, A Culinary View of Historic Lexington,” published by the Central Baptist Hospital Cancer Program. The book is broken up into seasons and we have borrowed liberally from spring, summer and fall to make up the courses we will serve.
With the type of year the market has had, the foods we will rely on may not be there by the time the actual dinner arrives. Imagine no berries of any kind, beans that have withered on the vine and gone to seed, even livestock that can’t make the usual weights, yielding fewer products for us to use. Hopefully, that will be a worst-case scenario, but as I talk to farmers, they express frustration and a touch of dread when they speak of the month between now and then.
What might make good menu reading like corn puddings and roasted pork will have to be replaced by a mystery basket of sorts as we approach the deadline for placing our orders with the market. Of course, both parties are highly adaptable. You really can’t occupy the space of farmer or cook if you can’t adapt. And we will have food of the best quality available with which to build a wonderfully enticing menu to dine on.
That brings me to the second element that desperately needs to materialize: you, the consumer. As always, the show is just rehearsal without a paying audience, and we should be able to rely on the same informed and involved clientele that frequents the market every weekend.
I must confess that last year we were undercut somewhat by a torrential rain that soaked Lexington an hour before the start of dinner. Although the sun was out by the actual start time, the audience was already lost. The silver lining was that the excess food (and there was a lot) did not go to waste, but rather fed several food banks in the city for several days. Disheartening, discouraging even, it was not enough to put us off this year. When the project was offered it was accepted, and as we plan again for this year’s dinner we hope you all plan to join us!
Finally, we can only hope for the best when it comes to all the little details falling into place at the same time, in the same place, with the same level of involvement by farmer, cook and patron alike. Dinner parties are never a breeze, dinner outside in 90-degree weather is problematic at best, and the ability to pull it all together always relies on intangibles. Obviously, the least amount of those intangibles becomes the best-case scenario and the aim of everyone involved. So offer an opinion along with your involvement. It makes the project more approachable and, in the end, possible when all the information, good and bad, harsh and gratifying, is on the table.
John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Chef Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been an executive chef, including at the popular Dudley’s Restaurant, and a restaurant owner.