Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dinner in Paradise...


I was lucky enough to attend a Dinner in Paradise at Paradise Farms in Homestead, FL, just about 45 minutes from my home. These are truly farm-to-table dinners. Gabriele Marewski invites local chefs to her farm to create meals using what she is growing in her fields, which might be anything from greens to edible flowers to jack fruit to avocados, as well as other local--and she means local, as in barely miles from her farm--ingredients.

At the October 1 Dinner in Paradise, I got to sample Michael Schwartz's food (Schwartz is the truly gifted chef at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami's Design District. If you come to Miami, you must go there.) and be a part of a very special evening.

The other host of the event was Outstanding in the Field, a company that exists just to travel from place to place and sponsor dinners like this one--they have hosted dinners in sea caves, farm fields, museums in Florence, Italy...Jim Denevan, the founder, pretty much sees any spot as a potential venue for an event. He's a big proponent, like Gabriele and Michael, of eating locally, eating organic. (He's also a spectacular artist. See www.jimdenevan.com).

We started by gathering just past the entrance to the farm for a glass of crisp, cool white wine and calabaza blossoms stuffed with locally made fresh mozzarella. The flowers were lightly battered and fried then passed with parsley sauce. Schwartz's touch was perfect. The flowers were crispy, then oozing with filling and the parsley added a bright lemony taste.

Gabriele then led the diners on a tour of the farm, which she's owned for nine years. It was an overgrown avocado orchard when she took it over. Now she grows a host of organic fruits, vegetables, greens and edible flowers, all for delivery to local chefs. As she walked and talked, she had us reaching up to taste a cotton candy berry, snapping off citronella leaves to wrap around wrists and to wear as necklaces to ward off any mozzies and reaching down to crumble an herb leaf in our fingers so we could inhale heavenly scents.

Arriving back at the gazebo we pick up plates (Outstanding in the Field's tradition is to have people bring their own plates, which creates a truly unique table setting at each and every event) and find chairs.

This is a good group. The people coming to these dinners appreciate all that these farmers and chefs are doing. As each course comes--family style, passed on plates nearly too heavy to lift--we take the time to taste and discuss..The salad is a heaping mountain of greens on top of heirloom tomatoes (Michael Schwartz loves his tomatoes) and farm-fresh organic eggs from Bee Heaven farm (remember my eggs from this post?), topped with a colorful palette of edible flowers from Paradise Farms and passed with an herb vinaigrette (that I'm going to try and get Michael to share with me...that recipe was just incredible...hmm. Am I overusing that word? Too bad.)

Next came yellow jack fish, lightly sauteed and served with a roasted garlic aioli, which played nicely against the sweet flavor of the fish. That was passed with something called malabar spinach and eggplant caponata. The spinach might just get an entry all its own--I thought "Okay, sauteed spinach, fine." What I got when I tasted it was a sweet green flavor with a certain ...oh, I'm going to use the word "toothsome-ness" that really took me by surprise. In the end, I couldn't get enough of it and will be watching for it in local farmers' markets. The eggplant was also from Bee Heaven.

Dessert came in two phases. First a plate of fresh-made ricotta cheese with walnuts and honeycomb and slices of lemon crunch (I think that was the full name) jack fruit. A first for me. But allow me to digress about the honey, because this was not just any honey. The honey comes from Miguel Bode, who got up and spoke modestly about the honey--he talked about "his bees" and how it was just a hobby. Miguel? That was no hobby--that was divine inspiration. I have never ever ever tasted honey like that. In fact, I was doing a video for VISITFLORIDA that night, and they have me on camera tasting the honey--the look of shock and awe when I put that honeycomb into my mouth? I'm not sure it will make the final video (because really, how does one spit out a wad of honeycomb with any aplomb on camera?), but if it does, you will see me falling in love with something. Honey. Your honey, Miguel.

Oh, and I can't forget the wine! Not in the least because I think the owners of Schnebly Redland's Winery, Denisse and Peter Schnebly, the little I've met of them, personify what I love about this crowd of food-loving, life-loving people. They are open, enthusiastic and not to be stopped. To listen to Peter Schnebly talk about getting the winery up and running is to listen to passion for his work--his life. They are proud of their wines, their fruits and their work in Homestead.

The wine: Schwartz paired mango wine with this course, and it was a match that made each bite compelement the other. There was fruit, there was that orange-y, tropical, lemony taste of mango. What a dessert course.

But we weren't done.

Scharffen Berger chocolates went around with jellies made by the pastry chef from Michael's Genuine--she added cookies, nut crunch with fleur de sel (I went straight for that). We wound down the night with Michael's call to "Eat Local!," with Gabriele thanking everyone, with me seeking out Michael, Jim, Gabriele, Margie from Bee Heaven and so many others to say thanks and give hugs all around (this is South Florida. We kiss hello, we kiss good-bye). I had an hour ride home, which gave me time to reflect on the evening. I hope I'm a more frequent visitor to the Redland area. I'm thinking of giving Gabriele a call and to see if she'll let me volunteer some time on the farm (volunteers live on the farm and work 30 hours a week. That wouldn't really suit Bryn or my clients, but I think I could find one day a week to escape to where people are so in touch with the earth beneath their feet.)

Everyone should be so lucky to enjoy a Dinner in Paradise--or a dinner Outstanding in The Field, at any rate--at least one time. (Make reservations right online; act fast, they sell out quickly.) And if you can't come to South Florida for this, find out from your local farms if they are hosting any farm to table dinners--It's a trend--a fortunate trend--that's making its way around the country.

Eat Local! And watch my dining blog at VISITFLORIDA.com for the video of my visit. I hope they photoshopped me down to a size 4! KIDDING. (Size 8 will be fine.)

I'll be posting photos separately because there are so many I want up here.

2 comments:

Cheryl said...

Wow, what an amazing experience! I have a copy of Jim Denevan's new Outstanding in the Field Cookbook, but I haven't been fortune enough to attend one of his dinners personally. Sounds like it was quite an event. Your pictures turned out beautifully, too!

Debbie said...

Your beautifully written post makes me think of our tour of Italy last summer and just what an important role food plays in our lives and relationships. Well done!