I had the distinct honor of attending (in all honesty, crashing) a truly spectacular event, the inaugural “Forage with Strangers.” It brought together influencers, connectors and innovators in Cleveland. And we strangers bonded over a universal language: GOOD FOOD.
Let’s start with a little “behind the scenes” insight to how I came to be a part of this experience. Over the course of the last year, I have been trying to immerse myself in the local culinary scene. I’ve come to know some incredible people and eaten some spectacular food. Social networking, no doubt, is a huge component of this. So on Monday night, I started to see posts on Facebook and Twitter about this “Forage with Strangers” concept. I was intrigued. Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I started making some inquires. And by mid afternoon, I was invited to join in.
I love people in the food world. They just want everyone to have a good time and be well fed. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a microphone, or a a blog. But I sincerely appreciated the willingness to include me in such a cool and intimate experience.
Here’s what the day was all about: A creative thinker from The Adcom Group teamed up with Kalman & Pabst Photo Group to orchestrate a networking event connecting local food brand reps, with local farmers and producers. The idea was to drum up business for everyone involved. But for as long as I was around, no one mentioned dollars and cents. Everyone was just talking about food and ideas. So refreshing and so delicious. Yet still so productive…and in the end, probably profitable.
The group started the event with a five course “pre-foraging” meal dreamed up by Dante Bocuzzi. In my year as my station’s designated “food reporter” his name has come up more than anyone’s in the city as the guy you’ve got to work with, and whose food you have to eat.
The next morning, the group ventured out in a van to half a dozen locations to “forage” for ingredients that would be used for a catered feast that night.
The 150 mile trek included Yellow House Cheese, Rittman Orchards, Spice Acres, Trapp Family Farm, Ohio City Farm and Heinen’s. The group gathered gorgeous fruits and vegetables picked at their peak, artisan cheeses and savory proteins. In all, 40 bags were hauled back to the host site of the “Forage with Strangers” dinner.
When I joined the party it was already time for happy hour. Chef Bocuzzi and Chef Douglas Katz of Fire Food & Drink worked feverishly with a team of helpers to turn the day’s haul into tonight’s feast.
Beer Master Sam McNulty of Bier Markt, Bar Cento, Market Garden Brewery and Nano Brew among the participants…as was Chef Adam Lambert, of The Black Pig and the upcoming Ohio City Provisions (a partnership with Fresh Fork Market).
The space was fantastic…full of natural light, props, and working kitchens for the commercial photographers at Kalman & Pabst to work their magic.
We started with an impressive array of cheeses from Yellow House and Mackenzie Creamery and a charcuterie display to die for, courtesy of Chef Lambert. I couldn’t stop myself from seconds and thirds of his chicken liver parfait, topped with Guernsey butter (from his own cows, and flavored with thyme and orange zest)
Wine was poured and conversation flowed among movers and shakers in the food world. I was eager to devour the details, and jealous that I missed all the foraging.
The inviting communal table set for 30 was soon filled with an incredible bounty. Everything brought out family style, as you might imagine large farmers’ families do. Even though the table stretched the length of the large space, there was barely enough room to set all the large platters full of farm fresh food.
Tempura fried heirloom tomatoes and Lake Erie Walleye with miso and radishes.
Plum and roasted beet salad with goat cheese. Corn, cucumber and tomato salad.
Buttermilk fried chicken livers and Harissa roasted chickens by Chef Katz. Plus hand made gnocchi ratatouille from the pasta master himself, Chef Dante.
We ate and talked and shared ideas, and ate and listened and shared seconds, and ate and laughed and shared inspirations. The meal ended with everyone reflecting on their favorite part of the day.
There was dessert…oh yes, there was dessert. Dante made an apple tarte tatin, and Doug crafted a couple of spectacular ice creams with fresh fruit toppings.
I left the dinner table buzzing with ideas and tingling with inspiration. There are immensely talented people in my city who believe they can change their world and yours with food and shared experiences. I want in. How about you?