lo·ca·vore [loh-kuh-vawr, ‐vohr]
noun a person who makes an effort to eat food that is grown, raised, or produced locally, usually within 100 miles of home.
This is a huge fad in restaurants everywhere right now, and Charlottesville is the unofficial "Locavore Capitol of the World," according to a Forbes writer. Now the purpose of The Jacked Up Grill is to show how regular people can evolve and improve as cooks, so I have a pretty open mind when it comes to food trends, so for this year's greatest hits dinner, I thought I'd make it as locavore as possible.
I decided to go extreme locavore, using only ingredients found within 100 feet of my house, but the menu would have been limited to black widow spiders, squirrels who haven't been taught fear and like to eat garbage, and one of my neighbor's 14 cats. I am all about protein-heavy meals, but I'm pretty sure some of our guests had cat allergies, so we expanded our radius.
The search for local foods ought to have been extremely easy in this area, considering there is a farm on every corner with everything from artisanal acorn-fed pigs to kohlrabi (a weird vegetable that looks like a nitrogen based alien's prostate and tastes like nothing) to probably lots of weed. Of course according to City Council, you could get in more trouble for smoking the kohlrabi, but that's
neither here nor there.
The fact is, in mid June, getting a six course dinner completely locallys sourced is a tough task. I came up with my menu based off of successful recipes from the past year. Of course, when most of these were made before, "local" meant I got it from my local Harris Teeter. I had to take a step back to get the food actually produced locally. This presented a problem. If you want locally produced food, you have to get what is seasonably available. In mid June, this means you can have six courses of rainbow chard and beet juice, but nothing else. Don't even think about asking for a tomato. This did not work for me. So I reworked my strategy, buying locally produced when possible, and when not, buying from smaller, independent locally owned businesses, and only shopping at a major store when all else failed. It was successful, albeit exhausting and expensive, but I have a new appreciation for the locavore movement.
Saturday, June 23 was the night of THE DINNER. We served six courses of plated food to 12 diners and paired each course with a craft beer from a local brewery. We had perfect weather, we ransacked Cville for babysitters so most of the guests (all parents of young children)could eat in peace, and so far, no one has died of food poisoning.
Smoky Shrimp with Goat Cheese Polenta Cake
Bacon, Shallot, Herbed Sour Cream
Mandolin Artisanal Ale, Blue Mountain Brewery
10% ABV, 50 IBUs, 24° PLATO
Red Pepper Gazpacho
India Pale Lager, Devil’s Backbone Brewery
6.1% ABV 50 IBUs
Barbecuterie of Alternative BBQ
Porchetta, Pork Rillette, Coffee Rubbed Spare Ribs
2 BBQ sauces: Peach Habanero and East Carolina Vinegar
Hazy Summer Lager, Devil’s Backbone Brewery
4.5% ABV 16 IBUs
Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette
Yellow zucchini, sunflower seeds, Rhubarb, Fried Squash Blossom
Strawberry Schwarzcake Schwarzbier, Wild Wolf Brewery
5% ABV 20 IBUs
Chipotle Flank Steak with Lime Butter
Avocado Relish, Cheddar Corn Stick, Smoky Steak Sauce
Dark Hollow Imperial Stout , Blue Mountain Brewery
10% ABV, 79 IBUs, 25° PLATO
Table Top Smores
Himalayan Pink Sea Salt Milkshake Shooter
I still had my $.25 Goodwill dishes from last year, but for six courses we had to add a few pieces. I tried to get the tackiest ones possible, and my personal favorites were the gaudy 50th anniversary plate and the Welcome to California dish that probably contains lead based paint.
We went with simple dark red tablecloths, and since we are at heart, a BBQ joint, we put rolls of paper towels out instead of napkins. Because we were going to go through a lot beer, we found little tiny Red Solo cups. Classic JUG. The Charcuterie appetizer was served one per couple on carving boards I made myself to look like pigs.
Everyone got a fake mustache with their menu, and the couple with the best mustache picture won a jar of peach habanero BBQ sauce to take home. Eric and Stasia scooped up the win with this hilarious...and slightly disturbing unibrow duo.
The food all came out on time, and it all looked and tasted as good as I could have ever hoped. I planned ahead this year, which really isn't like me at all, and paced myself so that everything would be just right, and I managed to only overcook the shrimp and the flank steak, though both still tasted pretty good. Some of these menu items already have recipes available in past posts, but the new ones will be appearing soon on this blog, so stay tuned if you are interested in trying them yourself.
I had a great time sharing all this with my friends, and I hope they all enjoyed themselves. By the end of the night, the high gravity brew got me talking about politics, which never ends well, so I apologize to any guests who had to suffer through my lecture on "serial killer policy making." You know who you are.
At the end of the day, my lesson in locavoring taught me that it just isn't practical or neccessary to get every scrap of food on your table from a local producer. Himalayan pink sea salt is still only available in the Himalayas after all. BUT, I truly believe that supporting local business is the answer to a good chunk of our nation's problems, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the people who I got product from. Some of them were genuinely interested in what I was doing, and even offered help and advice on how to make the whole thing better. Will and Ben from the Rock Barn in Nelson County provided some of the pork for the dinner, and when I said I was making a rillette, Ben threw in a cured piece of ham they do themselves called a schweinshaxe that he thought would make it even better. It did, in fact, and I won't make another without including it. Appalachia Star Farm is a place we have a CSA share with, and the guy and his wife who run the place went out of their way to pick me a bag of squash blossoms for our salad course. We literally couldn't find them anywhere, and they took special care to pick perfect looking ones for us.
Best of all was Chef Craig Hartman from the BBQ Exchange in Gordonsville. I looked high and low for a cut of pork with the skin on to make my porchetta, and had no luck. Chef Craig came to the rescue, and special ordered an entire pig just to get me the cut I need. I got to watch the master at work as he broke down the entire thing, and I got a real kick out of picking his brain about his business, his BBQ philosophies, and his views on "local" food service.
The list of local vendors who contributed to this dinner is huge, and I'd say about 60% of the whole shebang came from within 100 miles of my house.
I have to give a huge thanks to my two helpers for the evening, Austin and Jessi. Last year proved that trying to feed that many people on your own is a recipe for disaster, so I called in reinforcements this time. They were all over it, and they did a phenomenal job. When we start catering for real, I hope they'll want to join us.
Mrs. Jacked Up Grill was extremely patient with me for the whole planning/execution/aftermath, and I owe her big time.
Thanks to all who came, and I am already turning gears for the next one.....
And thanks to Lisa and Allison and Amy for the awesome photos!