The Farmers Dinner Plants Seeds in Local Food and Rediscovery
“Mere opinions, in fact, were as likely to govern people’s actions as hard evidence, and were subject to sudden reversals as hard evidence could never be.”
–Kurt Vonnegut, Galapagos
As with heritage, mysteries and lost keys, so it is with food and language: To answer the question, we must first travel back to where it all started. Then, once we’ve arrived at the beginning, we have two options. One, we can trace the changes forward and gain an acceptance of the mystical ‘how’ and ‘why’ that gives way to perspective and origin; or two, once we’ve come to uncover that dirt-stained, deeply ridged, orange colored carrot, for example, we can rediscover it. It’s this latter path that chef and founder of The Farmers Dinner, Keith Sarasin, has chosen to take with food.
Tonight, Sarasin gives the season a flavor (or rather, many) by naming this dining spectacular on a cool Sunday in April “A Taste of Spring.” He and Lee Frank, chef/owner of Otis restaurant in Exeter, braise, fry, smoke, and highlight the many in-season ingredients that make up this 39th event of The Farmers Dinner.
Like tonight, you’ll often find Sarasin cooking with the chefs who own the restaurants where he hosts his dinners. You’ll also find him just days or even hours earlier, on the farms where he sources the ingredients. Armed in muck boots and an appetite for fresh produce, Sarasin comes to know the land and the farmers before he brings the food back to the kitchen, spending as long as eight to ten hours per event collecting the food, learning about it, and helping the farmers wherever he can. This is all so he can “know the stories of the food,” he says.
The first chapter of tonight’s story is titled Allium and it features a braised leek draped in garlic, ramps, chives, and purple and yellow flowers. The meal chatters on, telling of six more “tastes of spring,” including dishes that highlight New Hampshire’s parsnips from Meadow’s Mirth in Stratham, seafood from New England Fishmongers, peas, chives and peppers from Generation Farm in Concord, and carrots from Brookford Farm in Canterbury.
When Sarasin began The Farmers Dinner in 2012, it started out as an idea to spread awareness among restaurants, farmers, and diners in New England about local growing, distribution, and shopping opportunities. Now, The Farmers Dinner has prospered into a region-wide experience.
Cooking began for Sarasin as a means to pay his way through college, although at the time he hadn’t yet acquired a passion for being in the kitchen. Then, after the passing of a close friend, Sarasin found himself committed to the craft—he was hooked. “If you want to get good at something, surround yourself by people who are better,” says Sarasin.
When preparing for his Farmers Dinner events, Sarasin collaborates not only with the farm hands providing the ingredients, but also the chefs he will be cooking alongside to construct the event’s menu. As tonight’s “Taste of Spring” continues, a rack and leg of lamb atop mashed potatoes and herbs sprinkled with paloise sauce make their grand debut, accompanied by an unsuspecting twist on vegetables: coffee carrots. Sarasin explains that this side is a new try for him and a product of his dedication to rediscovering food.
“Coffee is kind of bitter,” he says. “And what do you put in your coffee?” Naturally I guess cream, but he’s hinting at the sweeter side of a perfect cup of java. Luckily for this peculiar combo, sweet carrots are in-season and quite delicious marinated in their bitter counterpart.
Sarasin has also recently rediscovered Flint corn. “It was a staple of New England for so long and now it's something that’s so difficult to find,” he says. The chef and food entrepreneur is also excited about using by products for fish in order to reduce waste.
To his fellow chefs who are interested in exploring the possibilities of local produce, Sarasin has a few simple suggestions: “Get to area farms and farmers markets and familiarize yourself with growing cycles and when things are in season. Meet the people growing their food and raising their meat. Start small and substitute one item on your menu.”
> To find out about upcoming Farmers Dinner events or to book your own private event, visit www.thefarmersdinner.com.