Photo Credit: Jeremy Fenske
There are a few red flags to look for when reading a chef’s menu. Fried food, whole animals, and pasta, usually (but not always) equate to a farm dinner debacle. Another is when a new chef, unfamiliar with cooking for 150 without the luxuries of an indoor kitchen, has a particularly ambitious menu. Kyle Bailey was one such chef.
As we sat down with chef Kyle for our menu meeting, he described his courses, detailing his commitment to local ingredients and honest preparation. There was absolutely no question that he was a passionate, driven, and talented chef; but he was also self-admittedly a bit anxious about cooking outside for so many people. Couple that with the fact that that his stunning menu had more individual courses than any to date, and there was ample reason for Katie and I to be a bit uneasy about the execution of the dinner.
There is a certain timing that we like to keep with our dinners. In a perfect world, a course hits the table every 30 minutes, with the wine (or in this case beer) preceding each course by 10 minutes. But on that particular evening, because of the number of plates that were to be served that evening, Katie and I decided to throw the rules out the window and adopt a slightly more unconventional approach. Rather than distinct courses, food flowed from the kitchen steadily and continuously throughout the evening.
The meal began with not one, but three different salads. A salad of arugula, roasted peppers, grilled watermelon and bok choy seamlessly transitioned into roasted beets with housemade ricotta & candied walnuts, and progressed to platters of a radish & chili salad. It took all of about twenty minutes for chef Kyle and his crew to hit their stride. It may have been their first farm dinner, but this stellar team commanded the kitchen in a way reserved for the most seasoned of veterans.
At this point in our relationship, Katie and I are able to speak volumes without words. And let me tell you, in new situations such as these, it comes in oh so handy. Mere looks to one another can say “The kitchen needs a little more time to prepare for the next course. Keep pouring the beer,” or “Food is ready. Get your servers to the window. Now.” As the meal transitioned from grilled blue catfish with roasted hakurei turnips to ricotta cavatelli with braised pork shoulder, the front-of-the-house continued to keep in perfect timing with the kitchen. There was a palpable rhythm to that dinner, one felt by the kitchen and service staff alike.
After the guests had savored the last of Tiffany’s apple pie with cinnamon chantilly, caramel, and granola and sipped the last of their Heavy Seas pumpkin ale, Katie and I finally took a minute to process the evening. The execution of the meal was unlike any we had done before, but it was inarguably successful. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why it went as well as it did or why it was, for lack of a better phrase, just so much fun. Thankfully, Kyle did that for me. That rhythm, that flow, he explained, is what he strives for when cooking. It is what drives him and what keeps him inspired. It is that addicting feeling, as if tapping into a higher culinary power, that makes you realize that in that moment, nothing in the world can compare.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Fenske