Two farmers and a chef hatch pop-up dinners
By Dee Reid
What happens when two sustainable farmers and a chef decide to offer farm-to-fork dining at a biofuels plant in Pittsboro? That’s not a reality TV show pitch. It’s actually what took place on Saturday night when new Piedmont Biofarm co-owners Brett Evans and Will Carmines collaborated with new Chatham Chef Geoff Seelen to host their first hyper-local dinner at the Piedmont Biofuels Eco-Industrial campus on the edge of town.
Their synergy warmed our hearts and bellies, and ignited a unique locavore pop-up dining series that is sure to succeed.
Tickets for the first Piedmont Biofarm-to-Table Dinner sold out in two days. Some 30 guests paid $30 each to enjoy a tantalizing four-course meal in an impromptu festive dining space, just steps away from the vegetable beds that produced fresh ingredients even in mid-winter.
Just before dinner, we also got a chance to sample spirits infused with seasonal ingredients, at another fairly new venture, Fair Game Beverage, “Pittsboro’s only legal distillery.” Like the Biofarm, the distillery is also based at the Eco-Industrial Complex.
With a farm, distillery, kitchen, swing space and great parking on site, the complex is an ideal setting for community gatherings.
The seeds for the dinner series were first planted when Chef Geoff moved to Chatham from New York, where he had been working in the renowned Blue Hill restaurants.
“I met Will at one of the weekly community lunches,” Geoff explained. “And we began talking about this idea of joining forces to create special dinners.”
Will and Brett are excited to be carrying forward the sustainable ag vision of Doug Jones, who founded the Biofarm. He mentored his two former interns to take over the farm when he was ready to spend more time on other ventures, including cross-breeding new varieties of Pittsboro peppers. Now the Biofarm continues to successfully produce an abundant variety of vegetables with no synthetic chemical inputs.
Saturday’s first course was a tasty mixed-greens salad featuring chard, Brussel sprout leaves, and radishes. That was followed by a lovely small plate of mini-crepes made with four varieties of roasted sweet potatoes drizzled with a squash-based sauce.
The main attraction was Chatham rabbit (from Fatty Owl Farm) — white meat cooked tenderly and served over a bed of warm greens and sun chokes, flavored by a rabbit-liver-based sauce enhanced with a Fair Game port. Yum. We cleaned our plates.
Geoff, Brett and Will decided to make their first dinner especially challenging by presenting it in January, the most difficult month for food production. They made it look easy, except for dessert. (No summer peaches or blueberries to fall back on.) They came up with a frozen dairy ice, topped with pulverized acorns and black walnuts harvested “right out back,” said Geoff. I enjoyed the creative and no doubt labor-intensive use of wild ingredients, but kept thinking a splash of warm Fair Game brandy might have taken it up just a notch on this cold night.
We’re glad they are ready to continue the series, perhaps monthly, though they expect to raise the price a bit, so that wait staff can be paid instead of working just for tips. Sounds reasonable, as long as it doesn’t get too pricey for eclectic locavores, whose enthusiasm at this dinner was almost as essential to the experience as the menu.
Seated at our end of the table were a young furniture craftsman who also plays classical piano, a future elementary school teacher, a massage therapist, a “slow money” advocate and a potter. We had plenty to talk about between bites, and that was half the fun.
Many thanks to Geoff, Brett, Will, Abundance NC, Fair Game Beverage and all who contributed to a special night out in PBO. We look forward to more.