Besides manning our 7 Nights table and letting people know about the very newsletter you are reading, I was there to eat. In bulk and very well. Each year I look forward to the Fresh Network Forum as my fairytale evening. Maybe not everyone sees a table filled with housemade charcuterie as her glass slipper, but I sure do.
With more than 40 tables, all serving up exquisite, high-end eats, there's no way I can do the event justice. The best I can hope for is to merely give a shout-out to the best of the best.
The aforementioned charcuterie was on offer at the Verdé table, where Chef Rogan Lechtaler was presenting two types of salami, kick-ass mortadella – which became worthy of legend when eaten atop the buttery toast provided – and what Lechtaler called Ham 'n' Cheese chips, or fried potatoes with cheddar and speck powder.
While Lechtaler worked from whole pigs, Aaron Josinsky of Bluebird Tavern had recently come into hundreds of chicken heads from Pete's Greens and Jericho Settlers' Farm. What to do? Fried cockscombs! The bacon-y bites were my first, second, third and ... sixth taste of the rarely seen cut. Josinsky also prepared banh mi, the meaty Vietnamese sandwiches for which I regularly make pilgrimages to Montréal. When Bluebird manager Laura Wade suggested I sprinkle my sandwich with more cockscombs, who was I to argue?
Not everything was "fifth quarter" cooking. For those who like their meat from more familiar parts of the animal's anatomy, there were some enchanting entries. Most satisfying of all was Solstice Chef Sean Buchanan's braised lamb over ultra-creamy Butterworks Farm polenta. Michael's on the Hill served up braised beef from Vermont Highland Cattle over truffled mashed potatoes. With a topping of pickled ramps and bright, edible flowers, the dish reminded me of an extremely sophisticated dinner of Sloppy Joes. On the subject of stews and braises, Chef Donnell Collins proved her creativity with a chubby bun filled with delicious boeuf bourguignon and blueberry cream. Yes, you read that right. I recommend that she add the sweet and savory slider to the Leunig's menu.
With practically no room left, I did make the effort to finish the evening with a cone of straight-from-the-garden mint ice cream from Strafford Organic Creamery. Then I went home and slept for a long time. I dreamed of cockscombs.