On a gorgeous late June day, we traveled to Woodbridge, CT for a 5-course, farm-to-table dinner at Koan Farm. When we learned that we would be picking our own veggies and the chef would be preparing them right then and there, we knew we were in for an unforgettable experience. An intimate group of 12 of us sat at a long picnic table under a beautiful trees within feet of the farm and dined on amazingly delicious fresh fare. And when the cooking was done, Chef Craig Hutchinson of [oink] and Farmer Ethan Schneider of Koan Farms sat at the table with us to discuss what it really means to be sustainable and serve the freshest, organic food.
Chef Craig, a Brown University
graduate with no cooking background, found passion in kitchens while learning under some of the best chefs in Boston. It was at Ribelle in Brookline, MA where he was shown a different perspective on food. Chef Maslow taught him that there are no boundaries when it comes to creativity, which earned the Ribelle team 4 out of 4 stars from the Boston Globe and also earned the team national recognition for being one of the top new restaurants in the country. Craig learned that to be at the top of the culinary pyramid, you must set out to be different and innovative. Now in Bethany, CT, his new popup concept, [oink] has been welcomed with open arms and Craig also works as a Chef at Ordinary in New Haven.
The mission of [oink]? Well, it’s a concept that is driven to provide the most sustainable and flavorful ingredients to the Connecticut food scene. Craig’s passion, which clearly came through in his cooking and conversation, is to create a more conscious restaurant scene. More conscious about what coined phrases such as “farm to table”, “sustainability”, or “fresh and organic” actually mean and the effort it takes to be 100% honest in how you market your restaurant. This is a concept that has been a long time coming!
Koan Farms was started in 2015 with the mission to produce and distribute vegetables that improve the health of the soil, the health of the individual and help our community to become an ecosystem. They currently produce on three-quarters of an acre of land and would certainly be classified as a “micro-farm,” yet grew about 5,000 pounds of food in the 2016 season. Ethan Schneider has been involved with local agricultural production since 2011. He has worked on a variety of different farms from California to Pennsylvania. His passion for hard work and getting dirty are the driving force behind his love for farming.
Probably the best part of the night (with exception to the food of course) for me was sitting around the table with Craig and Ethan talking about sustainability, organic farming, and the state of the food industry today. It was eye-opening. What I took away from this night was that the small organic farmers in CT need our help. We should be buying all of our produce from these guys – not big chain grocery stores. Because if we don’t, they’re not going to be around for long. As far as I’m concerned these are the only people you can trust with growing your food…unless you’re growing it yourself.
But I know you want to hear about the food – so feast your eyes on this! First, we picked fresh broccoli and cabbage and Craig grilled both up and seasoned with sesame oil, lavender and honey. We also got to pick our own scallions, pea shoots and flowers, and wood sorrel. Our next dish was beets and their greens with rye bread crumbs, cayenne and squash blossom. The beverage pairings were spot on as we enjoyed a sparkling sake which cooled the heat from this dish. Next came raw snap pea broth with edible flowers, greens and cocoa nibs – the hint of chocolate was perfect.
He then plated grilled Walden Hill pork cheek with the broccoli we picked and mustard flowers, garlic scapes and scallions. I have to say – I’m not a huge beef or pork cheek fan – I don’t really love the amount of fat and richness – but his were crispy from the grill and just delicious. And the sparkling Rose beverage pairing was a perfect complement. Next up was the wood sorrel weeds over fried egg (just laid from Ethan’s chickens that were walking through the farm and right by our table!). Anything with an egg is a fantastic dish as far as I’m concerned. Last, we were served whole wheat cake made from spelt flour and buckwheat with lavender honey and currant syrup drizzled on top. Everything was unbelievably delicious. But considering almost all of the ingredients were picked that day – how could it not be!
I highly encourage checking out these dinners, not only for the amazing meal you will have, but for the learning experience and most importantly to support these guys who are truly passionate about what they do. http://www.oinkrestaurant.com/events/ and www.koanfarms.com. https://www.facebook.com/oinkrestaurant/ and Instagram: (@oinkchef).
Submitted by Dr. Diane Hayden.