Last night, I had the pleasure of joining the hard-working farmers of Niman Ranch for the 12th Annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner at the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines.
Several acclaimed chefs from around the country prepared the evening’s meal, which highlighted Niman Ranch’s pork. Each course demonstrated the farmers’ dedication to raising their animals traditionally, humanly, and sustainably to produce the finest tasting meat.
The meal started with wine, but I had one sip and pushed my glass away. I was not in the mood to drink after Friday night’s shenanigans and Saturday’s “day drinking” after the 5K. (Ugh, I’m such a boozebag sometimes.)
The seven-course meal lasted nearly four hours. It was obviously meat-heavy, but I really enjoyed it. All of the dishes used fresh, interesting ingredients and were very creative.
Before dinner, I enjoyed some Porchetta made by Chef Sarah Jenkins of Porchetta in New York City. The Porchetta was Niman Ranch slow roasted pork middles seasoned with rosemary, sage, and Cleverly Farms garlic, served on fresh baked bread by South Union Bakery. The lighting in the room was really dim, so I never snapped a good photo of it, but it reminded me a lot of a pork slider.
Reuben with a Twist
Chef Randy Waidner, Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, Chicago, Illinois
I liked this course. “Rueben with a Twist” was such a fun idea for an appetizer. The chef-corned Niman Ranch pork tenderloin was perfectly tender and tasted delicious with the gruyere cracker, pickled kohlrabi, and spicy mustard. All of the flavors together in one bite were fantastic. However, the homemade rye just wasn’t my thing. I had a few bites, but I didn’t like it.
My blog buddy, Chef John, in action!
Sweet Corn Soup
Chef George Formaro, Centro, Des Monies, Iowa
The Sweet Corn Soup was easily my favorite course of the meal– well, besides dessert, of course! 😉 The soup was made from purÃ©e of Iowa sweet corn, caramelized onions, pico de gallo and Niman Ranch chicharron. Holy amazing. My plan was to enjoy a few bites from each dish in order to pace myself throughout the meal, but my goal went right out the window with this course. I ate the entire portion. Yuuummm!
Niman Ranch Pig Tails
Chef Jon Shook and Chef Vinny Dotolo, Animal, Los Angeles, California
The buffalo-style pig tails were definitely the most innovative course of the evening. Who would have thought to serve pig tails buffalo-style? (Or even eat pig tails for that matter!?) The pig tails were served with celery and French Breakfast radishes from Cleverley Farms and ranch dressing. I’ll eat anything at least once, so I tried a few bites. The meat was very flavorful and, of course, I loved the buffalo sauce, but I couldn’t get the thought of pig tails out of my head, so I only ate about two bites of this dish.
Niman Ranch Hand-Shredded Pork Wrap
Chef Alexander Ong, Betelnut, San Francisco, California
Chef Alexander’s pork wrap with Asian pear kimchee and scallion purÃ©e on butter lettuce was one of my favorite courses, mostly because I chatted with him the night before about it. It was interesting to hear his inspiration and thinking behind the dish. Chef Alexander is also just a cool guy– very personable and friendly.
Niman Ranch Pork Osso Bucco
Chef Martin Muprhy, Canoe Club, Hanover, New Hampshire
I also really liked the main course, Osso Bucco, which was slow-braised Niman Ranch pork shank with ragout of beets, carrots, potatoes, and squash. I was quite full at this point in the meal, so I only ate the vegetables and a few bites of the pork, which was a-mazing. It was so tender and basically fell right off the bone. I didn’t even need my knife to cut it.
During the entree course, Niman Ranch presented a number of farmers with awards and special recognition for their hard work and dedication, including Farmer of the Year, Highest Quality Meat, and 10 Years of Dedication.
Classic Heirloom Apple Pie
Chef John Himan, Marczyk Fine Foods, Denver, Colorado
Obviously, dessert was my favorite course. Chef John used a blend of Cortland and Mollies Delicious apples from Berry Patch Orchard with Niman leaf lard for the crust. The apple pie was served with a small piece of Prairie Breeze cheddar cheese on the side. Interesting, right? Apples + cheese? Love it!
The apple pie was very special because Chef John was faced with every possible challenge for making it. When he arrived in Des Moines on Thursday afternoon, the Marriott only had nine pie pans for him. No biggie, right? He found 61 more, no problem. But, the night before the event, the machine that rolls out the pie dough broke. So, Chef John (and some of the other chefs), rolled the dough by hand, which was very time-consuming. Then, if that wasn’t enough, as soon as the pies are ready for baking, the ovens at the Marriott stop working!!! (Personally, I would have lost my mind at this point.) Luckily, a nearby restaurant was able to cook the 70 apple pies for the event, but the poor chefs were up until nearly 3:00 in the morning baking them. Their hard work was definitely worth it. I totally wanted a second piece!
At the end of dinner, the chefs were thanked individually for their contributions to the meal. Enjoying all of the courses, I could tell that each of the chefs really cared about the food. It truly exemplified the connection between farm and table.
Just landed in Detriot. I had an amazing time in Iowa, but I’m sooooo ready to be home with M & m. I feel like I am away more than I am home!