Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Local chefs fight “vegetable prejudice” during West Dallas dinner
You too can make peace with beets.
WEST DALLAS If you'd hoped that the "foodie" trend had finally run its course, you might be right, but only inasmuch as the food-obsessed are now increasingly dubbing themselves "locavores." Going locavore is not exclusive to food, of course, but it generally describes a person who focuses on products, particularly food, that are grown, produced, or hand-crafted within a relatively small radius. Tuesday night, Oak Cliff's Four Corners Brewing Company partnered with Dallas-based produce co-op Urban Acres in spreading the seeds of such local love. The brewery hosted area farmers, rising celebuchefs, and organic evangelist Joel Salatin -- of Food, Inc. fame -- for "A Steward's Dinner," a four-course craft beer and food smorgasbord.
Urban Acres is a produce co-op that brings organic, locally-grown food from surrounding farms into both its market store in Oak Cliff as well as a number of mobile farm stands throughout the city. The co-op started with just 19 families, and within a handful of years, it now serves more than 2,300 Dallasites with weekly "shares" or "half-shares" at roughly 30 pounds and 15 pounds of produce, respectively.
At the dinner, they organized items from Waco-based micro-dairy, Caprino Royale; Rockdale, Texas' Richardson Farms; and Cameron, Texas' aquaponic Sand Creek Farms for a four-course meal prepared by Chad Houser, Graham Dodds, and Nicole Van Camp.
Those names should ring bells for anyone even tangentially familiar with the Dallas restaurant industry. Houser recently sold his shares of Parigi Restaurant to focus more fully as executive director of the philanthropic Café Momentum. Dodds runs the show as executive chef of Central 214, and Van Camp is the creator of Chef Nicole's Secret Supper Club, a pop-up dining series where guests are surprised with dynamic, "secret" menus utilizing only organic, free-range, and grass-fed ingredients.
Together, they formed a triumvirate that handily disabused their captive guests' misconceptions about healthful eating. Judging by their preparations -- which included everything "icky" from collard greens to spinach and carrots -- those who don't like vegetables have likely never eaten them like this. These weren't "sitting at the table for hours until you've finished your broccoli" greens. They were "unbutton your pants and reach for anther spoonful." These plants didn't taste like plants. They were delicacies with inordinately high nutritional value.
But, let's face it: You're no Dodd, Houser, or Van Camp. Despite Tuesday's decadent and informative culinary presentation -- beets are edible?! Edible. -- those less-than-skilled with pots, pans, and spatulas might rightly wonder if they can pull off a decent-tasting vegetable, or if procuring a share from Urban Acres is even worth the effort.
Part of the co-op's charm, however, is that it forces urban neighbors to meet and mingle in a way that has, with the proliferation of credit card swipes and self-check-outs, become increasingly avoidable. Last night, supporters swapped suggestions and recipe ideas from the culinary adventurousness that Urban Acres inherently imposes. Have 3 pounds of kohlrabi and no idea how to cook it? Consult the internet, ask a neighbor, make a new friend. Swap and share. Try something unusual for a change.
One such "unusual" dish served was a strawberry rhubarb cobbler drizzled with raw goat's milk. Raw goat's milk, as Salatin pointed out during his engaging, if overtly religious presentation, is not approved by the USDA. (He amusingly pronounces USDA as U-S-"duh".) And yet, the USDA has approved Cocoa Puffs and Mountain Dew, he noted. The milk's mild, smooth drizzle paired with the fruit's puckering tartness and crust's sugary foundation was punch to the soul. It tasted real, living, whole.
Could we all produce such culinary masterpieces? Perhaps not, but it is not an overstatement to suggest that Salatin and Urban Acres -- no doubt with the explicit help of Houser, Dodd, and Van Camp -- dispelled a bit of lingering skepticism toward vegetables, particularly those that are locally-sourced.
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