By Jennifer Breckner, Chair, Ark of Taste Midwest
The evening began with a farm tour led by Katie Burdett, Farm Manager, and Wesley Rieth, Operations Manager, which then continued on to the renovated farmhouse for a stunning seven course meal courtesy of Granor Chef and Slow Food USA Chefs' Alliance member, Abra Berens. The meal featured at least eight Ark items including American Rabbit, Jimmy Nardello Pepper, and Sorghum Syrup, as well as ingredients from Granor and other Michigan producers. The night's conversation focused on how growing and consuming these ingredients and promoting their truly inspirational stories help to preserve and protect agricultural biodiversity for future generations.
The star of the night was Chef Berens, a former farmer who realized that she was more pas-sionate about cooking than farming and a natural fit for the Chefs' Alliance. She feels that chefs are in a unique position to highlight the work of farmers, explaining “One of my jobs as a chef is to be a story teller for the farmers…and to help create a market for a more sustainable food system.” Chef Beren's sentiment captures the motivations behind why the Chefs' Alliance was formed in Italy in 2009. Administered through the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, Chefs' Alliance unites culinary professionals to promote the cultural diversity of our food system through the use of “good, clean, fair” products, especially foods from the Ark of Taste and Presidia. The initiative was relaunched in the U.S. last year at Slow Food Nations.
The menu embodied Midwestern resourcefulness and ingenuity in a part of the country where food production does not happen year round. Berens is grateful to have a collaborative relationship with Burdett, who grows ingredients that work well in the dinners, which continue on through February. For example, the rye whiskey Berens used in the chevre-rye whiskey sabayon that accompanied the Spring asparagus implemented rye that was grown at Granor and distilled at Journeyman Distillery, a mere ten minute drive from the farm. Berens is also adept at food preservation and was able to tap into ingredients in her own pantry, like a bushel of the Ark-listed Jesuit Pear that she bought last year not knowing she would use them in this dinner. The Jesuit Pear is considered rare and has roots connecting the Detroit area with Windsor, Ontario. Earlier this year both the Slow Food Huron Valley and Slow Food Detroit Central chapters in Michigan came together with food activists from Ontario to learn how to graft the pear's scion wood to keep it growing as well as to cook with it. The combination of the Jesuit Pear on top of homemade bread and Pere Marchette cheese from Zingerman's Creamery in Ann Arbor, where Berens used to work, serves as an example of how history, geography, artisanal production and Slow Food's biodiversity initiative, the Ark of Taste, come together in a meaningful, delicious way.
Guests left the dinner inspired and full, with a gift bag on their arm of Granor Farm goodies and a Plant a Seed kit featuring the Ark-boarded varietals Stowell's Evergreen Sweet Corn, Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, and Christmas Lima Beans. As a bonus, a matching kit for each guest was sent to school gardens across the country so that educational opportunities keep on growing. Our thanks to Abra Berens and everyone at Granor Farm for an educational and enjoyable event.
Are you a chef or professional cook who wants to work with Slow Food to change the food system for better? Click here for more information and to join the Chefs' Alliance today-it's free!
Photos courtesy of Jamie & Eric Photography.