We are constantly surprised and honored by the talented and generous chefs that agree to be a part of our Friends of the Café dinner series. A look back through our Journal shows just how many brilliant individuals have traveled to our corner of Alabama and offered their time, energy, and creativity for a good cause. As part of this year’s series, we were able to accomplish something we were not sure was possible: coaxing legendary Southern chef Scott Peacock out of semi-retirement to prepare a truly special dinner that we won’t soon forget.
When planning his menu, Scott insisted on a couple of things that sound simple at first glance: the ingredients must be fresh and they must be good. Luckily, we already partner with a number of farmers and vendors that provide us with the freshest local and organic products. But we also sought out some new and trusted sources that could provide us with the freshest ingredients—because when Scott says fresh, he means FRESH. That means that the menu was not 100% finalized until he knew exactly what he’d be working with—and each dish he presented proved his philosophy to be right, again and again.
Cocktail hour featured a specialty “Plum Blossom” cocktail concocted by our Events Coordinator, Anne Ryan, and combined Prosecco with plums that Chef Zach preserved last year, and garnished with violets that Natalie foraged. We asked Scott to select beer from his favorite brewery, and he selected Orpheus Brewery in Atlanta, as it is owned by the son of a close friend. Each course was also accompanied by wine pairings that we chose by working closely with our distributor to get the right complement for each course.
The passed hors d’oeuvre course included iced oysters that Zach sourced, served with Miss Edna Lewis’ spicy dipping sauce; Blackbelt Pineywood sausage brought in by Scott; fresh buttered radishes from Bluewater Creek Farm; tomato toast with canned tomatoes and fresh goat cheese from Humble Hearts Farm; and soft boiled eggs from Cog Hill Farm, atop garlic parsley sauce.
Scott’s first seated course was a salad of morning-gathered watercress, wood sorel, and violets. And when we say “morning gathered”, that is no exaggeration. The greens were delivered that day by Heirloom Harvest and the watercress and wood sorrel was foraged early that morning by Natalie at a local aquifer and a friend’s farm. If diners did not understand the importance of truly fresh ingredients before, this dish left no doubt. The greens were flavorful and delicate and almost melted in your mouth; we have never witnessed such a reaction to a simple salad before—and we may never again.
For the second course, Scott prepared what he called “Straddle Stew”, because we were straddling two growing seasons—using fresh produce from the last harvest alongside ingredients from the first harvest of this season. The dish included chickens from Cog Hill Farm, organic kale, chard, and shallot buds from Alchemy Farms, turnips from Bluewater Creek Farm, and fresh bay from Scott’s garden. (If you’ve never eaten a just-picked carrot, I guarantee it is a game changer.) The stew was served with Dorothy Peacock’s hot water cornbread made with Pollard’s extra-fine cornmeal from Hartford, Alabama.
We were delighted to have Angie Mosier and Lisa Donovan working alongside Scott and our staff in the kitchen and they provided helping hands and fresh ingredients. The dessert course was sweet cream biscuits made with buttermilk that Lisa sourced from Cruze Farm, topped with fresh strawberries that Angie brought from Red Earth Organic Farms and Woodland Gardens.
One of the most remarkable connections we made through Scott was our introduction to Will Dodd and his non-profit organization Heirloom Harvest. With their motto, “Food from down the Road,” the organization’s goal is to improve the food economy in Alabama as a way of addressing and improving socio-economic conditions. They partner with small, independent farmers to help with planning, warehousing, sales, marketing, distribution, and communication with customers—with the goal of getting those fresh and local ingredients into restaurants and stores throughout the region.
We could not have been more grateful to have Scott Peacock co-host this dinner with us. Our guests recognized how special the evening was; it really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share an intimate dinner with an influential but humble artist.