Eat

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lowcountry Field Feast: Dollops of ricotta, a cauldron of beans, and a big old tree

FIG provides a farm fresh dinner

Posted by Stephanie Barna on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 9:10 AM

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Another week, another stellar food event in Charleston. If you picked just one dinner to attend all year, the Lowcountry Field Feast might have to be it (I know, I know, I say this after every event). Modeled after Outstanding in the Field, the feast travels to a different farm each time and benefits Lowcountry Local First (LLF), which has several programs that support new farming initiatives.
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For the third year in a row, Chef Mike Lata, his business partner Adam Nemirow, and their entire team at FIG served an epic family-style meal. Before we dig into the food, let's set the stage shall we?
Shrimp City Slim provided the tunes
  • Shrimp City Slim provided the tunes

The setting was Jane Maybank's property on Clark Sound on James Island, a quintessentially Lowcountry scene with grand oaks, sweeping views of the water, and evil blood-sucking skeeters. The property had once been farmland, and through LLF, Maybank was able to find a farmer to work it again. Meg Moore established Dirthugger Farm there within the last year. Much of the food used by Lata for the dinner was grown by her, including a sharp, zesty variety of ginger that puts the standard grocery store version to utter shame.
Dirthugger Meg Moore (left) and LLF director Jamee Haley
  • Dirthugger Meg Moore (left) and LLF director Jamee Haley

Guests arrived to a well-sponsored event. Garden & Gun Magazine brings heavy hitters like Range Rover to the table, and they had several tricked-out vehicles to ferry folks from the parking area to the waterfront. But no car was as tricked out as Tommy Baker's personal ride. The grand poobah of Baker Motor Company gets squired around in a Maybach. That's just how he rolls.
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Speaking of tricked out, Scout Boats had a cruising boat in the water and took us for a little tour of the sound. Breathtaking.
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After the cruise, I was quickly ushered to the chicken coop that was being auctioned off. Apparently, my desire for some yard birds is well known. Executive director Jamee Haley sent me a picture of the coop last week to get me thinking. It was indeed a lovely little birdhouse and the bidding was fierce right out of the gate. I nervously put in a (high!) bid, but didn't really have a fat enough wallet to go for it. By the end of the night, three bidders were in the hunt, and, ingeniously, they offered to build two more so they could all walk away with coops.
Annie Byrd, who conceived of this event three years ago, slurps an oyster
  • Annie Byrd, who conceived of this event three years ago, slurps an oyster

Before dinner, we nibbled on treats like oysters and seven-minute eggs and drank a specialty Farmhouse Fizz cocktail. There was also Westbrook beer and some kegs of wine provided by Grassroots Wine.
Not your grannys deviled egg — at all
  • Not your granny's deviled egg — at all

Now, time to eat. As the sun set, the well-lubricated diners made their way to the red-tableclothed tables under the big oaks. Lata and his team had an efficient makeshift kitchen set up to the side.
Kitchen al fresco
  • Kitchen al fresco

A witch's cauldron over a propane flame was tended to by one of the cooks. He told us the hearty stew of beans was for the paste e fagioli.
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Picture perfect, right?
Getting ready for the eating
  • Getting ready for the eating

Opening remarks were made, thank yous were given out, and Adam Nemirow told us to get ready for our family-style feast. As they talked, my attention was grabbed by this little bowl on the table. At first I thought it was butter and olive oil. I spread some on the bread and took a bite. This was no butter. This was the first course. Fresh sheep's milk ricotta. I quickly ditched the bread and started eating it by the spoonful, a much more efficient delivery system. Really quite beguiling.
More cheese please
  • More cheese please

Next was a double treat of white shrimp escabeche and porchetta tonnato. The escabeche was a colorful mass of bright flavors with tiny shards of ginger popping up here and there for a sharp bite.
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Tonnato. Tuna sauce. Mmmm. I don't think he'd be embarrassed if I revealed that Harry Root of Grassroots Wine scraped the sauce from both platters and ate it all up.
Porchetta tonnato, celery heart, lemon confit
  • Porchetta tonnato, celery heart, lemon confit

The dinner attracts a big crowd of food lovers. Ken Vedrinski of Trattoria Lucca came out for this one with Sara Donahue and Angel Postell of the Wine + Food Festival. Seated behind them were two guys who came all the way from California after reading about the feast in Garden & Gun. They put it on their calendar and decided they had to experience it for themselves. I can appreciate that kind of dedication.
Ken Vedrinski, Sara Donahue, Angel Postell
  • Ken Vedrinski, Sara Donahue, Angel Postell

My favorite course came next. Butter peas are like my favorite thing in all the world, and Lata made them into a hearty pasta e fagioli. Those little slices of cheese were the best part too. One drawback to the family-style thing is that you can overeat something delicious and stuff yourself too soon, which is exactly what I did. I could barely eat any of the next course, a wood-grilled chicken with Dirthugger bread salad dotted with sweet currants. (No more food photos, it got too dark.) Ironically, I was able to polish off dessert with no problem. I just couldn't resist the unusual pear tarte tatin with honey syrup and pistachio. Luscious.
Butter pea pasta e fagioli
  • Butter pea "pasta e fagioli"

At this point, the party was raucous and the LLF boardmembers clambered up into the tree for a group photo and proceeded to chant, "Food is good. Food is good." Raucous, like I said. After the tree photo, guests peeled off into the night, bellies full and heads spinning. And those guys from California? They had the time of their lives.
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