I was on the road again this summer in search of the best food experiences, particularly those that showcase the best of artisan producers.
First, new tires on the Mini. Then off to Chicago for a farm dinner at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The mission of the Chicago Botanic Garden “is to promote the enjoyment, understanding, and conservation of plants and the natural world.” The mission encompasses three important components: collections, education and research. The grounds of the Garden are voluptuous and expansive and rich with color and variety. The visual beauty of the Garden, acre after acre, goes beyond what one can describe in words or pictures.
So, it was on this slate that the farm dinner was drawn. In an area called the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden, an area lovingly crafted, meticulously maintained and dedicated to education, the stage was set. Simple visual reminders of growing technique dotted the paths of the tomato beds and grape arbors.
We were at first welcomed, with no more than 30 other guests, to an event with an emphasis on quality and intimacy. The bartender prepared summer drinks of our choosing, and we began a guided walking tour of the fruit and vegetable garden, an area adjacent to the lake. We also heard firsthand from Green Youth Farm students about how produce is planted, cultivated, and harvested.
At the conclusion of the tour 20-25 minutes later, we got the first glimpse of the table that had been set for us. Eating communally is a wonderful opportunity to share ideas and laughter with people newly met, a way of opening to a world of others’ experiences.
A farm dinner at the Garden has all the qualities associated with the remembrance of how food is to be enjoyed… leisurely, intentionally, fully. So, like the appetizers paired with the cocktails, each course and accompanying beer or wine was a mini fete, a chance to thoroughly sense and taste the dishes of the event.
Numerous individual artisan producers contributed to the event, and each producer was represented personally at the table, including the pork and chicken farmers. The evening’s master of ceremonies, Cleetus Friedman, the owner and chef of City Provisions Delicatessen, which was awarded 2010 Restaurant of the Year by The Local Beet, was a great band leader. Talented, face forward, humorous, genuinely likable… the perfect guide.