During this past week, I attended two Farm to Table dinners. After reading about Farm to Table dinners and writing about them and never having the opportunity to attend one, it was interesting to attend two in one week. And they were so completely different.
The genesis of Farm to Table dinners is an extension of the popularity of local farmers markets. Consumers love connecting to the growers of their food. It humanizes the eating experience, which is why consumers will pay more money for produce with a shorter shelf life.
It’s about the experience, not the efficiency or convenience.
My first Farm to Table experience was at a fundraiser at Rancho Los Alamitos, a local historic site in Long Beach, to benefit its educational programs. Several ranchos (or homesteads) in and around the Long Beach area of Southern California have been preserved as historical landmarks. Much like the 21 historic California Missions that span the entire coast from Basilica San Diego de Alcala in San Diego all the way up to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, the Ranchos are a big part of the history of the early California settlers. As you can see, it was a beautiful evening in a delightful setting.
The chef of the evening was Paul Buchanan of Primal Alchemy, who is completely passionate about discovering local farms and foods and creating masterpieces that his clientele can enjoy. Paul has an impressive resume, having worked in some of the best known kitchens in Southern California: Campanile, Wolfgang Puck, Water Grill, and Pascal’s in Orange County, to name a few. As you can see from the photos of the evening, our dinner was set outside on the grounds of Rancho Los Alamitos, where 300 patrons dined at long, glorious tables, draped with white linens, and decorated with bouquets of fresh herbs and russet potatoes with small flags inserted in them as table signs.
Every course was served family style. And between the salad course and dinner, Russ Parsons, former food editor of the Los Angeles Times (whom we refer to as the “Mayor of Long Beach” as he knows E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E), did a quick interview with Chef Buchanan.
The food had amazing flavors and it was dazzling to have all this food come out at perfect temperatures arranged perfectly on platters. The long tables were conducive to easygoing conversations and a leisurely pace. Quite different from a normal dinner at a restaurant where we always seem to complain about the pace of the meal, or lack of it.
My second Farm to Table dinner was held at an outdoor restaurant, The Farmhouse in Corona del Mar. It is a new, on-site restaurant at the famous Southern California landmark, Roger’s Gardens. If you enjoy gardening and landscaping, this is the most inspirational place ever.
The occasion for this dinner was because my friend and favorite Southern California chef, Alan Greeley, recently closed his landmark restaurant, The Golden Truffle. All the local Orange County chefs, who were mostly trained and supported by Alan during the last 30 years, got together to have a “Bon Voyage Celebration.” As a testimonial to Chef Alan’s popularity, an email went out to his patron list and within two days, the dinner for 150 was sold out! In fact I had to pull a few strings and text Alan to get a ticket for myself!
When I arrived on Monday evening, it was a who’s who of the Orange County culinary scene with famous chefs, and food writers and journalists.
Chef Alan’s friends prepared an incredible four-course meal which was more like eight courses since every course included two dishes! Thai goat curry. Grilled Wagyu beef wrapped in gem lettuce and carrot kimchi. Coos Bay silver point oysters. Watermelon radish carpaccio. Seared ahi tuna. And so much more. Dessert was over the top with three options for everyone.
Just like the first Farm to Table dinner I attended, white linen tablecloths and family-style seating and serving plates abounded. The simplicity of the décor was magical. The Farmhouse overlooks the entire Roger’s Gardens property, so it felt like we were in a forest.
What I learned most about the Farm to Table experience is that it is all about the food and the farms and ranches it comes from. The location, ambience, and décor all contribute to telling the story, connecting you to the foods you eat and the people who lovingly produce them.
And it couldn’t get more farm-to-table than dining al fresco with trees as your awning and a cool evening breeze as your soundtrack.
Even though a Farm to Table dinner might have a heftier price tag than a conventional dinner at a restaurant, and it might take a few hours from start to finish, I would encourage you to put the experience on your bucket list. It certainly made me slow my pace and take in the entire experience.