Elawa Farm was initially developed in 1917 as a gentleman’s farm for the A. Watson Armour family. It has been restored and preserved as a unique farm-garden and historical site with a mission to educate the community on local food. We’ll tour the property’s stunning manicured grounds, then sit down to dinner with the team from Asador Bastian. Chef Christian Eckmann and chef/owners Doug Psaltis and Hsing Chen have teamed up to create a Basque-inspired concept in another piece of Chicago history — a beautifully restored townhouse called the “Flair House”. We can expect them to bring their signature flare to the long table, honed over years traveling around the world, working in Michelin-starred kitchens, before starting their growing culinary empire in the Windy City.
This dinner promises to be a full-fledged celebration of the steep hills and valleys of the Driftless region. At Uplands Cheese, Andy Hatch and Scott Mericka raise grass-fed cows and make seasonal, Alpine-style cheeses with their milk. The farm’s founders were some of the first dairy farmers in America to use rotational grazing practices. After working at the farm for many years, Andy and Scott and their wives Caitlin and Liana bought the farm and made it their own, continuing the legacy of regenerative farming in the fields. We’ll set the table next to the dairy barn, or on a ridgeline somewhere on their 500 rolling, hilly acres dotted with creamy white, warm brown and black-spotted cows munching on a diverse range of grasses and herbs. Luke Zahm from aptly-named Driftless Cafe will be joining us in the field kitchen. He finalizes his menu every afternoon to take advantage of the best produce on offer from his robust network of local farmers. We can’t wait to see what he sources from his local friends to pair with Uplands cheese.
OITF seeks to connect us through a celebration of all that is handmade, local and personal – forging bonds between those at the table and the people and the place that helped create the meal. Galena’s Main Street is an ideal environment for such a celebration. Termed a “Helluva Half Mile,” the stretch is an assortment of locally owned businesses housed in buildings bursting with quaint, historic 1800s architectural details. Our table of local makers’ work will frame the culinary creativity of Galena local Kevin Scharpf. He currently runs Brazen Open Kitchen and Otto’s Place, but he has quite the resume under his belt—including a run on Top Chef and multiple appearances at the James Beard House. Chef Kevin will be working with host farmer Laurana Snyder from Sinsinawa Mound Collaborative Farm to create his menu. The collaborative farm works with beginning farmers to provide mentorship, education and infastructure. By breaking down barriers to exploring a career in agriculture, they are creating opportunities for more people to contribute to a thriving local food system.
This is one of a special series of Community Table Dinners, where we highlight not just farmers and the ingredients they provide, but also local makers and artisans whose work becomes our tablescape. A portion of the proceeds from this event will go to JDLF Gives, a community foundation that works to connect residents of Jo Daviess County with local food and nutrition and preparation education. Their mission is to expand access to local food for the benefit of the community, economy and environment.
There is plenty to see and taste here, and farmer Pete will give us a good look around. Our tour includes unusual varieties of fruits including loganberries, medlars, paw paw and blood peaches plus many types of apples which are made into fresh-pressed cider and vinegar. Pete is a big fan of OITF. We sometimes see him across the country at other events, standing out in someone else’s field. A few years back Pete came to an OITF Napa Valley event at Julie Johnston’s Tres Sabores Winery. This year, we will bring Julie and her wines out to Michigan where she will pour some of her favorites. Our guest chef Max Robbins has been taking his own inspiration from Napa as he opens The Oakville Grill and Cellar in Chicago. There, he focuses the rotating menu on different wineries from California, pairing selected wines with modern Midwestern cuisine.
Richard, Deb, and their daughter Ariana live full time on their 115 acre farm where they grow diverse vegetable crops, run one of Michigan’s largest CSA programs, and coordinate outreach and educational programs for local K-12 students. These focus on the connection between personal health to that of the environment and the food we eat. Last year, we spent two magical, albeit drizzly, days in their barn watching rainbows arc over their fields. This year, we can’t wait to get out into the gardens for dinner to celebrate this hardworking family and the bounty of Michigan summer. OITF’s very own kitchen manager will make his debut in the field kitchen! Brent Foster works with our guest chefs to ensure their meal is a success at each event, but we’re giving him the day off to be the guest chef while we’re in his home state. His much-talked about pop-up, Husky Boi, serves up reimagined Midwestern cuisine with a creative, nostalgic twist.
Chris and Fred Thaxton have been growing organic garlic and crops for over twenty years, and we’ve been visiting them for at least half that long. Our Tour Crew looks forward each year to stopping by the Thaxton’s family farm, because they treat us, well…like family. The table winds through their backyard, where their beautiful barn stands with doors open to show off dozens of varieties of garlic drying from the rafters. We can’t wait to welcome Vinnie Cimino of Cordelia back to the field kitchen. He cooked a beautiful summer feast for us last year, and will bring back his “Modern Grandma” approach to cooking – perfect for a table that feels like family.
We learn something new about farming every time we stop by Tangletown Gardens. Farmer Dean Engelmann’s passion for earth – not just the earth, but the literal soil under our feet – strikes like lightning when he gets to talking about soil health and biodiversity. He grew up on this farm and loves to share it with us each year, from their aquaponic koi pond to the cartoon-cute Scottish Highland cows wandering their pastures. We never quite know where we will set the table on this property full of flowers, vegetables and farm animals, but you can guarantee it will be a beautiful backdrop for James Beard-nominated chef Jamie Malone’s cuisine. She’s no stranger to throwing fanciful, beautifully thought-out dinner parties at Paris Dining Club and Petite Atelier, and we are delighted to have her return to the field kitchen to show off her signature French flare at the table.
Our first of two events at this urban oasis of vegetables and herbs growing in the shadow of the Chicago skyline — and our 21st to date. Ken Dunn has been converting vacant city lots into productive organic farms for over 30 years, and each time we visit it’s a joy to hear him speak about his inspiring work. Through education and advocacy, they’ve played a powerful role in improving the self-sufficiency of Chicago’s food community. We’ll celebrate all that hard work with a meal from beloved Chicago chefs Doug Psaltis & Hsing Chen of Andros Taverna, located in Logan Square. Their contemporary Greek-style menu tells a story of culinary heritage and will bring soulful sophisticated Mediterranean flavors to the long table.
Our second evening at this inspiring urban farm, where vibrant rows of vegetables and herbs grow smack dab in the center of the Windy City. On night two, we have guest chef Maxwell Robbins helming the flames in the field kitchen. Maxwell’s cheffed at some of Chicago’s best restaurants including Blackbird, Gilt, Purple Pig, and most recently Longman & Eagle — and he’s currently working on some exciting new projects to be revealed later this year. Perhaps we’ll get a sneak peek of his plans! Either way, we’re thrilled to see what he cooks up with all the peak summer produce growing behind our seats.
Farmer Pete’s 81-acre fruit farm is bursting with unusual varieties of fruits including logan berries, medlars, paw paw and blood peaches plus many types of apples made into fresh-pressed cider and vinegar. The fruit is picked at peak ripeness and measured with a brixometer for ultimate flavor and nutrition. Pete’s passion for perfect produce has made him a fan favorite among area chefs. This fruit-filled feast in sunny South Haven is bound to be a good one.