On Sunday, I dropped the kids off at my sister's house, picked up Warren and hit the road for Whitton Farms in Tyronza, Arkansas. Back in March I bought tickets to the Outstanding in the Field dinner under the guise of it being a birthday present for Warren. We were halfway over the bridge when Warren, after quizzing me about the event, dryly said, "It sounds more like a present for you."
I told him to shut up and thank me later.
We arrived at 1:45pm, assuming dinner would start sharply at 2pm, but after signing in, we were instructed to get a glass of Cava and "hang out."
(Warren is actually leaning over to read the label, he was not cobbled on the way to Arkansas.)
Once we had a glass of bubbly, people started handing us the cutest appetizers ever.
The appetizers--pain perdu with head cheese & pepper jelly, roasted pumpkin tamales, and alligator sausage poboys--were really good. Chef Miles McMath from St. Jude was the creator.
The staff of the Trolley Stop Market was on hand to ensure that everything ran smoothly. Jill and Keith were also milling about, of course. The most exciting part about this was the fact that it was actually Jill's due date. I loved the idea of little Fox Forrester possibly joining us for dinner!
It was nice to see some familiar faces. Warren was worried we wouldn't know anyone, but I knew better. We even made some new friends, one of whom had been to the dinner the day before. He informed us that dinner wouldn't start until 4:30 or 5:00 and that we wouldn't be done until after dark. This was mildly alarming because I was on my third glass of bubbly, I told my sister we'd get the kids at 5pm, and I had a wedding reception to attend at 6pm. Oops!
I called my sister, and we settled in for a leisurely afternoon on the farm. Keith was giving hayrides, but we opted to nose around in the make shift kitchen that the chefs had set up next to the tables where we'd be dining. Kelly English (Restaurant Iris) and Jonathan Magallanes (aka Senor Dreamy of Las Tortugas) were nice enough to let us peek at what they were preparing and fill us in on the afternoon's activities.
Since we were being nosy, we sauntered over to check out the table setting. (Somewhere along the way I decided to put on some of Wendy's lipstick.)
Then I went ahead and sneaked a peek at the menu!
I was glad I had another hour or so to work up an appetite since it was clear that it was going to be a LOT of food!
After awhile we were all assembled together to hear from the organizers and then from Keith. By the time we sat down, we were experts on Farm to Fork dinners and the history of Whitton Farms. (The best part of this was Keith's mom alerting him that it was 2011, not 2012.)
Then we all sat down and awaited the feast! Everyone was instructed to bring a plate from home (just a fun tradition started in 1999) and everything was served family style. We shared all food with the six other people at our table.
Here's what we ate...
Andy & Michael from Andrew/Michael kitchen started us off with a bang. Behold the whole striped bass with fennel and apple slaw (and maybe some mushrooms?):
It was really funny to see some of the surprised looks on people's faces! Warren and I were desensitized to fish heads in the Peace Corps. Wendy, a trained chef, kindly offered to serve the fish to our squeamish neighbors.
Arugula & cherry tomato salad:
And grilled mixed eggplant & squash:
The fish was really killer. I think we all wanted to clean it down to the bones, Cameroonian style, but we controlled ourselves.
Our next course consisted of grilled chicken with roasted okra, peanut gremolata, & cornbread crumbs; baby beet & celery root salad; and watermelon with chili oil.
The first piece of chicken I selected was a bit over-charred, but my second was just right. The roasted okra was the star of the dish. I will never look at okra the same way again!
I lost track of who did what because there were thirteen chefs from three different cities! However, due to my earlier snooping, I know that Jonathan & Kelly did the final course which was slow roasted rabbit legs with a mole of winter squash and housemade chorizo and some "verdes."
The spicy greens were AWESOME. Seriously, I don't even like greens.
How can I tell you about the amazing mole sauce? OMG. Chorizo and rabbit never tasted so good! Not that I've ever had rabbit before, but now I definitely want it again.
I was SO stuffed by the time we got to dessert that it was hard to get excited about it. But the pumpkin chiffon cakes with nutmeg cream and cinnamon butter cream were very tasty.
Throughout the meal, it was fun to peek back into the kitchen area to see what was going on. Unlike most of the chefs who were having a beer and a good time, Jonathan was taking his duties very seriously. I loved watching him obsessively keep an eye on everything. (While Keith was giving his speech earlier in the day, I saw Jonathan sprint behind him along the perimeter to retrieve something important from somewhere.)
Actually in the shot above, I think he is studying Andy & Michael as they prepare the bass. (Smart move!)
Also, as we ate, several of the farmers made their way down the line to tell us about their farms. I was ready to pick up and go visit Finley Hewes at Woodson Ridge Farms in Oxford right after dinner. I'm pretty sure I could have gotten Wendy to go with me.
(I learned after the meal that Finley's date was Joey Lauren Adams, the actress. I can't believe I didn't notice her all afternoon! Geez.) In my defense there were 130 people there.
I also really want this dress that the lovely Ms. Louisa from Delta Grind was wearing.
It was a really amazing afternoon, and there is no doubt that the Memphis chefs were the stars of the day. I hope that there's another dinner next year and that Warren and I are fortunate enough to attend.
Special shout out to Jill and Keith for having a huge ass party right on the cusp of becoming parents!