Last Friday night, we hosted our second “Friends of the Café” dinner, which also served as our first Piggy Bank Dinner fundraiser for the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA). Chef Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer restaurant and the Peabody-award winning television series A Chef’s Life traveled to The Factory from North Carolina for an evening of delicious food, cocktails, much laughter and lively conversation, and music, performed by friend and songbird, Shonna Tucker.
Vivian’s show, A Chef’s Life, focuses on regional food traditions and explores classic Southern ingredients. Friday’s dinner highlighted the story of our own local farmers and their fresh ingredients, with Vivian’s Eastern Carolina twist. Each course was accompanied by a wine pairing, chosen by Harry Root (Bacchus Incarnate) of Grassroots Wine.
I love what Christi Britten—one of our dinner guests and the author of Dirt Plate— writes in her review of the evening:
Pretty much, Vivian Howard gives a damn. She gives a damn how the food she serves is raised, prepared, cooked, presented, eaten, enjoyed, and thought about. She gives a damn about her community’s food culture and wants to suck up as much knowledge as she can about where their food comes from and how to make it. She gives a damn about the farmers that work hard every single day to feed a community as well as their families.
She has, with her own hands, butchered whole animals to use from snout to tail in her restaurant. She speaks with a tone of reverence and authority over the food she creates. And basically she is a food medium. She is confident, yet humble and puts us all into a place where we can visualize the care taken to prepare what we put in our mouths.
This farm to table dinner celebrated local farms and Southern food culture by bringing together the summer bounty into one meal among a diverse community of eaters.
For our cocktail hour, Vivian offered one of her signature summer cocktails: Cucumber Ginger Limeade with Cathead Vodka (generously donated by our friends at Cathead). The drink was paired with fresh watermelon and lime salt hors d’oeuvres, which quickly disappeared.
Prior to dinner, Vivian spoke about the impact that the SFA had on she and her husband, Ben, when they returned home to North Carolina and started their business. She explained how the organization encouraged her to find her true self and helped shape the person she is today. (You can learn more about her connection to the Southern Foodways Alliance here: Episode 5: Tomatoes—You Say Heirloom, I Say Old Timey.)
What is not to love about this mission:
The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.
Our first two courses were served family-style, with guests serving one another and passing dishes along the café’s farm tables. Chef Howard and the café staff prepared Cherokee Purple Tomato Toasts and Corn on the Cob with Citrus, Herbs and Pecorino Romano. Vivian encouraged all of us to keep smiling, even if we got a little corn in our teeth, since our neighbors would likely “also have corn in their teeth.”
The second course included two of the most popular plates of the night: Country Ham wrapped Peaches with Gingered Goat Cheese, and Charred and Pickled Patty Pan Squash with Basil Pesto, Fresh Mozzarella and Stewed Tomatoes.
Between courses, Harry Root highlighted each of the wine pairings, including Muscadet Sèver et Maine Sure Lie “Cuvée Harmonie”, Nicodemi Rose Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (a definite crowd-pleaser that delivered waves of fruit and spice, with a bright, citrus-lined finish), and Broc Cellars Valdiguié.
Vivian’s entrée was a modern take on a classic Southern dish—BBQ chicken (donated by White Oak Pastures), prepared the North Carolina-way (on the bone and from whole chickens broken-apart by Vivian’s own two hands earlier that day). The chicken featured her signature, house-made blueberry glaze, and was paired with Squash and Fontina Casserole. As everyone finished eating and plates were cleared (and as Vivian and the kitchen team prepared dessert), Shonna Tucker performed a selection of songs in her part-country, part-soul style.
And, finally, after dessert was served—Coconut Cheesecake Pudding, paired with Graham Crackers, Ginger Infused Melons and Macadamia Benne Seed Granola—our friend Josephine called for a standing ovation and a collective round of “You Are My Sunshine” as serenade to Vivian and the entire team.
Thank you to Vivian, the Southern Foodways Alliance, Grassroots Wine, White Oak Pastures, Cathead Vodka, Shonna Tucker, Angie Mosier, Jack-o-Lantern Farm, and everyone else who made the (sold-out) gathering a true success.
And to find out more about becoming a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, click here.
Photos courtesy of Angie Mosier.
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