Thursday, October 1, 2015

At the Chef's Table with Dan Barber at Forager's Market (W.S.J.)

The Wall Street Journal is hosting a series of Chef's Table dinners, launching with Dan Barber of Blue Hill notoriety.  A champion of farm-to-table and then some, Chef Barber was on hand to discuss his new book, The Third Plate, a comprehensive look at the future of food from a very knowledgeable, fore-thinking and involved perspective.  Unfortunately, it was not he who cooked the actual meal, although Forger's Table chef Nickolas Martinez provided a superb repast using, utilizing showcasing and capitalizing on the marketiest of market-fresh ingredients.  A vegetable-centric meal, it was not wholly vegetarian, but it was wholly satisfying.  Which is basically the point of Barber's book: that we can be nourished and sated without the crutch of animal proteins, while certainly not abandoning their importance both culinarily and nutritively.

After a preamble, the microphone was opened up to seated diners for a Q&A, the Q's of which were mostly quite thoughtful, and the A's were throrough, to say the least.  Mr. Barber can get a little wordy, but it only reinforces his passion.  Luckily, we were served as he spoke and not after, so nobody was left to starve as the conversation evolved.  And certainly, starve we did not.  A welcome cocktail the sang the virtues of autumn: a hard apple cider and Core vodka concoction from Harvest Spirits in Valatie, NY.  It was simultaneously warming and refreshing, a bit spicy and boozy, with a nice apply sweetness. 

But summer not being far long gone, one of the hors d'oeuvres consisted of tiny cubed watermelon in a refreshing yuzu juice.  The other was a unctuous button of warm, creamy ricotta topped with a tangy tomato jam.  Little name tags designated our seats, and wines from Bonny Doon Vineyards in California were poured and refilled methodically: a jammy red Grenache and a lovely, clean Albarino, both wildly drinkable.   Seated, we were provided a hearty cheese and squash gougere, two-bite big and equally full of flavor.  The first course was a ruddy tomato-pepper gazpacho, latently peppery and drizzled with a vibrant herby oil.  Small, chewy croutons floated within, giving the smooth puree a bit of texture.    The main course was also of nightshades, a chunky Moroccan-spiced stew of meaty eggplant,
 topped with a wobbly, barely-poached 65 Degrees (the farm, not the temperature, although "rare" is it was, the cooking temperature probably didn't make it much above that) Forager's farm egg and a delicate crisp of blue buckwheat, one of the grains Barber champions.

Our dessert was so responsible any caloric impact I'm certain was entirely negated.  The whey used to poach the grapes was retained from the ricotta appetizer, a honeyed Bostock was made of day-old brioche from the market, and the plums and peaches reduced to a syrupy coulis were imperfect seconds.... perhaps eyesores for a grocery-worthy fruit display, but full of potent flavor.  Alongside was a little scoop of espresso ice cream, which I'd like to thing was made from brewed coffee that didn't get sold, but I'm totally making that up.

At any rate, the dinner was a hit, the evening, quite a success.  I took away (along with the bountiful gift bag), the important of popularizing a grain-based diet... not bagels and Uncle Ben's, of course.  But emmer and einkorn, quinoa and buckwheat, heirloom strains being reinvigorated by farmers, that are nutritious both to a human consumer and to the soils in which they grow.   I, personally, adored my question to Dan about
 flipping government subsidies away from big, commodity corn and soy producers to small, organic farms that practiced responsible crop rotation and sustainable farming techniques.  I even got a kudos from a fellow diner, which meant more to me than the fact the Chef Barber believes it's more important that chefs promulgate an emphasis on grain-based diets as the most sustainable, delicious and hip way to eat.  But hey.  He's the chef, and what do I call my blog, after all?

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