Sunday, September 29, 2013

Farm to fork dinner

Last night, Mike, Jane, and I went to Joliet Junior College's annual fall scholarship dinner for the culinary department. In previous years it was an international buffet, but this year it was a farm-to-fork dinner, which of course, got yours truly really excited. I'm always excited about the culinary department scholarship dinners -- students have won the national culinary championship multiple times -- but add locally grown food to the menu, and it's a really big cause for excitement. I love knowing that future chefs are learning about the advantages of using local, in-season foods.

The event was held outside the cafeteria at the college. While the second-year culinary students were in charge of cooking, the first-year students were the servers for the evening. As everyone mingled during the arrival time, the first course was served by students walking around with platters of appetizers, such as smoked heirloom tomato bruschetta on freshly baked ciabatta and miniature house-made sausage sandwich with honey mustard sauce. To drink, we had cranberry cyser, which was a hard cider-mead hybrid from Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery in nearby Chicago. Unfortunately, I was too busy enjoying the food to remember to take any pictures. (You'll find that was a recurring problem through the evening!)

We were seated for the second course, which was a variety of entirely house-made charcuterie, salumi, and fresh cheeses. I find it really exciting that culinary schools are teaching their students how to make all of these things! Although the cheeses were all fresh varieties (as opposed to aged styles), I'm hoping the trend continues and a cheese cave will be a standard fixture at all culinary schools of the future.

Caesar salad

The third course was a choice of four salads, as well as a variety of breads, butters, pickled vegetables, and relishes. And I finally came out of my food-crazed daze long enough to snap a couple of pictures. The "Caesar salad" was not your fast-food garden variety -- of course! -- as it included early fall kale and endive, in addition to the traditional romaine. I have to admit I never would have considered using kale in a Caesar salad, but it was honestly one of my favorite parts of the meal, and I am looking forward to copying the medley in my own kitchen.

Grilled vegetable "slaw"

Everyone had a choice of four entrees, and since it was served family style, we could take a little of each, if we wanted. (or a lot!) Since I only eat meat that we grow ourselves or was grown by farmers we know, I decided to pass on the pork and beef entree, even though it came from a local farm. The chicken was an organic Bell and Evans chicken, and because the chef's description sounded divine, I gave it a try. I only had one bite, which was when it occurred to me that it was a Cornish cross. Although the sauce was delicious, the chicken itself didn't taste like much. So alas, I can say I've finally tried a commercially grown organic chicken, and I can see why so many people rave about how heritage chicken tastes like chicken. Heritage chicken definitely tastes better.

And then there was dessert. At this point, most everyone was entering a food-induced coma, so no one made a dash for the dessert tables when it was announced that we'd be going inside for the final course. There were eight choices, so I carefully surveyed the options before choosing three. My favorite was the salted caramel ice cream with spicy apples and toffee. The pumpkin cheesecake came in a close second place. I also had sweet corn ice cream, which would have been deemed excellent had it not been for the stiff competition.

Overall, we had a great time, and I'm hoping they will make this an annual event. I'd definitely attend again. And I've been thinking about the importance of educating chefs (and future chefs) about the value of using locally-grown ingredients, not simply because of the sustainability aspect but also because the food tastes so much better when it's really fresh, as well as the availability of heirloom vegetables and heritage meats from small farmers.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

As a nation we are becoming so much more educated about the importance of local food products. This event looks so inviting to me. Not just the food, although that looks excellent!


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