Island Grown Schools’ fundraising dinner was a great excuse to skip out on night No. 2 of town meeting. The plant-based dinner, featuring guest chef Kyleen Keenan, was a fundraiser for IGS’s program at the high school, where the garden club grows fruit trees and more in the school’s courtyard. “The courtyard is kind of magical,” says Suzie Brown of IGS. “We’re excited for the fundraiser, because we’re going to build some raised beds for annuals like tomatoes and peppers.”
Garden club co-president Sasha Lakis, a junior at the high school, came to help serve the meal. Her academic focus is in the sciences, and the garden club ties into that. “I really enjoy applying science to real life,” she says. Other students were involved too. In the kitchen that afternoon, Culinary Arts classes had helped prep the meal with the guest chef. “Making the connection between students and chefs in the community is one of the great things about this program,” says Kevin Crowell. As chef and owner of the Sweet Life Cafe, he hosted dinners with the school’s culinary program, then began teaching at the school two years ago with Jack O’Malley, who leads the culinary department. “This is Kyleen’s vision, and I’m learning a ton about plant-based food,” says Crowell. “Working with the different flours has been really neat for me, how they all rise and fall and set.”
“My mission is to make plant-based foods more accessible, and it’s great to work with kids,” says Keenan. She also enjoyed working with the high school kitchen’s smoker, a piece of equipment she normally doesn’t have. “I love that we got to smoke the mushrooms,” she says. “We like to layer flavor in different ways.” The mushrooms were featured in the first course of the dinner, on gluten-free flatbreads with shaved cabbage, baja aioli, pickled chili, and cashew cheese.
As the meal was assembled in the kitchen, guests began to fill the two long tables in the dining room. I had never been to an IGI dinner before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but it’s the Vineyard, so I wasn’t surprised to recognize many of my fellow guests. I stopped to say hello to Debra and Warren Gaines while I considered where to sit. “We’ve been eating plant-based since January,” said Debra Gaines. She has been gluten-free for several years, and made the transition to plant-based eating just as Chef Kyleen Keenan was offering a class in this type of cooking. Gaines and Keenan both have an infectious enthusiasm for plant-based eating, and as the meal progressed, it was easy to see why. The food is filling, delicious, and varied.
Zelda Binney, age 5¾, was one of the younger diners. Her favorite part of the meal came in the second course, the marinated beets on the salad. “Not the yellow ones, only the red ones,” her grandmother explained. The salad also had charred onions on a bed of Thimble Farm greens, roasted chickpeas, fennel, and Slough Cove Farm microgreens, with probiotic cider vinaigrette. It was followed by rice vermicelli with a ginger coconut emulsion. Oven-roasted sweet potato gnocchi came next, with roasted carrots, North Tabor Farm kale, and more.
The meal was served at a leisurely pace, with plenty of time for conversation. On one side of me, a group of women talked about trespassing — and trespassers — in Chilmark, while on the other side people swapped stories of how they’d first come to the Island. The guests included farmers, friends of IGI, families, and fans of Keenan’s cooking. Children enjoyed the dinner, too, running around the tables between courses, but it’s quite possible that the highlight of the evening was the final course, a Not Your Sugar Mama’s Chocolate Pot de Crème. It was incredibly rich, but in a healthy way, sweetened only with maple syrup and coconut sugar. There was a bite of MV Sea Salted caramel swirl in the middle, and a dollop of whipped coconut cream on top.
It was a relaxing, enjoyable way to support Island Grown Schools’ high school program, and its collaboration with the culinary arts department and Chef Keenan. I came away curious to learn more about the mysteries of chia-seed “eggs” and gluten-free breads, not to mention the coconut whipped cream. I might even check out Kyleen Keenan and Bennett Coffey’s cookbook, “Chocolate Every Day.”