We held a supper club in my garden a little over a week ago, and it was a smashing success! It was the first Traveling Feast from the company The Curated Feast, founded by Elizabeth Birnbaum, which puts on dinner parties that teach the guests history through food. The basic layout of a Curated Feast is that each course of the meal is symbolic of the story that Liz tells. The theme of our Feast was Botanical Imperialism.
The idea of Botanical Imperialism is to show our guests how foodstuff helped motivate the movement of people and power around the globe. We probably all know that explorers sailed the ocean blue in search of the cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg of Asia, but do we realize that the king of Ancient Khotan married a princess of Ancient China, mainly so that he could learn the secret of spinning silk? Each course held endless secrets and it was an enormous pleasure to create and execute the food that went with it. Big thanks to Chef Spencer White of Dio Mio in Denver as well as Chef P. David Stockhousen of Pie Ranch for consulting on the menu!
Course 1: Silk Cocoon
The story of the Queen of Khotan and her silk secret were the inspiration for this amuse bouche. Dried mulberry pickled in red wine vinegar, with rosemary, black peppercorns, garlic and sugar.
Course 2: Black and Gold Salad
Black Pepper is a very important spice. Can you imagine a world, or a pantry, without it? Yet it wasn't until it's discovery in India that the rest of the world had access to it. It used to be called "Black Gold". For this salad I infused black peppercorns in red wine vinegar for a week before mixing the strained vinegar with honey, olive oil, salt and of course more ground pepper. We then draped it on top of Swiss Chard, named not for its origin, but for the nationality of the botanist who named it, calendula petals, and feta from the Greek Isle of Lesbos.
Course 3: Venetian Glass
The Venetians were known merchants and traders. They built a special ship, the Garrison, to fit all of the cargo they were moving, and be armed to defend it. We chose fish for this dish to commemorate their seaworthiness and wheatberries to symbolize why they needed to trade so much - as Liz says, "you can't grow wheat on marble", meaning canals and cobbled roads are no place to grow a garden. Ash was one of the items that Venice would import, using it in their process of making Venetian glass, so we chose it as a garnish.
Course 4: New Worlds
The New World met the Old World in this course. When Columbus made his fateful trip in 1492 to connect the "old world" of Europe and the "New World" of the Americas, he landed on Jamaica, which not only was not the India or Asia which he was looking for, but also only grew natively the spice of Allspice, which did not garner such a high price. Jerk Spices, which as a mix come from the Caribbean, are based on a combination of flavors with origins from around the world: Allspice and peppers come from Jamaica and Latin America while cloves and cinnamon are from Asia. Lamb is delicious so we used a boneless leg of it to carry the global story of these spices flavors.
Corn came from latin america, whereas wheat was long known in Europe. Yams, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers all have their origin in americas, while the process of making cheese sends my mind right back to the cows of europe. The strata brings all of these elements together, and I will tell you what - it brought all those flavors together in a might delicious way. Like a quesadilla on steroids. Highly Recommend.
Course 4: Peking and Mash
This was probably my favorite dish of the evening. I spent a good long time getting to know duck. Getting to know where to buy it, which parts to use, how to cook it and then smelling all of its glorious greasy smells all through my house for at least a week. Maybe more than a week. These duck breasts were brined in Mango and orange juice with thyme, garlic and salt over night. Then in the morning, they were marinated in a sticky honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar and chinese five spice blend. They were roasted, and broiled and rested and then sliced neatly to top this British favorite of mashed potatoes. Interesting note about potatoes - they come from I believe the Andes and were brought back to Europe and Great Britain. The Irish took to them because they were easy and cheap to grow, and hard to steal as they grew underground! Liz has many stories of the opium wars and Great Britain's suppression and thievery of black tea from China, but you'll have to visit her at thecuratedfeast.org to get those details. I was much to immersed in said duck.
Course 6: Just Desserts
The Aztecs had chocolate and they made a drink called chocolatl which sounds like it was an unsweetened chocolate drink spiced with chilis. When the Aztex empire was imperialized, I was told (by Liz) that corn was outlawed and wheat was in. Spanish Imperialists would come out on their doorsteps and brush wheat crumbs into the street - showing that they were wealthy enough to both afford wheat, and to waste this little bit of food! In homage to the above, this chocolate pot de creme had minimal sugar and was spiced with aleppo pepper and was topped with breadcrumbs.
Thats it! But of course there was so much more. The table and my whole garden was draped with beautiful botanicals from Carra of Flowers by Carra. We enjoyed wines supplied by Joel Lee of Epic Wines and Spirits, and beer from Woods Beer Co. My handsome man Erik helped us to clean up and gave up the house for the event. D was a priceless hand in the kitchen and our good friends Will and Brynn Noel volunteered their time to serve our guests. And of course our lovely photographer Victoria Smith captured the evening beautifully. Huge thanks to all!
And of course, to the little lady whose idea this whole thing was, Liz Birnbaum of The Curated Feast. We spent countless hours on skype, in person at cafes and on the phone going over ideas, timelines and plans. Thanks coming up with this great idea and having me as your chef for your first Traveling feast!