By Colin Bado, TSB Contributor
It’s Friday evening and the temps were hovering just below 100 degrees as the sun began to resign just over the framework of the historic Dulaney House. Guests arrived in high spirits and congregated as they conversed, while indulging in a sweet glazed pork belly appetizer and a refreshing cocktail of blueberry infused vodka, simple syrup and lime juice. Bright summer locally raised flowers in glass jars accentuated the long tables dressed in white tablecloths. Surrounded by century old trees, historic houses, the Historic Village of Chestnut Square provided the perfect setting for the inaugural “Farm to Table” dinner in support of Historic Chestnut Square and the McKinney Farmers’ Market.
Sponsored by Rick’s Chophouse and Sauce on the Square, the purpose of the farm to table dinner fundraiser was to enable the Farmers’ Market to accept food stamps from those who are unable to afford produce that is grown locally and without harmful chemicals. Humanely raised animals and organic produce have become a luxury due to the high costs that the farmer and consumer must bare. With the support of restaurateur Rick Wells and the Farmers’ Market vendors, the luxury of enjoying seasonal produce will be accessible to a broader range of consumers.
With the recent exit of Rick’s Chef, Tim Bevins, Chef Andrea Shackelford took the reins and crafted a six-course-tasting menu that accentuated the produce grown by the farmers, or food products made by local vendors, who participate in McKinney’s market.
Signature cocktails and wine pairings by Landon Winery accompanied the six courses, and while costing $100 per seat, the good cause was more than worth the expense.
The highlight of the evening came as a surprise to diners, as every farmer who supplied an ingredient within the menu was present at the dinner. Before each coarse, each farmer would introduce themselves and their product to the guests, and expound upon their contribution. The dinner was truly a one-of-a-kind experience, having the opportunity to interact with those who put their heart and soul into the food that was laid down before us.
Chefs who embrace using food from local farms have it easy. As one of my chefs once said, “These products that arrive at our restaurant are beautiful and full of flavor in their own right. They were picked either yesterday or today. It’s our job not to mess them up.”
The sustainable farmers, who have established the modern form of contemporary civilization by cultivating plants and animals to feed societies, have the hard part. California’s climate and soil is noticeably similar to that of the Mediterranean, making for an ideal agrarian environment for an array of produce, but Texas’ hot summers, questionable rain, and clay based soil make for a difficult growing ecosystem outside the realm of cotton. Only in Texas is it 70 degrees one day and snowing the next. (As was experienced last Christmas.) Our local farmers are resilient and live with more passion for their profession than most of us could ever fathom.
In a country that relies on the industrialization of food, these small farmers’ work ethic and their ability to foster astounding produce leaves me in awe. Thanks to passionate farmers and talented chefs, the public has the opportunity to indulge in something that the palate has never experienced before.
I encourage our readers to increase their awareness of their food consumption and their efforts to fully understanding the work that the farmers put fourth so that we have the ability to enjoy sustenance that lack GMO’s (Genetically modified organisms).
Chef Andrea Shackelford had her work cut out for her on Friday, June 14. Not only was she overseeing the inaugural Farm to Table dinner, but in addition to the elaborate tasting menu, (below) she continued to run Sauce on the Square. Shackelford is also acting as interim Chef at Ricks. The former Political Science graduate of SMU didn’t falter as she fed over one hundred “foodies” on a stiflingly hot summer night in McKinney.
The summer season is well into effect and Chef Andrea’s menu was replete with summer berries and stone fruit. Her additional use of pickles and lavish greens helped brighten dishes with a hint of sweet acidity. For me, the slightly cruncht braised green beans that were part of the fresh green salad of tender spinach and oak leaf lettuce were a highlight.
Copious amounts of water were consumed by diners during the three-hour, outdoor meal. Hand fans were passed out, but for future reference, standing electric fans would be ideal. I could feel the heat weighing me down. As I looked around, I noticed that the tight confines enabled me to witness drops of sweat protruding from my neighbors’ foreheads.
Andrea’s third coarse was a valiant effort to cool off the patrons, but the “Local Family Farms’ Blackberry, Herbs, Blueberry, Vanilla Cream Corn Sorbet with Motley Urban Farms’ Edible Nasturtium,” didn’t make it to the table before it transformed into a puddle of white and violet sauce. While the flavor was sweet and balanced, the anglaise that was supposed to be a sorbet was disconcerting. Thankfully, the Blackberry Bramble cocktail that accompanied the dish kept my spirits high.
