As residents of Nebraska we are reminded of our close relationship with agriculture almost on a daily basis, but rarely do we stop and think about where our food really is coming from and who is growing it. The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society set out 30 years ago to ensure a strong sustainable relationship between the local agriculture providers and the folks who consume their products. As the farm to table and eat local movements have gained momentum, NSAS and their member farmers moved to fill a need and provide restaurants with locally grown high quality ingredients. The diversity of products that are offered by the NSAS members allowed chefs to tap their creativity and celebrate the quality and variety.
On January 19th, NSAS members honored five local chefs who the producers felt most embraced the farm to table movement and promoted sustainable use of their produce. The chefs for 2014 are The Grey Plume’s Clayton Chapman, The Boiler Room’s Paul Kulik, Lot 2’s Joel Mahr, Dante Ristorante Pizzeria’s Nick Strawhecker, and Bread & Cup’s Matt Roush. A dinner was held at the Metro Community College Institute for Culinary Arts center, with each chef preparing a dish for the folks attending the event and provided delicious examples of the great creative cuisine these chefs make with the local produce.
Our table started with Chef Roush’s dish, Hog’s Head rillettes and fried polenta on a smoked pumpkin puree with crispy leeks and a beet and parsley gastrique. The pork was tender and complimented the smoked pumpkin puree. Candied pecan and tomato powder gave a hint of sweet to the rich smokiness of the pork and pumpkin.
Our second dish was Chef Nick Strawhecker’s white bean and white chocolate ravioli, with organic roasted carrots and fresh pea and baby arugula shoots. A carrot foam provided a bright orange splash of color and sweetness. The ravioli were perfectly cooked, soft with just a little bit of tooth, the sweetness of the chocolate and the rich earthiness of the white beans picked up the nuttiness of the pasta and combined to make one of the best ravioli we have ever had. I only wish there would have been more ravioli, as the greens somewhat dominated the dish.
Our third course was Chef Joel Mahr’s Beef Bourguignon and “Potato Patch.” The beef had a rich meaty flavor and chewiness typical of grass fed beef, but was still fork tender and moist like a luxurious pot roast. Sweet pearl onions were soft and candy sweet and the roasted garlic and wild mushrooms had the richness of the broth the beef had been braised in. On a separate plate, the “Potato Patch” featured fried potato balls with creme fresh, arugula and “dirt.” The potato balls were similar to a delicious fresh tater tot, dense and hot with just a hint of saltiness. The “dirt” was hard to identify, but tasted like charred crushed potato chips, slightly earthy with a hint of caramelization. The “potato patch” was a creative and playful take on a classic fried potato, and showcased the creativity of Chef Mahr.
Our fourth dish was the star of the night for us, Chef Clayton Chapman’s Chicken Roulade with winter squash and foraged wild mushrooms. The chicken roulade was served piping hot, the chicken juicy and tender with a delicious herb seasoning on the skin of the roulade. Chunks of roasted winter squash, sauteed mushrooms and bread crumbs formed a bed under the chicken soaking in the drippings from the chicken. The winter squash was sweet and soft and perfectly accompanied the buttery earthiness of the mushrooms. Pickled turnips and carrots were sweet and tangy, tender while still having a bit of crunch. Crispy fried chicken skins were amazingly delicious, crispy and crunchy with a rich flavor of chicken fat. If Chef Chapman would have sent a huge bowl table, I can guarantee there would not have been leftovers! This dish even converted the beef ranchers who were holding out for the beef dish to win.
Our final entree was presented to us by Chef Paul Kulik. His veal stuffed trotters and truffled boudin blanc with “amber waves of grain” came with some of the best chicarones that we have ever tasted. Accompanying the dish were watermelon and black Spanish radishes. They were tart and crunchy, and off played the softness of the veal and grain in a wonderful way. They flavors were deep and rich, and the meatiness of the veal, the softness of the grain, and the bite of the radish created a different texture and flavor each bite. It was a fantastic dish to end the evening’s courses with.
We finished the dinner with a plate of pastries from Le Bouillon’s pastry kitchen. Various scones, cookies and sweet treats were given to each table to share. During dessert we were asked to vote for our table’s favorite chef. That vote would count as one vote towards the final winner. There were 4 special guest “judges” and then each table’s vote. Clayton Chapman from The Grey Plume won with his Chicken Roulade. There were also raffle tickets being sold for items from the various restaurants and the sponsored wine and beer to be won. Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything! We look forward to the future of this event and hope NSAS will continue it for many years to come.