This dinner we had the advantage of already having been to the site less than a month prior, having hosted GQ Magazine's 50th Anniversary dinner mid-August. Being familiar with the garden and how the dinner functions in the space does make things a little easier. Jim enjoyed the challenge of fitting 144 feet of table into the garden space. After spending some time pacing, then haphazardly laying out tables he arrived at the solution: one long, curved table that would snake from under the willow trees on one end of the garden, over the sidewalk-chalk covered surface and off next to the gazebo. The past couple of days we had been threatened with chances of rain for Sunday afternoon/evening and were forced into considering tenting options for the space. It also would have been possible to set up the table in a nearby community center, but we decided it would be best of course for the guests to dine in the garden. Our best tenting scenario looked like this: a 40’ by 60’ white topped, clear walled tent under which we could fit three rows of tables for our 140 guests, for the bargain price of $2000. Needless to say, three rows goes strong against Jim’s one table ideal so we then began discussing the possibility of individual rain ponchos for the guests, green to match the garden… lucky for us (and the guests), once again, the 40% chance of rain became a small chance of rain in the morning with clearing skies in the afternoon.
With the table properly snaked, the next while was spent setting it and clearing the area for the kitchen space. The willow trees in the park leave a thick blanket of leaves on the ground and Jim and garden member Julian spent time raking leaves and sticks, moving piles of brush and finally tying back plant branches to squeeze the kitchen and 144 foot table into the community garden.
Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and his all-female crew arrived several hours before guests began arriving at 4 pm. It turns out that this dinner is a bit of a family affair as Chef Michael Anthony is newly wed to Mindy, sister of Allison Dubin of Channing Daughters Winery, our featured winemaker from Long Island. It is great to have Michael working with us again at an Outstanding in the Field dinner: in October 2003, alongside Dan Barber, he prepared a dinner at the then not-yet built Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and the reunion is overdue.
As the Outstanding visitors filtered in, the garden was filled with the buzz of conversation. Guests enjoyed Michael’s many appetizers (from ham & cheese and eggplant & lardo to tomatoes & turnips) and Channing Daughters’ Sylvanus. Usually our farm dinners we are in a more vast space and can “hide” the table from the guests so they don’t come upon it until the end of the farm/vineyard tour. This was of course impossible in our intimate garden venue, but it was a beautiful scene to have the guests milling around the table with their first wine.
Jim’s adrenaline from the table set up and general enthusiasm for the dinner lead to him address the crowd with his longest speech ever before handing it over to Ross Martin, designer and board member of La Plaza Cultural, shared some history of the 30 year old garden.
Guests collected plates from the gazebo and settled in next to each other at the table. Among those seated were some familiar faces to Outstanding in the Field: some repeat customers from California including Kathy, Topher and Clara. There were also visitors from Flagstaff, Arizona; Philadelphia and Tennessee. Jim was pleased to invite the ladies from Random House who have been working with him on the Farm to Table cookbook as well as see a few gallerists from Chelsea.
Michael’s menu featured a number of purveyors new to Outstanding in the Field farm dinners, including Eco Friendly Farm, Paffenroth Farm and Eckerton Hill Farm while the familiar faces of Roger Repohl (our favorite honeyman from the Bronx) and Jim of Sullivan St bakery also joined us at the table.
Bev Eggleston of Eco Friendly Farm, whose ossabau pork made up the main course of the dinner, was especially eager to talk about his happy pigs. He emphasized that happy pigs makes happy meat and passionately shared his stories up and down the table.
Community Garden dinners are a great way to bring light to the bounty that is available in an urban center. Just Food is an amazing New York non-profit who does this as well, working to build connections and opportunities for the city farmers, community gardeners and NYC communities/members. On their website they list over 30 “City Farms” in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island and even offer connections to CSAs so NYC residents can receive veggie boxes weekly – all freshly-picked and locally grown within 3 hours of the city. The CSA site boasts that each box contains 7 – 10, usually organic, types of vegetables and that over the course of a season (June to November) members will receive at least 40 different types of vegetables. Just Food has been making a difference and educating NYC residents since they started in 1994 and Outstanding in the Field is so happy to support them: a portion of the proceeds from the La Plaza Cultural dinner are being donated to Just Food. Thanks to them for being such a great resource and introducing us to Roger and the other NYC farmers!
Nancy, Gramercy Tavern’s pastry chef had crafted 24 nectarine and blueberry pies for the table, to be served with whipped cream featuring Roger’s honey as well as bowls of muscat and champagne grapes. The guests finished off their feast by soft candlelight enveloped in the magical ambiance that had been created in the garden by the table, the kitchen, the guests and the purveyors. One could have easily forgotten that we were still in the middle of Manhattan…