On a perfect summer night in July, Sprout hosted the inaugural Summer Harvest Dinner at their facility in Little Falls, Minnesota. What follows is my best attempt to give you a flavor of the evening.
Billed as an opportunity to “dine with your farmer, wine with your friends”, the Summer Harvest Dinner took the Farm-to-Table concept to a giddy clime. By offering five different courses paired with five unique wine pairings, five chef teams paired with thirteen area growers to make the meal. Energy filled the room early, and for good reason.
Sommelier, Scott Lindman from Paustis Wine Company, made an appropriate space for the spirits in the Farm-to-Table discussion. “Remember”, he emphatically announced, “grapes are also grown and harvested from the ground – they’re just turned into fermented liquid that makes food consumption even more enjoyable.” Adding, “if it grows together, it goes together.”
Soon enough, Chef Jenna Brower Von Siebolds started off the courses with grass-fed lamb satay and fire-roasted tomatillos and thyme. The lamb came courtesy of Darin Bauck’s Dew Drop Farms, while the Agua Gorda Cooperative and Lambright farm provided generous portions of the accompanying vegetables. Instantly, the act of dining with source farmers proved unique and highly satisfying – and one that I highly recommend to everyone. Add the Bearitage red blend wine that Lindman paired the meal against, and this evening was off to a splendid start.
“This is just wonderful,” exclaimed Sprout’s Executive Director Arlene Jones, “helping local farms thrive, building trust, building a network with the community. Now is the time.” I remarked that I was quite familiar with the Farm-to-Table concept, but had never seen a farmer-at-every-table dinner event like this.
Next, the ‘wok-ing taco’ kohlrabi noodle salad with chicken and ginger scallion broth was delivered ingeniously by Chef Matt Annand in a Chinese carryout box. The chicken came from Island Lake Farm, while Baker’s Acres and Russell & Jessica Kleinschmidt’s farm offered up the delectable vegetables. Not only did it present well, the flavor was once again complex and delicious. I’m not going to lie, I was feeling a bit delirious at the prospect of tasting more diverse and amazing food along with additional wine at this point – but soldiered on, because I’m a trooper like that.
Iron Range Eatery’s Jason Eslinger took us up another level with his exquisite honey lemon glazed salmon, accompanied by a summer vegetable ratatouille paired against a Wente chardonnay by the name of Morning Fog. My own food coma induced fog had fully set in by now, yet I was able to appreciate the nuances of the ratatouille’s ingredients grown by Barry’s Cherries, as well as The Farm on St. Matthias which complimented the robust flavor of the salmon elegantly. I couldn’t imagine stuffing more flavorful selections in my gullet, but again, I come from a military family…of gluttons.
Notably present on this night were a number of young people in attendance. Some were growers, others part of chef teams, some helping to organize the event, and still others there to enjoy the opportunity to partake the atmosphere of a shared bounty. Both Jones and Executive Director of Region Five Development Commission Cheryal Hills commented on the importance of young people getting involved in the work of local foods. “Millennials are very committed to stewardship and the creation of their own legacy – moreso, it seems than we did as young people.” Hills added, “millennials want to be connected to the growers and the food they care so deeply about”, while noting “local food is not only an economic driver, it attracts a quality workforce.”
Chef Tomas Zimmerman of the A.T. The Black & White Restaurant continued the evening with a serving of pork tenderloin with chimichurri accompanied by a vegetable medley on basmati rice. If you’ve ever dined at the Black & White in Little Falls, you can imagine how tasty and imaginative the dish was, especially with a tenderloin from Haffner Family Farm. At this point, my entire table was imbued by the magic of the evening. Hills noted “it’s so exciting to see the payoff of almost ten years of effort and partnership evolve into such an exciting evening!”
Fortunately, for my all too happy and increasingly Buddha-like belly, the fifth and final course presented would be a dessert. Surely, I would be spared a tradition that I now rarely, if ever, entertain so close to a full meal. Not so fast, Mark. Chef James Blahut from Sherwood Forest delivered a chocolate zucchini cheesecake with help from Ben Penner Farms and Kauffman farm, that was not to be ignored. Somehow, the ruby port brought out even more flavor than seemingly conceivable. Such a finish.
Five courses and five wine pairings brought together friends and other locals to promote dining local with the opportunity to interact with your food producers. While the Harvest Dinner bell will not ring again until next summer, you’ll find these food providers and remarkable local food culture at the Sprout facility all year-round in the forms of markets, cooking classes, and other great events.
Special Projects Coordinator