The coined “Farm-to-Table” event has gained popularity recently, but just how much of what’s on the table actually came from the farm?
Tahoe Food Hub is leaving no question unanswered through their pop-up dinner series Pitchfork & the Pan; where small local farms produce the ingredients that local chefs prepare and serve.
Their first dinner was on Aug. 20 at the Sagehen Creek Field Station. Locals and visitors got together to join in a family style meal and to appreciate the value in fresh, organic ingredients sourced from small farms.
The wine, cheese, produce, protein, loaves of bread, even the butter all had a story from the farmers and ranchers who produced them.
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“A lot of dinners that are farm-to-table style don’t have butter or oil that was made locally. We have literally everything; bread, grain, milk, cheese, even the flowers on the table are from the farm,” said Laurel Bollinger, sister of the ranchers featured during the pop-up dinner, who volunteered to help at the event.
Throughout the evening, guests had the opportunity to roam the property at the field station before mingling with the stars of the evening, the people who grew and raised the meal.
“I think this is just amazing,” said Sarah Wheat, who runs Elephant Rock Farm with her husband Matt, and who provided the pork for the dinner’s entrée course.
“This is what we started farming for; it was a hobby for our family to know where our food came from and now that we have an abundance we can share it with others,” she said.
Her husband added, “We started with two pigs and 25 chickens, and now we’re at 18 pigs and 230 chickens.”
The couple’s passion for humanely raised pigs and chickens rang through clearly, as they described the picturesque Elephant Rock Farm near Apple Hill in Camino, Calif., that they operate day in and day out.
“It’s so important to show people where their food comes from, even our friends don’t understand that meat doesn’t just come in a package,” Sarah Wheat said.
“It’s important for people to know that there’s an alternative to factory food,” she added.
As the sun set, an acoustic guitarist who also works with the people of the Food Hub performed for the crowd as Jessica Stanley, co-owner of Illanta Wines poured glasses of sauvignon blanc or zinfandel from their own local wine brand.
“We do small batches so it allows us to put more love into each of our wines,” Stanley said.
Illanta Wines will also be featured at the final, sold out dinner this month, serving their wines crafted from local, organic and biodynamic grapes.
Guests casually chatted with new friends and discussions on sustainability and local, fresh produce could be heard throughout the venue.
“Eating well starts at a young age, and it’s so important to teach kids early and try to change the standard American diet,” said Debbie Walker, a guest of the dinner, who is also a licensed naturopathic doctor. “We need to be teaching them how to grow food and where it comes from,” she explained.
Pitchfork & the Pan dinners do just that as every single thing guests eat is introduced in the food hub’s effort to get back to the authenticity of a family dinner.
The fruit and vegetables featured in passed hors d’oeuvres, salad, entrée, and dessert came from Patrick and Diane Bollinger of Foothill Roots Farm in Meadow Vista, Calif.
The Bollingers introduced themselves to diners of the evening, saying they decided to start a farm while they were still living in Kings Beach.
The chefs introduced the courses to the crowd.
“It doesn’t get fresher than the Food Hub. You don’t get access typically to such fresh ingredients; they are literally ‘picked to order.’ You order the produce you want and it’s at your door the next day,” said Scott Yorkey, guest chef of the evening.
Twinkling bistro lights set the atmosphere for the elegant dinner that doesn’t require an elegant dress code. The guests and hosts shared the same gratitude for being able to look at their plate and know exactly where every ingredient came from.
Each dinner is specially curated using the freshest seasonal ingredients available.
The first passed appetizer was a spoon filled with goat cheese mousse and topped with crispy German butterball chip carrot, golden beet and chive. Next came a cantaloupe velouté with candied lemon peel as a delightful summer soup. The final hors d’oeuvre was carrot keftedes served with a cilantro tzatziki.
As guests made their way to their seats with a fresh glass of Illanta wine, volunteers served enormous salads on platters designed to share among the tables.
Roasted heirloom tomato, red leaf lettuce, fresh mozzarella and basil were all beautifully arranged on the platters, drizzled in a calolea balsamic reduction.
The vegetables were so delicious no one left a single one on the plate, as guests put aside their salad plates toward the end of the course and just began picking off the remaining tomatoes with their forks, family style.
The highlight of the evening was the main course, which celebrated ingredients from the farmers who the crowd had all gotten an opportunity to know better by the time the dinner course rolled around.
For the main course, the chefs prepared a braised pork shoulder with Grass Valley Grains white corn polenta served two ways, carrot mousseline, confit golden beet, cured pork belly, shallot and Achiote jus.
Everything on the plate was incredible and the chefs’ innovation in serving both the pork and polenta two ways made for a really exciting flavor adventure.
Through mouthwatering bites of gourmet food, guests were engaging in thoughtful conversation about where and how we eat, and how we could improve our current methods.
“The only reason we participate in farmer’s markets is to educate people on what some of these advertising buzz words mean,” explained Matt Wheat of Elephant Rock Farms.
“’Free range’ means the chicken has access to the outdoors, but doesn’t mention for how long. And the word ‘pastured’ is misleading too; one man’s pasture is another man’s postage stamp. My chickens are out roaming and being animals,” he said.
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