Crossing to SafetySURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Eating the chemically or metabolically enhanced food in this establishment may result in indigestion, disease and most importantly: a bad culinary experience.
Unfortunately, restaurants are not required to post such warning messages. Diners are never sure of the quality of the food they eat unless the chef prints the sources on the menu or they spend that night hugging a lot of porcelain. The truth is, with the advent of pesticides and genetically engineered food, consumers have been and are continuing to be at a high risk for exposure to things that nature most definitely did not intend. Our fears can be allayed thanks to organizations such as Chef’s Collaborative and individuals such as Paul Krautmann of Bellew’s Creek Farm and chefs Jim Fiala and Cary McDowell of The Crossing. These three fine gentlemen teamed up for the third installment of the Chef’s Collaborative Dinner Series and created a spectacular evening.
Krautmann (a.k.a. Squash Man) has been commandeering Bellew’s Creek Farm for the past eight years having decided to raise his family (his wife Nancy and their three children) on a sustainable farm. Initially, he received a Fine Arts degree in college and then focussed his creativity on woodworking and tool and dye work. The success of his farm and his infectious enthusiasm indicate that he’s found where he really belongs.
Becca Lowenhaupt leaves Boston (where she is a teacher) in the summertime to come work for Krautmann because, she says "...organic farming is the only thing that makes sense." Besides Krautmann’s affable personality, penchant for fun, and over-the-top laugh, she deeply admires him because he clearly excels in this arena. She’s impressed by his ability to create his own solutions for problems that occur at Bellew’s Creek. Organic farming has no shortcuts like that other, reprehensible type of farming that uses some very funky stuff. Krautmann thinks things through on every level in order to arrive at a solution that both preserves the taste and quality of his food without compromising the safety of his purveyors.
To begin recapping the vittles portion of the evening, the first course was a very impressive amuse guelle (literally a swallow or two) of Chilled Corn Soup with a Green Onion garnish. For such a small amount of liquid, it was a surprisingly rich and intense mouthful of glorious corn flavor. Immediately following was a beautiful tower of stacked, sliced tomatoes interspersed with thick basil leaves sitting atop a julienne of fennel and red onion, all topped off with a pungent drizzle of pesto. The tomatoes were incredibly flavorful, and so juicy that copious amounts of Companion Bread (again, generously donated for this dinner) were needed to sop up the liquid.
Before we could catch our breath, the waitstaff descended upon us with an unbelievable oversized homemade Ravioli filled with Swiss Chard and Ricotta Cheese, floating within a Sauce Parmesan studded with Pesto. The most amazing and unconventional part of this dish was the farm raised egg yolk nestled within the Ravioli before it was cooked, so that when you cut into it, the thick golden liquid flowed out and mingled with the other flavors to produce one of the most unique and delicious flavor experiences I have ever come across.
The main course was a stunner as well. For the meat eaters, there was Roasted Pork Loin wrapped in Bacon atop a mound of glorious Mashed Quinebeque Potatoes and Roasted Zephyr Squash, all lightly drizzled with a delightful sauce of sweet onions, pork jus and mustard. For the veggie diners there was a Roasted Portabello Mushroom placed on top of a mound of Roasted Cauliflower that was caramelized brilliantly, resting on a bed of Spinach, served with perfectly cooked Haricot Vert and roasted Grape Tomatoes. While each option was decidedly different, they both were incredibly delicious - with the flavor of every ingredient in tact - a testimony to Fiala and McDowell’s ability to preserve the inherent taste of the ingredients while concurrently demonstrating their undeniable culinary talents.
Dessert really bowled everyone over with its unexpectedness. It was a Cold Watermelon Soup garnished with Mint. It was sublime in its simplicity, yet the flavor had incredible punch. It was a perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Fiala and McDowell incorporate as much organic produce into their regular menu at The Crossing as often as they can (and the proof is most definitely in their "pudding"). According to Fiala, many restaurants in the midwest tend to take shortcuts when purchasing ingredients, and this leads to heavily modified and ultimately poor quality food. It’s organizations like the Chef’s Collaborative that will educate and inform purveyors and consumers about how their food is grown and what they can do to improve this country’s farming practices.
Krautmann, an incredibly jovial individual, becomes quite focussed when he speaks about what he refers to as "...the conundrum of conventional farming." "Conventional" farming has really only been in existence for the past 50 years, just after the second World War ended. Krautmann informed me that when the war ended, there was all of this chemical spinoff from making chemicals for explosives (not to mention the numerous factories that sprung up). In the government’s infinite wisdom, it began to find uses for this material and voila - there we have our chemical fertilizers and pesticides - the essence of conventional farming. I need only mention the Oklahoma City bombing of a few years ago and you should immediately think of the fertilizer bomb that was employed to create that horrendous mess.
Farmers in the United States are subsidized for the crops they grow - in essence they are paid for the volume that they produce, not the quality of their product. According to Krautmann, all the new hybrid technology for farming results in a greater yield but at a much lower quality level. For instance, most of the corn found in your local supermarket is called Number Two Yellow Dent Corn. This seemingly innocuous vegetable currently contains 6-8% protein. Not bad right? Wrong. Before "conventional" farming, think way back to say, the nineteen thirties (which is a mere second in the lifespan of the human race), there was open pollinated corn that contained 16-18% protein with significantly less starch and sugar than found in the hybrid. It’s a no-brainer. We are destroying the nutritional value of our food - not to mention the taste. The superior quality produce and meat from Krautmann’s farm attests to his commitment to rise above the reprehensible practices of conventional farming and produce food in the manner it is meant to be raised.
The evening was a testimony to such ideals; an inspiring amalgam of fantastic ingredients transformed into sublime gastronomic feats of brilliance, with the underlying, yet prevalent theme of organic, pesticide-free food. Food that is safe and delicious, and most definitely does not need a warning label.