Rehoboth Ranch of Greenville supplied the animal proteins for the evening. At Rehoboth, all animals raised have continuous access to green grass and plenty of space. Rehoboth Ranch is a chemical free zone. No growth hormones or antibiotics will be found in their animals! Rehoboth was kind enough to supply a Berkshire pork belly and loin as well as a grass fed beef filet.
My filet was cooked to a perfect medium-rare — amazing for a group of 100 — and the “smoky pork” was served medium well. Although the pork’s flavor was rich, the meat was slightly dry for my taste. The rich shitake mushrooms from Kitchen Pride helped add additional moisture to the smoky meat dish and the pea ragout added a lovely, fresh texture to the dish.
Landon Winery did a commendable job pairing with Chef Andrea’s menu. Landon paired a 2008 Merlot Reserve with the smoked pork loin. Landon’s Merlot is aged in American Oak, adding a distinctive char and spice essence to the wine, making for a perfect pairing.
The final course of the night included a fruit compote, consisting of blueberries and strawberries, a sweet biscuit, and whipped cream with AP Apiaries Honey, unfortunately, an unimpressive ending to an overall delicious meal. The biscuit was tough and difficult to cut, although the fresh berries were sweet and juciy.
Overall, the young Chef has set a high standard for the future farm to table dinners. An enjoyable experience for any true food connoisseur, the dinner created an intimate experience for a good cause. Strangers came together over the one thing that is imperative to life, and a joy for many – food. They conversed and fellowshipped. Perhaps strangers became friends with a better understanding of where our food comes from and from whom. McKinney residents are fortunate to have the Farmers’ Market right here in their own back yard.
McKinney’s weekly Farmers’ Market is held on Saturday morning on the historic Chestnut Square grounds. Cindy Johnson, the Executive Director of Chestnut Square, her staff and the Chestnut Square volunteers, in partnership with local farmers, has allowed the Farmers’ Market to flourish. It has been recognized as one of “Americas best Farmers Markets,” by the nonprofit agricultural conservation group, American Farmland Trust, and has been voted one of the top markets in the Dallas metropolitan area.
The following are the farms that participated in the “Farm to Table” dinner, followed by the six-course tasting menu.
Rehoboth Ranch located in Greenville supplied the proteins for the dinner.
Tom Motley of Urban Gardens supplied beautiful herbs, greens, and edible flowers.
Rosa Farms of Leonard, Texas supplied the goat cheese.
Good Earth Organic Farms of Celeste, Texas supplied the Green Beans.
Village Baking Company of Dallas, Texas supplied the baguettes.
Luscombe Farms of Anna, Texas supplied the artisian jellies.
Sachse Farms of Sachse supplied peas.
Texas Olive Ranch of Carrizo Springs, Texas supplied Vinegars and Olive Oils.
Kitchen Pride of Gonzalez, Texas provided delicious Shitake mushrooms.
Whitsell Farms provided the peppers, onions and corn.
Rehoboth Ranch Glazed Pork Belly, Tom Motley Urban Gardens’ Herbs, Baby Greens
The Remington: Local Family Farms’ Blueberry Infused Vodka, Fresh Lime Juice, Simple Syrup, Texas Olive Ranch’s Blueberry Balsamic Vinegar
Spinach, Oak Leaf Lettuce, Pickled Peppers, Mountain Man Jerky, Texas Olive Ranch
Vinegar Dressing, Rosa Farms’ Goat Cheese, Local Family Farms’ Braised Green Beans, Tomato
Pepper Cooler: Good Earth Organic Farms’ Bell Pepper Infused Rum, Fresh Lime Juice, Organic Ginger Ale, Landon’s Red Wine Float
Local Family Farms’ Blackberry, Herbs, Blueberry, Vanilla Cream Corn Sorbet
Blackberry Bramble: Dry Gin, Apple Brandy, Fresh Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Local Family Farms’ Blackberries, Texas Olive Ranch’s Blackberry White Balsamic Vinegar
Rehoboth Farm’s Smokey Pork, Kitchen Pride Mushrooms, Sachse Farms’ Creamer Pea Ragout, Hamm Orchard Peaches
2008 Landon’s Merlot Reserve
Rehoboth Farms’ Beef, Braised Collards, Sky View Farms’ Roasted Fingerlings, Tom Motley Urban Gardens’ Pickled Radish, Arugula Salad, Mustard Cream Sauce
2006 Landon’s Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Local Family Farms’ Summer Fruit Compote, Sweet Biscuit, Whipped AP Apiaries Honey Cream
Landon’s Cuvee-Sec NV