It’s this last turn as a professional nourisher that has perhaps brought the most excitement into my life.
Last Tuesday, for instance:
The brief: prepare dinner for 25, including 15 visiting curators in training, three vegetarians, one contemporary Tawainese artist, and one gluten free.
Last year I had the pleasure of supping with the touring first year Winterthur Fellows as they stopped in Salem on their grand tour of New England’s superlative houses and museums. Consequently, this year as chef, I knew my charge was to do more than fill the bellies of these bright, young minds or overwhelm their developing sensibilities with the extravagances of my table. Weary from long days of museum touring, they needed an inspiring, allusive menu; food which carried an unfussy narrative of context and creation and sated a hunger for community and discourse which growled deeper than their stomachs.
Like all good solutions, mine would be derived from the limitations: if I couldn’t serve meat, I’d serve vegetables and if I didn’t want to be extravagant, I’d be thoughtful.
Then it was simply a matter of connecting the dots amongst the surprisingly large number of Salem urban farmers. I gleaned from neighbors’ container gardens, negotiated a CSA share, and had Salem Community Gardens’ executive director deliver a day’s harvest to the house.
The night before the fete, I took stock of my urban harvest, mounding the swiss chard, counting the beets, admiring the tiny french radishes. Disconcertingly, I still had no idea what I might create in a few hours: quiche? terrines? canapes?
A night’s rest would be required. . . in the morning all would be mostly clear:
To start, we’d have the roast tomato and goat cheese toasts that I’d written about in the July Issue of ArtThrob’s Street Guide.
Then a variation of veggie chili using whatever seemed appropriate from the harvest.
Finally, Julia Child’s sablee, an old standby.
Though not as many courses as I’m used to tackling, the multiplications of measurements and the preparations of various vegetables presented their own challenges and so I was thankful for the museum interns who stopped by the house throughout the day, offering their services. Of course, the management of these art historians preparing to get married in the morning presented their own challenges: to assign a task to one with no professed culinary skill, one must think three steps ahead and create contingency plans while explaining how to hold a knife.
Regardless, when our illustrious guests arrived, signs of assembly lines, improvisational spicing, and burnt cookies were no where to be found. Instead we had beautiful platters of deep red and orange tomatoes, an inviting bar, and a cornucopia of local, seasonal produce that fueled conversation late into the night and the seeds of which I hope will bear fruit in dining rooms, museum galleries, and classrooms around the world for years to come.