It’s not every day you can take a foraging stroll through the Hudson Valley with Chef Brian Kaywork, instructor in the American Bounty Restaurant, collecting morels, ramps, and dryad’s saddle for a special event. Not only have the students volunteering gained knowledge by going out into the wilderness, but we found a great cause to do it for. Over the past couple of months, students on The Culinary Institute of America’s Sustainability Committee volunteered to create and execute a farm-to-table brunch for the 20th anniversary of the Poughkeepsie Farm Project (PFP). Our objective was to highlight the plethora of fresh vegetables and ingredients from PFP, McGrath Cheese Company, and Hudson Valley Fish Farm that were donated for this event. The dedicated students, donors, and farmers worked together with a sense of gratitude towards the healthy and nutritious foods provided. This brunch was led by CIA students, giving us a full experience on how to organize and prepare for great events. It was a huge success and it showed us being involved in our committees on campus and in the neighboring community.
It started with a group meeting. Mise en place is just as important outside of the kitchen as in it. I was elected group leader, and as a team we planned and set roles to prepare the four courses. Organization is key and everyone had a plan. But since the weather isn’t always on our side, there were a few curve balls and adjustments had to be made shortly before the event. We embraced the change and tested our creativity.
Alex Shao and Elizabeth Pope were on canapés. They butter-poached a turnip and accompanied it with its own turnip-top puree on a crispy thyme cracker. They also prepared a quiche highlighting local eggs, foraged morel mushrooms, and chiffonade of dinosaur kale from PFP’s fresh harvest; and a brioche toast bite with local egg yolk puree and an egg white boat for the pea puree to rest in. For the first course, Dylan Leary and I took the term farm-to-table to the next level, assembling a mixture of green/red leaf lettuce, mizuna, pickled cucumbers, thinly shaved radish, honey ramp vinaigrette, bee pollen, and asparagus curls. All the vegetables were grown at the same place where they were served. That is fresh!
For the main course, JD Litis and Will Holloran made a buckwheat crepe with parsnip puree, cheese fondue, and steelhead trout that JD and Will had cured and smoked. The dish was completed with morels and dryad’s saddle that we had foraged ourselves.
For the final course, Elizabeth Bonnot and Katy Cassady created a cheesecake made from Fresca cheese donated by McGrath Cheese Company that had guests in awe. Not only was the cheesecake smooth and creamy, but the sorbet made from rhubarb and strawberries on PFP’s farm elevated the cake to new heights.
The effort and time we put into the event was definitely worthwhile. The guest loved the meal and we were happy with what we produced and served. In addition to the CIA students who volunteered, students from Poughkeepsie High School and Middle School assisted in the plating and serving. They received hands-on experience and got a chance to work with future food leaders of the world. The Poughkeepsie Farm Project has not only provided healthier alternatives in my hometown of Poughkeepsie, but it has also continued to educate and work toward decreasing food insecurity in the Hudson Valley. And this event helped the community appreciate the diligent work of PFP for the past 20 years.