"I heard a woman at the Portland Farmers Market saying 'Oh my god, there's dirt on this lettuce," says Erika Polmar. "Yeah, of course there's dirt. It comes from a farm."
Polmar, the foodie mastermind behind CASA's popular FLUX event, offers two words for the likes of Ms. Dirty Lettuce: Plate & Pitchfork.
Last summer, Polmar and partner Emily Berreth invited diners to tromp through verdant fields, pepper farmers with questions about produce, and then sup on dishes created on-site by hot-shot local chefs. The juxtaposition of vegetable beds and white linen tablecloths lured urban foodies onto working farms.
P&P is back for a second helping this summer. This weekend, farmer Mark Doxtader will bake bread in his brick oven for his Tastebud Farm's Canby dinner, while chef Scott Dolich, of Park Kitchen, and chef Leather Storrs, of Noble Rot, are planning to roast a whole pig for their Zenger Farm dinner in September.
P&P came to life thanks to a summer Berreth spent working at a Tuscan estate called Castello di Potentino. At the Italian winery's huge outdoor dinner parties, Berreth says she was as likely to eat next to the town's butcher, baker or olive-oil maker as alongside an Italian socialite. Upon her return home last year, Berreth and friend Polmar decided to Oregon-ize the farm dinner concept, adding a deliciously informative element to entertaining meals. Or, as they like to call it, "culinary edu-tainment."
Polmar and Berreth have teamed up with nearby farms that practice sustainable agriculture. Zenger Farm, famous for its tomatoes and peppers, butts up against the Springwater Corridor and is only a bike ride away from downtown. Or Sherwood's potato haven, Baggenstos Farm, which straddles the urban growth boundary.
According to Chef Dolich, programs like P&P provide "light-bulb moments" in which urban eaters are reminded of the farm-to-dinner-table connection and can taste what seasonal really means. For example, he recalls the customer uproar when he took batter-fried green beans with tarragon and ham off Park Kitchen's menu last fall. "I was like, 'Duh, green beans aren't in season anymore,'" he says. "We could get them from Mexico, yeah, but they'd suck."
The dinners also offer a chance for chefs to get to know the farmers who supply their food. "Within the next couple years the celebrity focus might shift to them," Dolich says, "because they are the people who do the ground work."
Reality in-the-field TV? Superstar farmers? It's only a hoe away from The Simple Life when you think about it.
But until the TV networks go Old McDonald on us, Polmar and Berreth will wine and dine local audiences with educational programming.
"You can lecture about issues of sustainability until you are blue in the face, but this event is so much more intense and fun," Polmar says. "Conversation is better at a dinner table."
dinners will be
held at Portland-area farms from July 10 to Sept. 18. Call 241-0745 or visit www.plateandpitchfork.com for information and reservations. Most dinners cost $75.