Dinner doesn't get any fresher than this.
On Monday, top chefs from Central Kentucky took their knives and grills and headed out of the rain to a barn at the University of Kentucky's horticulture research farm to celebrate the harvest.
The squash, tomatoes, turnips, eggplant and salad greens were picked and presented to the chefs, who discussed the menu for a few minutes and came up with a plan.
They prepared arugula, spinach and roasted beet salad with a honey vinaigrette; blueberry cornbread; Kentucky Wonder pole beans; braised mixed Asian greens; winter vegetable medley (roasted kabocha squash, butternut squash, onions and garlic); sautéed eggplant and kale; grass-fed lamb with harissa; grass-fed roast beef, pastured roast pork, and ratatouille with the last of the summer squash and tomatoes. Desserts included pecan and chess pies, and apple and Asian pear tartin.
The meats were prepared in advance and were finished at the farm because several required slow cooking.
This was the second Chefs Afield dinner at the research farm. At the first, in 2006, the Sustainable Agriculture program was just getting started, said Bob Perry, coordinator of UK's Food Systems Initiative.
"Now it's incredible. It's up to over 20 acres from the original five," Perry said. "It now includes an orchard and vegetable plots."
The chefs included John Foster, Alex Jenkins, Evan Wheat, Scott Kohn, Jim Plymale, Mike Betts, Taylor Snedegar, Saint James Figgs and Steve Powell of Lexington; Justin Dean of Cincinnati; and Jay Denham, Mark Williams, Nancy Russman and Gail Crawford of Louisville.
If things go well, the next Chefs Afield dinner will tout growing plants in a high tunnel, a sort of unheated greenhouse. "Vegetables are grown directly in soil rather than in pots off the ground," Perry said. "You can do so much with high tunnels. Berries do real well. You can extend the berry season on both ends."
The group is planning a similar event in the spring. "We'll have a small event right after the semester ends to focus on spring vegetables."