18 May 2010

Musing Monday's meal: Locavore Dinner

The first-ever Locavore Dinner at the Hopleaf Bar attracted nearly 30 guests, including some friends from Chicago's food scene and others whom I enjoyed meeting for the first time. Owner Michael Roper and his staff began the event by serving two welcome beers: Goose Island's Green Line Pale Ale and Three Floyd's Gumballhead Wheat Ale. Michael then described the Hopleaf's culinary commitment to supporting local/regional farmers by incorporating seasonal ingredients into their menu whenever it's feasible (their famed PEI mussels and Belgian-style frites being notable exceptions due to the very high volume sold each night). He then explained why purchasing sustainably-grown/-raised foods makes sense—in terms of business, the environment, the economy and the community—from the perspective an independent restaurateur.

I followed Michael's introduction with a few comments about the social benefits of "locavorism", especially in terms of personal wellness and understanding the provenance of our foods. I believe every food (and beverage) has a story that represents an opportunity to learn about people, places and the processes by which crops, livestock and artisan foods are created and crafted, respectively. To support that notion, I aggregated information from farm Web sites and online news articles to create a brief profile of all 14 farms, including their location and ownership. I hope that this meal and the menu will enable our guests to transform that information into knowledge, understanding and wisdom about local foods.

With the arrival of the first of four courses in our Locavore Dinner Menu—a microgreen salad atop a rhubarb-goat cheese bavarian, with hazelnuts and rhubarb-balsamic vinaigrette—we settled into our seats for the initial bites of a memorable feast. I didn't sit for long, though; I intermittently noshed and then moved about the room to chat with the guests, gathering their comments and impressions about the dinner and the topic of "locavorism". During the meal, a few guests tweeted their approval, using our chosen hashtag of #chicavore:

"...Three hours of amazing food, company and beers."

"Rabbit saddle revelatory. Pork and sunchokes heavenly. And I've never had crudités before where radish was the mild part!"

"...Rabbit saddle and rhubarb Bavarian were amazing."

"Dinner was Amazing!"

During the fourth and final course—whipped goat cheese, peach preserves & honey with house-made wholewheat crackers—Executive Chef Ben Sheagren joined the group and explained the opportunities and challenges in developing a dinner menu exclusively from locally-sourced ingredients. Ben's comments gave us more reason to appreciate just how sense-ational this meal was in terms of colors, flavors and textures.

Following some additional Q&A with Michael and Ben, I thanked our guests and exchanged goodbyes. T'was an eating experience to savor and remember... and hopefully, it was just the first of a series of locavore meals that I'll have an opportunity to curate during the remainder of 2010 and beyond. I welcome your suggestions for featured ingredients, host restaurants, culinary collaborators and other clever ways to enable collaborative learning about local food systems.

17 May 2010

Locavore Dinner at the Hopleaf

In mid-April, I met with Michael Roper (owner) and Ben Sheagren (executive chef) of the Hopleaf Bar here in Chicago and suggested that we collaborate on a "locavore" dinner, featuring locally-grown/-raised foods and locally-brewed beers. My idea was well-received as the Hopleaf is already committed to purchasing local foods whenever it's feasible. Additionally, Hopleaf serves many local brews on draft when they become available as seasonal or limited releases.

I've "earned my keep at the 'leaf" over the years, conducting several special events since the first beer and chocolate pairing in May 2005, while I worked as Culinary Attaché for La Brasserie Unibroue. As with all events at the Hopleaf, beer will claim its rightful place at the dinner table. However, my interest has moved beyond the liquid; I am now focused on the food and how it traveled (and was transformed) on the path from farm-to-fork. I hope my curiosity about food systems and their importance to our well-being and security will inspire tonight's guests to "know their farmer, know their food."

The planning and preparation of this dinner has been a collaborative, diligent effort. Ben researched the seasonally-available ingredients and developed a mouth-watering, four-course menu (to be served family-style) that he sourced from 14 different small farms in Wisconsin (8), Illinois (3), Indiana (1) and Michigan (2). For the pairings, Michael selected one beer each from five local breweries and mead from Chicago's only meadery. (Bees deserve special consideration at this event since they are responsible not only for producing honey, but for pollinating many crop foods, as well.) The eye-appealing promotional poster and dinner menu were designed by Louise Molnar (co-owner), who is one of the most talented creative designers I've ever worked with.

I look forward to sharing a delicious meal, some refreshing brews and meaningful conversation about farms, food and the future of each with our guests. We have a simple plan:


About Locavore Dinners
Launched in Chicago in 2010 by food scientist Jim Javenkoski, this monthly series of culinary events represents the convergence of locally-grown food and ol' school social learning. The dinners offer opportunities for consumers, chefs and farmers to gather and share delicious meals over casual yet informative conversations about the provenance and production of our food. Ideally, that dialog will reveal to each participant how we can collectively strengthen our local food system to provide economic, environmental, safety, wellness and justice benefits for all of us. The enduring goal of the Locavore Dinners is to enhance our food literacy and cultivate our "local food wisdom", one meal at a time.