It was a beautiful, breezy evening for those attending the Farm Dinner at the Chicago Botanic Garden on Wednesday night, and the menu wasn't that bad, either.
The cocktails were fresh from Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois; some of the main-course herbs were picked right from their stems at the garden; and Chicago-based City Provisions, which caters only the finest in locally grown, sustainable and organic foods, did the cooking.
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More than 50 guests, who each paid $200 for the dinner reservations and tour through the fruit and vegetable garden, indulged in bacon- and buttercake-stuffed jalapenos as an appetizer, and portobello mushrooms with kale and bleu cheese over ciabatta bread for an entree. Dessert included mixed-stone-fruit cobbler with goats milk, whipped with brown sugar and sour cream and paired with either Kalamazoo Stout beer or plum wine.
Is that mouthful or what?
“[Dinner in the garden] encompasses everything that we do in one space,” said Cleetus Friedman, head chef for the catering company. “I picked basil and kale fresh from the garden. It's the essence of the mission, bringing people to touch our food.”
Many of the meats and vegetables served year-round by the caterer come from the Midwest, Friedman added. For example, the bacon used for the dinner was sliced straight from a pig at its deli on 1820 W. Wilson Ave. in Chicago.
Other vegetables used for the dinner came from the garden's Green Youth Farm program and River Valley Kitchens in Burlington, WI.
“It's great to have all the vendors,” Friedman said, as guests mingled over white whiskey and cider cocktails from Death's Door Spirits in Madison, also in Wisconsin.
“It's a marketing effort for them, also. Now when our guests get beer or wine at [a liquor store], they'll know the story behind it.”
The importance of knowing where you food comes from and how it's made, Friedman acknowledged, is part of a greater calling.
With hundreds of television cooking shows, markets and restaurants popping up across the U.S., it's clear to him that the chef's role in society has changed.
“Chefs are people of influence,” Friedman said. “I don't stand on a soapbox and say, 'This is what you should believe,' or tell anybody their wrong. It's my civil responsibility [to teach people about food].”
For more information on City Provisions and its farm dinner events, check out http://www.cityprovisions.com. If you would like to know what's happening at the Chicago Botanic Garden, take a look at Patch's events calendar.