Our most recent Friends of the Café Dinner, helmed by Ashley Christensen and her team, was another memorable milestone in our ongoing friendship and professional relationship. We have always proclaimed Ashley to be a badass, and she proved herself worthy of the description, once again. She has dedicated such an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources to charity and her team has clearly perfected their approach to these kinds of events. They arrived ready to go, unpacked, set up shop, and executed their plan to perfection—seemingly without breaking a sweat.
Ashley also worked with a combination of her own suppliers and our local purveyors to obtain both protein and produce. Ashley finalized her menu once the availability from local farms was confirmed, to ensure she was using the freshest local ingredients available.
Cocktail hour included wines selected by Grassroots wine purveyors and our Events Coordinator, Anne Ryan Cavin, who also created the “Summer Cindy”—named for the tropical storm. The cocktail included Prosecco, Jack Rudy Grenadine, and fresh rosemary, provided by Bluewater Creek Farm. Both Grassroots and Anne Ryan worked closely to pair each course with a complementary wine.
The passed hors d’oeuvres included blistered Shishito pepper from Bluewater Creek Farm, with toasted benne seeds and lemon; fried green tomatoes (again, from Bluewater Creek Farm) with Alabama jumbo lump crab salad; Hook’s three-year cheddar pimento atop Bluewater Creek cucumbers; and a sweet corn mousse shooter, made with North Carolina corn and piquillo pepper.
Ashley’s first seated course was a salad of local lettuces and vegetables with roasted garlic and buttermilk. The lettuce and ground cherries were sourced from Bluewater Creek Farm and the radish and squash came from Hines Family Farms in Killen, Alabama. The buttermilk dressing was not in any way overpowering and the fresh vegetables were able to shine through. The first course was paired with a Hirsch 2015 Gruner Veltliner, a dry white wine with hints of pepper and pear—Natalie’s favorite.
Based upon Ashley’s recipe and guidance, chef Ray Nichols and The Factory Café staff prepared heirloom tomato pies with spicy microgreens and a sherry vinaigrette for the second course. We have enjoyed our fair share of tomato pies, but this one briefly quieted the room—which then erupted with discussion on texture and flavor. The tomatoes and spicy microgreens came from Bluewater Creek Farm and the Buttermilk Cheddar Cheese from East Tennessee’s Sweetwater Valley Farms, Ashley’s choice of cheese to complement the pie.
The third, main course was also served family style. A charcoal-grilled ribeye from Bear Creek Farm was topped with chimichurri, charred Bluewater Creek walking onions, and green horseradish crème fraiche. (Pattypan squash that was cooked over coals was substituted for our non-beef-eating diners.) Ashley brought ingredients to prepare her turn on a classic marinated summer succotash. The second side dish was by far the biggest hit of the night: Poole’s macaroni au gratin, a near-legendary dish in Ashley’s repertoire. We are guessing that diners will seek out the recipe in Ashley’s cookbook, Poole’s: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner. This course was paired with a 2014 L’Orangerie de Carigan Cadillac, an earthy Bordeaux with hints of blackberry and cherry.
The fourth and final course of the evening was a coffee panna cotta made with Counter Culture Coffee, Irish whiskey caramel, and North Carolina pecan granola crunch topping—served in a wide-mouth mason jar. The dessert was perfectly paired with a 2012 Dirk Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage Port.
Ashley’s commitment to fresh, local ingredients, community-based dining, and sharing stories around the family table was evident in each well-considered dish. After dinner, she also shared stories and signed copies of her cookbook, well into the evening. We are honored that Ashley Christensen has become a treasured member of the Alabama Chanin extended family and we were proud to see her so readily embraced by our community.
The upcoming Friends of the Café Dinner featuring Asha Gomez, also benefitting the Southern Foodways Alliance, is sold out—but you may contact us if you would like to be placed on our waiting list, should additional tickets become available.
Thanks again to Ashley Christensen, her amazing assistant, Charlotte Coman, our Factory Café staff, and our supportive community.