Like many foodies, I grew up with my nose buried in issues of Gourmet and Sunset magazines. The beautiful photo spreads of people dining under an arbor, laughing over perfectly plated dishes seemed like they came from another world, a place I could only dream about.
Sunday Chef Dave Teig took my hand and led me over the threshold into a world of beauty. Working with only a wood fire set in a garden bursting with color, the chef turned out dish after glorious dish.
The Urban Farm at the Fairplex cultivates fruits, vegetables and herbs on one meticulously tended acre. There was not a single mark on a single leaf. The Chef finds inspiration in Horticulturist Don Delano’s organically grown produce. The kitchen and garden work in tandem, making it more farm and table than farm-to-table.
The table was set for brunch under an arbor straight out of those glossy pages I once sighed over. Mimosas and Bloody Marys preceded juice “Fruit Shots” of Prickly pear-apple, refreshing Pomegranate-lychee, and Orange-mango, which had a bit of a tang.
Each plate highlighted another jewel of summer’s bounty. Pomelo cubes with chocolate mint woke up the tastebuds and whet the appetite. Grilled farm nectarines with shaved speck and savory oil were followed by an assortment of Farm tomatoes nestled with the freshest clouds of burrata, and drizzled with 25-year-old balsamic vinegar.
I was grateful to see Roasted heirloom farm carrots, because memories of my grandfather handing me a carrot pulled fresh from the dirt and wiped clean on his pantleg had me prepared to sneak back in the garden like a wayward rabbit. The carrots were accented with just a hint of rogue blue cheese and epazote, highlighting but not covering the natural flavor.
We were also treated to small bites of coddled egg, plus tender spot prawn ceviche in a light citrus and yuzu broth, and one of the most impressive bites — Hoja santa wrapped white bass that flaked into thick chunks when met with the fork. The fish was sizzled with fennel broth, and farm beet oil. Chef Teig is really into the fennel, even using the pollen to make his signature salt.
The main event, if any one dish can claim the title, was a gorgeously laquered Berkshire pork belly, glazed with a port black garlic reduction and topped with sweet and sour red cabbage. The pork belly was followed by a succulent Oxtail fig stew balanced by fresh roasted figs — a dish so decadent it should have been eaten reclining, draped with an odalisque.
What better finish to a summer farm meal than a Farm peach crisp, rich with natural caramelized fruit and light on the sugar to not weigh too heavily. At first the idea of topping ice cream with olive oil seems like a bizarre conceit. Dr. Bob’s banana ice cream, topped with blood orange olive oil, and maldon salt changed my mind. Olive oil improved the ice cream’s richness, and left me longing for more.
The garden is proof that loving hands can create beauty, and an appreciative chef can use his skills to elevate the ingredients. It’s a reminder that special moments are not reserved for the privileged few. Sometimes the universe will pause and grant a wish just because.
Disclosure: This brunch was a press event