June 20, 2017
On Saturday the magicians of Nourish, a Charlotte-based healthy, organic, vegan prepared food delivery service hosted a stunning farm-to-table dinner party at Bell’s Best Berries Farm in Monroe. The concept of a dinner party seems like a stuffy, formal affair with way too many forks involved and forced conversations that can make you wonder which fork is the correct one to stab yourself with, however, not when Nourish has anything to do with it.
For anyone unfamiliar with Nourish, well, the name says it all. They provide locally sourced, clean, nutritious foods, but they do it all while thinking about us, the common person, and how limited our everyday access to clean eating really is. Nourish delivers to your door, stocks their products at local, independent stores, and even writes specific reheating instructions on each label so you don’t have to go out of your way whatsoever to eat smart.
The dinner was hosted at Bell’s Best Berries Farm nestled like a fairytale’s hidden door in the back roads of Monroe, NC. Guests were first greeted with white sangria; a perfect summertime concoction of champagne, peaches, and a hint of sunlight filtered throughout. While sipping, guests were encouraged to roam around the small farm and even taste whatever they like. Think of that scene in Willy Wonka where Gene Wilder wistfully serenades about a land of pure imagination and you’ll be fairly close to the beauty and awe of this farm. Native wildflowers and gardenias grew fully and proudly around the rows of golden tomatoes and famous blueberries, all watched over by a towering, grandfatherly weeping willow. Full-grown adults chittered away, excited in a childlike freedom.
The first course was a flat wooden plank with simple skewers affixed to proudly hold miniature summer vegetables like turnips, beets, radishes, and squashes. Below the assorted vegetable chandeliers, delicate bowls of sauces and freshly picked herb sprigs were laid out which created a subtle and colorful artsy arrangement. The healthy portions of sauces were elevated in taste and featured a wide array of Bell’s Best Berries’ own farm offerings. For instance, the prized blueberries were used in a fresh blueberry vinaigrette which was sweet but not overpowering. The cashew labne and herb pistou, which Chef Julia Simon lovingly dubbed “fancy ranch” was a definite crowd pleaser but I especially took to the aged black bean babaganoush. Each sauce was its own display of tangy, sweet, or earthy, and after eating all the skewered veggies, attendees began using squash stems like Fun Dip sticks and continued to dip into their new favorite dressings until the board and sauces were taken away and replaced with freshly picked flowers in funky colored vases.
While explaining the second course of heirloom corn marrow with seeded toasts, baby fennel salad and tomato caramel, Chef Julia asked guests to note there were two cherry tomatoes on our plates. One of these tomatoes would typically be what we all buy in the grocery store, while the other was freshly picked from the farm. She asked us to see if we could taste, see, feel the difference in the two tomatoes and praised the importance of farm fresh vegetables and supporting local farms like the gorgeous one we were dining in. The difference was very apparent. The NC heirloom corn marrow cob was roasted on one side and filled with its own remaining creamy corn on the other, replicating a carnivorous marrow dish. The seeded breads were gluten-free and lightly drizzled with a dessert-worthy caramelized tomato sauce.
With an already happy belly, I took a moment to once again take in the surroundings of this dreamy farm and noticed bees happily pollinating the shoulder-high wildflowers while two musicians strummed out soft, muted jazz that twirled lightly among the night’s chatter. Conversations were easy and high-spirited in the golden hour; after all, there were a lot of interesting morsels of entertainment to discuss with your newfound table neighbors. A diverse group of people attended the dinner as food is the ultimate way to share laughs, and a backbone of all cultures throughout time and region. Sitting down to a nice dinner, especially one inspired by love and sharing, is the most basic way to create a bond with just about anyone and it was nice to be reminded of an easy, human avenue between two people.
The third course was a light and satisfying salad with greens completely foraged from Bell’s Best Berries. The salad was escalated beyond any typical ho-hum plate of greens because the arrangement of dandelion, purslane, and spinach played with crispy textures and bright tastes as the gold balsamic “honey” sweetened and bonded each new bite. The salad also featured Dover Farms’ sour baby grapes which had been fermented and pickled to perfection, giving the salad a sharp but pleasant and balanced sour accent.
Right before the main course, the white “daytime” sangria was switched out with red “evening” sangria made of pomegranates, oranges, and those pristine Bell’s Best Berries blueberries which complimented the rich, galaxial summer night sky. The Italian-inspired fourth dish was Cacio e pepe and maitake mushroom bagna cauda with summer greens three ways, boasting Bell’s Best Berries’ green beans and heirloom kale. Urban Gourmet Farm’s maitake mushrooms were smoked and cured to create an anchovy-like salty inflection while the bagna cauda was cooked to accentuate a very savory umami flavor. The Cacio e pepe pasta was delicate on the tongue and thick in the stomach, a completely enriched and substantial main plate which left just enough room for everyone’s favorite course, the dessert course.
Plated decadently in simple low bowls was a featherweight sponge with “honeycomb” ice cream, fresh berry compote (hello again, Bell’s Best blueberries!), and lemon curd. On top and mixed in the ice cream was an actual chilled vegan honeycomb that had a vibrant orange color because Chef Julia incorporated a saffron reduction before caramelizing the sugar. The conversation lulled for the first time all night during this course because every attendee was too busy devouring the heavenly dessert to concentrate on words.
Bell’s Best Berries FarmTo conclude the evening, darling teacups were filled with herbal teas from Little Sey Salt Cures and a huge fire was lit next to the nourished guests. Two fire dancers emerged from the night like personified fireflies and closed the evening off with an entrancing performance. Two jazz musicians were inspired by the low burning seductive grip of the dancers and started a totally improvisational groove to soundtrack the transfixing performance. Do yourself a favor and do not miss the next Nourish event, and do your tastebuds a solid by supporting local farms.