Adventure Dinner 2017
’ third annual Adventure Dinner
began last Saturday, July 15, on a road inside 200 acres of Sunrise Orchards
’ apple groves. The sun was beaming in Cornwall, although three hours earlier the sky had opened up with torrential rainstorms and a thick, slick coat of mud glazed the outskirts of the orchards. Guests came aptly prepared, wearing hiking shoes and rain boots with their nice linen shirts. It was an “Adventure Dinner,” after all. Folks were game.
Stonecutter, the much-awarded gin and whiskey distillery in Middlebury, launched its first Adventure Dinner in the summer of 2015. The events are organized and hosted by Stonecutter cofounders Sas Stewart and Sivan Cotel. The idea, says Stewart, "aims to gather a cadre of Vermont chefs, artists and artisans in unexpected local spots" for a celebration of the state’s nuanced talent.
These speakeasy-style gatherings are different every year. Knowing the general gist and location, guests purchase their tickets ahead of time; diners are updated with an exact meet-up spot 24 hours before the adventure begins, rain or shine. Instructions are often simple, such as “wear comfortable gear for a stroll through the woods,” or “bring a small flashlight and wear water-friendly shoes.” If it’s sunny, they’ll have sunscreen. If it’s buggy, they’ll provide bug spray.
The first dinner was a cocktail-sluiced cruise across Lake Champlain. The night’s adventurers landed on a remote island for an open-flame feast of grilled fish and local meats, prepared by Vermont chefs Christian Kruse from the Basin Harbor Club
and Doug Paine of Juniper
and Blue Northeast Seafood
. The second Adventure Dinner gathered on an organic flower farm, its landscape rigged with a treasure hunt for drinks and a lamb roast from chef Joe Paquette of the Burlington Country Club
2017’s Adventure Dinner at Sunrise Orchards began with a walk along the apple groves to a clearing in the trees — “Wear shoes appropriate for walking around a farm,” diners were told. Behind a row of Honey Crisps rose the heavy smell of a campfire. Stop number one.
Guests arrived in groups to a clearing in the trees, where Stonecutter bartenders passed out jars of gin cocktails spiked with grapefruit juice and grenadine. Two coolers stood at the ready with self-serve ice for drinks. A tarp-dressed table was decked for a clambake, strewn with hunks of warm potato, steamed clams, seaweed, corn cooked in husks and a vat of drawn cultured butter with bay leaves.
A teepee of branches straddled a wood fire nearby; an ironclad pot hung from its center, cooking the next round of steamers.
Some adventurers came in pairs, some in fours, some stag. Ages ranged from early twenties to late sixties. The table’s clambake was eaten with hands, and napkins came in the form of paper towels. Everyone chattered, standing around the table shelling steamers or drinking under apple trees. Butter was passed along the table for dipping. “Do I dunk the potato right in the pot?” asked one man. (He was encouraged to go for it.) Fellow adventurers began to introduce themselves, skipping handshakes due to clam-juicy fingers. Paper towels followed the butter.
After stop one’s happy hour, the path continued through apple groves to a centuries-old farm road tucked in a tall arc of trees. Down that stretch of grass sat an enormous, 70-seat table, custom-made by local design-and-build firm Imhotep Vermont
. Each place was set with plates, silverware, cloth napkins and matte-black menu booklets from DSKI Design
bindery in Brandon.
Candles flickered down the center of the table, alongside pitchers of water and wildflowers stuck into empty whiskey bottles. A cream-colored canvas table runner matched the servers’ aprons, both fashioned by Red House Design
Adventure Dinner 2017
In a neighboring space at the head of the road, bartenders turned out cocktails and cans of local Shacksbury Cider
. Chef Peter Varkonyi, of Royalton's recently opened Wild Roots
restaurant, helmed the night’s feast. He stood side by side with guests, slowly turning a suckling Ossabaw pig from Longest Acres Farm
over wood flames.
When 70 guests found their seats, the feast began with Varkonyi’s “farm share”: platters of roasted, raw and pickled local vegetables with ramekins of sauces, such as sweet tahini and garlicky salsa verde. There were warmed orbs of Vermont Creamery
Bonne Bouche wrapped in grape leaves and saba, a good companion to the Forager cocktail: Stonecutter's Heritage Cask whiskey, wild raspberries, cold brew tea, amaro and Angostura bitters.
Next was ash-cured black sea bass from Wood Mountain Fish
dressed with smoked olive oil, chile vinegar and garlic mustard. A pickled green tomato and dill salad was piled in ceramic bowls on the table. Then came fat roasted beets, nestled in horseradish aioli and topped generously, not preciously, with a tumble of micro-greens, nasturtium leaves and edible flowers. There was torn flatbread in baskets, still oily and hot from its time on the fire. Then, the pièce de résistance: the whole hog demounted from its spit, carved and piled family-style on serving boards.
The sun set as diners sipped cider and took second helpings of pork belly. The only light along the table was from candles and a few helpful iPhones. The mud along the old road's outer reaches had dried slightly, more soft than slick — a good time for the last leg of the Adventure Dinner trail. One hard-core Vermonter opted for sandals over Hunters, preferring "muddy feet to sweaty feet," she said with a laugh. She stood from the table; the dried mud across her toes and ankles was barely noticeable in the candlelight.
The final stop of the evening was between two apple groves close by — almost full circle back to the parking area and the night’s clambake starting point. Benches circled a bonfire, where people sat counting stars and searching for the Big Dipper. A dessert table held local Abracadabra
cold-brew coffee and chocolate babka with whipped mascarpone and raspberries.
It was almost 10:30 p.m., but many people lingered. The rain continued to hold off.
At 11 p.m., the bonfire was still going.