Event Recap: Farm in the Cities 2012

This past Sunday night, if you had walked into the ballroom on the third-floor of Solera Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, the first thing you would have seen was meat. Four kinds of meat, to be precise – coppa, dry cured ham, black-pepper sausage, and fennel sausage – all made by Mike Phillips of Three Sons Butchers in Northeast Minneapolis. An entire table of meat, enough to feed the several hundred people who had turned out for the second-annual Farm in the Cities benefit dinner. And after the meat, the next thing you would have seen would have been the chefs, many decked out in their whites, ringing the table and joking around as they arranged the twenty-something butcher boards of charcuterie.


Now in its second year, Farm in the Cities is an annual dinner spearheaded by Jorge Guzman, the executive chef at Solera Restaurant. This year, the event brought together all-star chefs from the Twin Cities to put on a seven-course chef's dinner, complete with drink pairings. All proceeds from the ticket price -- an amazing value at $45 -- benefited Youth Farm and Market Project, a nonprofit organization which helps youth build leadership skills and empowerment through farming.


But festivities began even before dinner, with a free two hour meet-and-greet with local farmers, including Dragsmith Farms, Bossy Acres, Cedar Summit Farm, Kadejan, Ames Farm honey, Northstar Bison, and Alexis Bailly Vineyard. And it wasn't all just chatting -- nibbles abounded, from bison and elk summer sausage at Northstar Bison to yogurt and cheeses aplenty at Cedar Summit to an incredibly drinkable fortified wine at Alexis Bailly.



After the meet-and-greet, those lucky enough to get tickets moved on to the sold-out dinner, which began with the aforementioned Charcuterie Board of Awesomeness. All the cured meats were wonderfully complex and nuanced, but the biggest surprise was the sauerkraut crackers that accompanied the meat board. Chewy and substantial, with just a hint of acrid tang from the sauerkraut, the crackers stood up well to the array of flavors and textures in the charcuterie.


Next up was a Chilled Heirloom Tomato Soup with a sunflower seed-basil pistou and a ricotta stuffed fried squash blossom from Lenny Russo (Heartland) and Wyatt Evans (W.A. Frost and Company). It was a smart move to serve a refreshing, light soup as the second course in what would be a long, filling dinner. It was also a bold move, to fry squash blossoms for several hundred people, but the chefs executed it perfectly. My squash blossom was delicate and light, with the herbaceous flavor of the blossom still clearly coming through the fry.


Third came Grand Marais Pickled Herring from Jorge Guzman (Solera) and Fernando Silvo/Dustin Thompson (Harriet Brasserie). The herring was incredibly fleshy and firm, served with a little bit of crunchy roe and creamy skyr, an Icelandic yogurt, that provided nice textural contrast. The fish tasted remarkably fresh, with the vinegar adding just a touch of interest rather than overwhelming either the flavor or texture.



Fourth was a Sturgeon and Foie Gras Terrine from Landon Schoenefeld (Haute Dish) and Steven Brown (Tillia) that was a veritable work of art. The terrine began with a foie gras center that was then ringed with an apple butter gelee; it finished with a ring of sturgeon terrine, and the whole thing was capped off with a thin slice of leek to hold it all together.


Fifth came a Stuffed Saddle of Hare from Matt Paulson (The Sample Room) and Jack Reibel (The Butcher and the Boar) that managed to feel both heavily meaty and simultaneously incredibly clean. Rabbit can be a hard meat to cook right, especially for a crowd of that size, but the meat was nicely tender, complemented well by little hazelnut-shaped nuggets of pear that were scattered across the plate.


For the last savory course, Sarah Master (Café Barbette) and Brian Hauke (Red Stag Supper Club) dished up a rich final dish of braised short ribs. The short ribs were expectedly tender and rich, but highlight of the dish might have been the accompanying turnips and radishes, which had been poached in butter. Poach anything in butter, and I would probably love it, but it worked particularly well as a preparation for these usually crisp, sharp-tasting vegetables.


Finally, Joanna Biessener (Solera) presented a delightfully surprising dessert: a plate that looked as though it had been freshly foraged, with a chocolate mascarpone mousse meant to resemble a small clod of dirt (I assume this was intentional), surrounded by roasted blueberries, little dollops of hibiscus curd, and other various treats. Every person at my table had a slightly different plate -- all the same components, but arranged differently, which gave the dish a nice twist. Plus, it's always fun to end a meal with a plate that looks like it has been assembled by forest elves.


And the food wasn't all. Each course came with its own drink pairing, ranging from house-made Aquavit (with the Pickled Herring, of course) to Bubblejack IPA from Rush River Brewing (with the charcuterie).


Leaving the dining room four hours later, I not only felt impressed by the astounding dinner, but also, more importantly, by the camaraderie of the chefs (and servers and farmers) as they worked together to raise money for Youth Farms.


Claire Stanford is a writer and editor at Simple, Good, and Tasty. She last wrote a preview for Farm in the Cities. She can be reached at Follow her at @clairemiye.