Executive sous-chef Troy Himmelman's edible sugar sculpture slowly took shape throughout the night, and became a tropical fish habitat. Photos by Ralph Stewart
Take time to savor every bite
A convivial crowd gathered on March 14 at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. Guests had to wind their way through Edgartown streets, following detour signs to the back entrance of the hotel. Although the detour was necessary because of construction at the hotel, it added an element of adventure to a unique dinner event.
Slow Food Martha's Vineyard and the Martha's Vineyard Museum joined with the hotel's Coach House to bring guests a feast of local foods. If you were one of the many on the waiting list for tickets, stop reading now. You will be even more disappointed that the Coach House doesn't seat 800 people.
Diners were welcomed by members of both groups and given a gift of Island recipes dating back to the 1800s. The cocktail hour was lots of friendly hellos and many passes by the two hors d'oeuvre tables, for plates of delicious smoked fish pâté and pickled and deviled eggs from Island farms.
Elizabeth Germain, a key figure for Slow Food Martha's Vineyard, spoke at the feast.
Next to the podium in the dining room was a work area with an assortment of unlikely pieces of equipment, such as a blow dryer and an airbrush. The table was lit with bright lamps all focused on a large mirrored tray. When we arrived at 6 pm the tray held a few translucent orange shapes. What would happen at this table in the next two hours was nothing short of miraculous.
The main portion of the evening began with Matthew Stackpole, president of the Martha's Vineyard Museum, giving the opening remarks. He said, "History has something to tell the future. Parts of the past come and inform the future." Clearly the Slow Food movement and the museum have much in common.
Elizabeth Germain spoke next. She is one of the founders and a leader in Slow Food Martha's Vineyard. She was thrilled at the large turnout for this, the organization's second restaurant event, and the first such event with another organization. Ms. Germain said the mission is "to celebrate the pleasures of the table." She gave a brief history of the Slow Food movement, begun by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 as a protest against a fast food invasion he saw as destroying a valuable part of the culture. Now the movement boasts more than 83,000 members in 100 countries. A few days after the event Ms. Germain said, "The Coach House generously contributed to the event by subsidizing the true cost of transforming the local food into the March 14 feast." She is happily receiving compliments about the evening every time she goes out.
During dinner, other speakers took the podium. Rebecca Miller, co-owner of North Tabor Farm; Jan Burhman, chef and owner of Kitchen Porch Catering; and Robyn Hossey, farmer and educator at the FARM Institute in Edgartown. All the speakers gave personal accounts of their food and farming histories and why using local food makes sense, environmentally, politically, and emotionally. We should strive to eat food that doesn't harm the environment, that is produced fairly, where the animals are treated humanely and workers are paid a fair wage. It was inspiring to hear the passion in their voices.
Jake Blake's Sweetneck Farm oysters were paired with Katama Bay's smoked scarlet oysters to start the Slow Food dinner.
Dinner was served family style and at a leisurely pace. The food was spectacular. If I single out a few items to mention it would be a disservice to the rest, but I'll chance it. I order oysters every chance I get, and this meal featured the very best oysters I have ever tasted, a sentiment shared by all those at my table. Jake Blake's Sweetneck Farm oysters were served with Katama Bay's smoked scarlet oysters. The salad of local greens was dressed with roasted beet vinaigrette. The beets came from the Allen Farm root cellar, and Thalia Scanlon of the Community Solar Greenhouse in Oak Bluffs provided the greens.
When the boiled cabbage and potatoes arrived together in a bowl, I was happy to discover the two people I came with didn't like cabbage. I got to eat their portion as well as my own, gladly giving them all but one of my potatoes. Then the discussion began. What was in these vegetables that made them so delicious? Round and round the table we gave our educated guesses: lemon, cardamom, some kind of exotic pepper, something sweet (but what?). The mystery was solved when I asked executive chef Joshua Hollinger. He said the vegetables were cooked with the brisket and the complex flavor was a result of the meat juices and the brisket marinade (molasses and beer, just to name a few ingredients). So our taste buds hadn't failed us. Everyone at our table was correct, as all those flavors were present.
Taylor Olcott serves lobster to the lucky Slow Food diners.
Throughout the evening executive sous-chef Troy Himmelman would appear at the large mirrored tray and work some sort of magic with cooked sugar. Slowly a beautiful undersea sculpture emerged as piece by piece the delicate edible artwork took shape. He attached an air tube to a ball of sugar mixture, and by heating the sugar as he added air, one burst at a time, a hollow shape was made. This shape would later become a fish swimming through the teal-colored seaweed.
Dessert of chocolate fondue with fruit and pound cake looked wonderful, but I couldn't eat one bite more. Those that did try the dessert were nodding with approval.
Inspiring words, a sumptuous meal, and watching a work of art come to life made the evening a feast for both the mind and the body.
For more information on Slow Food Martha's Vineyard, call 508-645-9466 or visit www.slowfooduse.org. For the Martha's Vineyard Museum, call 508-627-4441 or visit www.mvmuseum.org. The Coach House Restaurant is at the Harbor View Hotel, 508-627-3761, or visit www.harbor-view.com.