I’m not sure if I can put words to this event. The Local Wild Food Challenge. The website is worth a visit, if only for the calming sound of chirping birds it will bring to your office, bedroom, kitchen–a sound not usually brought about by computers.
First and foremost, I want to say thanks to Bill and Sarah Manson for their motivation and organization in creating such an impressive event. They are professional chefs and they created an event to foster the creativity of cooks and chefs around the world. They host challenges in New Zealand, Martha’s Vineyard, Finland and France.
I imagine there were sixty or seventy entries, and the judges tasted dishes from 3 PM until almost 7 PM–and they were serious all the way until the end. In fact, the grand prize winners’ dish was one of the last to be presented. The taste buds of those judges were discerning up to the very end.
Professional chefs and home cooks and kids all participated and competed, in categories of taste, ingredient use, presentation and story. The only qualification for the competition was that at least one ingredient had to be local and wild. But almost no one stopped with just one ingredient. Squirrel, Japanese Knotweed, Jerusalem Artichokes, honey, lavendar, chestnuts, acorns, Autumn Olives, venison, bear, lobster, crab, Striped Bass, eel, mussels, oysters, rabbit, and Beach Plum were just some of the wild ingredients featured.
I showed up at three, worried I’d be elbow to elbow with others competing for space on the few burners set up outside the Rod and Gun Club, but the atmosphere was friendly, hardly competitive, and excitement and curiosity drove discussions on preparation methods and recipes, and formed new bonds and friendships amongst strangers.
It was another excellent Autumn event to further cement community on Martha’s Vineyard!
Now for our story…
Kevin asked me if I’d join him in the Wild Food Challenge. He did not want to go it alone. I was tired from the work we put in to the Living Local Festival, and looking forward to a weekend of quiet cooking, not of the competitive type.
But after looking at the well-designed green and black flyer, I could not say no. I knew any event with a logo containing antlers, lobster tail, fork, spoon and knife had to be a cool one.
Kevin suggested chestnuts, acorns, Porgy (fish), autumn olive reduction sauce. That morphed into something quite different. I considered doing chestnut flour blintzes (proud to be making use of my Jewish culinary heritage) but we ended up making Pierogi (Eastern European dish still harkens back to my ancestors).
Kevin was the forager, I was the cook. We dabbled in one another’s roles, Kevin helping me in the kitchen, and me by going out to gather some Autumn Olives in my yard.
My first step was making chestnut flour. “Kevin,” I said, “I need the chestnuts by Thursday. I’ll have to start the flour process that night.” I knew I was in for a laborious process, though not yet sure what it would entail.
I started out by conducting experiments on scoring, roasting and boiling the chestnuts to determine which method made them easiest to peel. Nine experiments in all, I ended up using the method we had come up with for the Living Local Festival. But now, at least, I was sure I was using the most efficient method!
After I had peeled the nuts, I dried them out overnight on low heat in the dehydrator. The next day, I loaded them in shifts into the vitamix, and was in for the noisiest minutes of my life (except for sirens in NYC). The grinding of these dried, hardened chestnuts was intense and I feared for the health of my vitamix. But I was too excited about the outcome to stop. On top of the vitamix noise, the doggie I was babysitting would not stop barking–she must have been scared to death, poor thing!
Flour Done. Next, Kevin dropped off some beautiful concord grapes. He harvested some Autumn Olives in his awesome, self-made foraging purse. (Kevin, what is it called? I know it has a name). We made a couple of sauces from these local fruits. Autumn Olives grow all over Martha’s Vineyard and are apparently invasive. I have tried Autumn Olive Vodka, and could see someone making a spirit industry from them…The popularity of booze just might take care of some of that invasiveness.
We used Jerusalem Artichokes and onions from Kevin’s yard, a potato from Native Earth teaching farm, and some ricotta cheese from Cronig’s to create a sweet and nutty filling for the pierogi.
I forgot to mention that I decided to serve these with sour cream, along with the fruit based sauces. I made it myself, with the help of a youtube video, and it was super easy. Mix 1/4 cup of buttermilk with 1 cup of heavy cream. Let sit, covered, at room temperature for 24 hours. Then refrigerate. That’s it.
What was left? Show up at the event. Dishes in Hand. Most of the prep done, we just needed to boil the pierogi and and sautee them in some sage and brown butter, plate our dish, and send it off to the judges table through a volunteer, so that it would remain anonymous.
Part of the competition was to write our story, or the story of our food, rather. I accidentally wrote our names all over the story, which we had to cross out with black Sharpy marker–the scribbles did not fit in to the shabby chic elegance we were trying to create but the description had to be anonymous for the judges!
And Voila! Our dish was taken to the judges table, announced by MC Jan Buhrman, and then removed to the public tasting table to be enjoyed and perhaps critiqued by all the competitors and spectators.
Below are some more photos of the event, inside and out, of the Rod and Gun Club. I never would have known such a gorgeous venu existed. It would make a great place for a wedding…some day! 😉
Inspired yet? Now get out there and forage!!!!