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.

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