Even if only symbolically and in the form of a pop-up dinner, there is a need to reexamine the way we are sourcing our food in America. Our global food system diminishes our sense of connection to our food, our landscape, and our food culture. 1500 miles is the figure often thrown around in the media to describe the average distance food travels to reach our plate in the U.S. Numerous research studies can be found to substantiate as well as discredit the number of “food miles” products have attached to them, but what holds true is our food generally travels far and with this comes consequences. Food grown closer to home tastes fresher, is more nutritious, and supports local growers. As the distance decreases, so does the need for preservation and processing not to mention fewer transportation emissions associated with it. We can add to this the bidirectional connection between consumer and producer that is created when we know the source of the product we seek. A trip to a farmers’ market can bridge the gap between rural and urban locales. Besides strengthening the regional economy, it can make a small town out of a big one. The simple act of picking fresh, local, and seasonal food stuffs from the producers is an act of reconnection to the land, to community, and to traditions of the past.
|Nick Melvin and Rusty Bowers greeting guests|
Labeling food as “local” seems to coalesce around the 100 mile limit. Enter Rusty Bowers of Pine Street Market and Nick Melvin of the upcoming Garden District. Together they created The 100 Mile Dinner, a series of pop-up dinners in Avondale Estates where partnering with chefs, farmers, and friends from the local community, they collaborate on a menu utilizing ingredients farmed entirely within 100 miles of the neighborhood. Some featured items may even be grown or raised exclusively for the events.
|151 Locust in Avondale Estates|
I attended the 100 Mile Dinner Garden Party on a stormy September night at one of Avondale's oldest buildings, 151 Locust. The rain was not a factor; in fact, it seemed to bring us together. We huddled as a mass of like minded diners under twinkling lights that occasionally went out with the storm. The background bluegrass enriched the stories being told of the tent we sat underneath and its most recent journey from Burning Man. We ate, talked, shared twitter accounts, and discussed our relationships with the dinner. I sat near a woman who is a vegetarian, unless the meat is locally sourced from a butcher she knows, like Pine Street Market. I also had the pleasure of Alicia Searcy’s company. She and her husband Tommy run Gum Creek Farms, the source of our lamb for this dinner (as well as the source of Pine Street's award winning Coppa). We left full of food as well as the notion of how we could carry this meal into the rest of our lives. At least I did.
Rustic yet elegant. Silver meets burlap.
The evening began with passed tastes and cocktails inside the house. This deviled "potato salad" was completely enchanting and unexpected. I loved the smoked Blue Ridge trout roe as a topper.
Another taste, Pine Street Market applewood bacon on Heirloom Garden's greens and preserved cherry tomato with cracked pepper aioli. This smoky-sweet bacon is always in my fridge and should be in yours. The greens were good too but I was really making the bacon face while I ate this dish. Oh my goodness, this bacon.
High Strung String Band were the the perfect musical accompaniment to this meal- a taste of traditional bluegrass mixed with a bit of folk but played with an edge. The music was much like the food: comfort laden with one foot in the past and a modern twist.
From the top, clockwise: North Georgia apples with Pine Street lardo, young arugula, & candied local nuts, roasted pumpkin, apple, and Flat Creek Lodge Natural Cheddar soup with creme fraiche & spicy pumpkin cheese straw, Deviled potato salad, Local cheese & honey. Along with these "Crostini ala Cachinni," a mini meat ball with sweet pimiento jelly. Jason Kemp of The Family Dog served a Flor Rose Brut with fresh grapefruit, thyme, and rosemary. It was a lovely beginning.
|Duck Rillette pairing|
Braised Gum Creek Farm's Lamb Farotto with grilled lamb sausage, mushroom conserva, and roasted local pumpkin. All I can say is suddenly I knew it was fall. This dish by Kyle Griffith of Pine Street Market and Andy Gonzales of Steinbeck's Pub was rich and hearty, yet the lamb was delicate. The lamb was clean and herbaceous tasting, indicative of grass pasturing. Pairing the lamb with a Highland Oatmeal Porter was perfect.
Serious fun while the rain was spilling through the branches of the surrounding trees.
"Derby Cocktail" from Jason Kemp of The Family Dog: 4 Roses bourbon and a champagne shrub.
Even before dessert arrived, I was sweetly enchanted with this drink and this evening.
Spiced Pecan Panna Cotta with mulled cranberry, preserved peaches, and pralines from Nick Melvin of Garden District and Layne Lee of Sweet N' Sinful Bakery. First there was a sound of spoons clinking on porcelain, then silence as fellow diners disappeared into this dessert. I took delicate, tiny bites of each flavor then bigger bites with one or two. The panna cotta appeared simple, but was anything but with the emanations within the bowl. First, a forward sweetness then smoky-spiced mulled cranberry arose from the depths to mingle with the tangy Georgia peaches canned at the peak of ripeness. The peaches managed to place both summer and autumn on my palate.
Rusty and Nick thank their guests.
Left to right: Jason Kemp, Kyle Griffith, Andy Gonzales, Nick Melvin, and Rusty Bowers
Far right: Terry Koval
It was at this moment I remembered a passage from Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, which I had recently re-read: "...and he's going into the city to get drunk with the butchers, enlightened." I was full, a little tipsy, hanging with the butchers, and enlightened.
The next 100 Mile Dinner is in November I won't hesitate to purchase a seat. I cannot wait for Nick Melvin's Garden District. Follow his progress to the restaurant here.