When people want to frame a dinner menu (and it’s not their wedding dinner), you know that it was a truly special event. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to attend the shake the hand that feeds you locavore dinner at the Flying J Farm in Johnstown, Ohio. The evening was both the brainchild of and fabulously executed by Colleen Braumoeller, the doyenne of Slow Food Columbus and it was one of the most perfect and memorable evenings, I can remember.
The thank you list on the back of the Menu gives some indication of how many people made such an event possible, as Colleen said ‘without all of you, we’d just be a hungry group of people, roaming the fields, clutching our forks and looking for cows’.
Here are some excellent (and comprehensive) descriptions of the event from Colleen herself, and Columbus Foodie as well as a podcast which is primarily an interview with Flying J owner Dick Jensen. (I cringe to link it because I hated listening to myself on it, but it is a great interview and it gives a lot of background on the farm).
There is little I can add to the existing write ups of the dinner except to mention a few things that really stood out for me.
It is rare that you have the opportunity to interact with a chef while they are working (especially when they are in the midst of cooking a dinner for 40 people). Chef John Dornback (of Basi Italia) was cooking in an outdoor kitchen, on a large and unfamiliar oil drum of a grill and not only did he take the whole thing in his stride, with a great sense of humor, but he explained what he was doing, answered questions and genuinely seemed to enjoy the whole event, even when he was finishing off the meal with a head lamp.
It was wonderful to watch the meal being prepared, for example seeing the beef at each stage of its preparation, and to see some of the vegetables and herbs literally go from the field to the table (charred chard anyone?). Touring the farm before dinner and hearing Dick’s philosophy on farming and gardening gave both an appreciation for the quality of the ingredients and an admiration for the sustainability he is trying to achieve.
The beef (with poblano-maple jus and a coffee rub) was one of the highlights of the meal for me (this is substantiated by the podcast if you make it all the way to the end). It was extremely succulent and flavorful, which is both a testament to the quality of the meat and John’s skill as a the chef as it was extremely lean and without such careful forethought and preparation it could easily have dried out on the grill.
Other highlights were the ‘very rustic’ bread from the Eleni Christina bakery (created by David Beach from Flying J flour and which reminded me of the bread that you commonly get in Ireland); Jeni’s buttercup squash, nutmeg and mascarpone ice cream (which tasted like dreamy creamy pumpkin pie) and as Bear will attest, the Highland Estates paw paw liqueur was also a resounding hit.
I had a lot of fun creating my own pre-dinner cocktail from the lemon sage infused vodka, the chamomile iced tea, seltzer water and lemon verbena from the herb garden. The second attempt was (if I say so myself) quite delicious, but there is a reason why bartenders use measures…. it was sadly unrepeatable.
The bruschetta, the frittata, the butter, the cheeses….. I could actually list everything we ate as a highlight. It really was that good.
The setting was idyllic, the weather fortuitous and in true Slow Food style, the atmosphere convivial. It is rare to see such a large group enjoying themselves with such unanimity and to see so many people mucking in and investing to make the event such a success. It was a privilege.
If only every evening could end around a bonfire….
The rest of my photos of the event are also online. For reference here also are the Refreshments and the Wine notes. The River Village Cellars Syrah, 2006 was exceeded all of my expectations of Ohio wine. You can read more about how it and the riesling were selected on oinosnervosa.