27th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference: The Local Foods Feast
by Jacqueline Venner Senske, conference blogger
The task was to create a meal for 500 people from local food, something that many chefs may not believe feasible. But it happened, and it was a feast indeed.
Kale and Winter Squash Stew
Collards with Fatback
Sea Island Red Pea Risotto
So let’s start with the stats.
1858 pounds of produce
1829 pounds of meat and cheese
325 pounds of flour
120 pounds of grain
100 pounds of cornmeal
100 pounds of butter
25 gallons of milk
20 gallons of ice cream
8 gallons of cream
All of this came from 38 farmers and purveyors in the Carolinas by way of 3 local distributors and 1 really good, if freezing cold, friend (more on that later).
Well, okay, let’s be totally clear: these figures represent the total amount of local food acquired for all 2300 meals during the 3-day conference. But Friday evening’s Local Foods Feast was the highlight, to be sure. It’s the most formal and biggest single meal, and expectations are high as it takes place the first night of the conference and sets the tone for the weekend.
Luckily, the woman leading the effort is a pro. Literally. Not only is Chef Kris Reid leading this effort for the third year in a row, but she is also the Executive Chef at Charlotte’s Southminster Retirement Community, where her work in bringing local food into her institution – and amazing the residents there with incredible food – is exemplary.
Because Chef Reid has done this before, she has a good sense of how it needs to work. At least 6 months ahead, she froze local produce, like peaches, and combined them with things in season now. Because she brings local to her kitchen at Southminster every day, she knows how and where to source food and how to get the most from it.
But, because of all the moving parts, sometimes things don’t go as planned. For instance, a couple of days out, the arugula still hadn’t arrived. Chef Reid arranged an emergency, by-any-means-necessary delivery. A friend was en route to Greenville from Charlotte and met a produce truck at an abandoned gas station off I-85 to pick up several pounds of arugula. To keep the greens in good shape, Pam cranked the AC to chill the car. It worked – the arugula arrived in fine shape – but Pam was freezing. (Thanks for taking one for the team, Pam!)
The other part that made this work was a great collaboration between Chef Reid and Chef Brandon Lemiux of Greenville’s Hyatt Regency. It takes months, with multiple menu drafts, some education, and creative planning for where to store all that extra food. And it would have been impossible without the hard work of Chef Lemiux’s crew at the Hyatt, including 12 sous chefs, kitchen staff, and over 30 servers.
In the end, this meal was outstanding. Eaters raved, and there was just enough, which was a relief. With such work in not just growing the food but planning, sourcing, and preparing it, margins for this meal are tight. The goal is to have nothing left, so it’s a huge success that the amounts were almost spot-on for each service. Plus, the expenses were under budget. It cost $9 per plate, but would hit around $50 per plate in a restaurant.
Talking with Chef Reid at the end of the night, she was exhausted, but proud. She said she kept thinking of the prayer they say at every family meal in her house: “Thank you, farmers, for this food.”