We have a busy week upon us, and I’m left thinking about how lucky we are to be able to participate in such wonderful events as the Green City Market’s Chef’s Barbecue and BLU at the Shedd Aquarium, and how successful our Tuesday fried chicken dinners have become. Then there’s Andersonville Green Week, a week of events put on by the Andersonville Development Corporation to promote environmental awareness and educate people about sustainability.
We hope to see as many of you as we can at the Barbecue this Thursday. I’m preparing Char-grilled house andouille, hominy, house-churned butter, and pickled slaw. The andouille is made from Gunthorp Farm pork, the hominy from Three Sister’s Garden Corn, the butter is churned from Kilgus Farmstead cream, and the slaw is made from a riot of Green City Market vegetables. As a special treat, I’m making Bacon & sorghum pralines with home made pecan-smoked bacon, Kilgus Farmstead cream, and Burton’s Maplewood Farm sorghum.
Guests at BLU at the Shedd Aquarium will be treated to shrimp and grits, as we help them to showcase sustainable seafood to promote healthier oceans. It’s part of our ongoing partnership in the Shedd’s Right Bite program. BLU raises money for the Shedd’s animal care and conservation programs so it’s a great opportunity to help our friends great and small in the seas.
For Andersonville Green Week, I had a particularly (at least to me) fun inspiration. In Andersonville, we have a large vegetarian population, and many over the last couple of years have commented that our restaurant isn’t very vegetarian-friendly. (I take exception to that – for folks who have simply asked, we’ve often whipped up multi-course vegetarian tastings on the fly simply because we can, and we enjoy the challenge of vegetarian cooking.) As a way of countering the general stereotype that southern food is all fat-heavy and animal part-laden, I have long toyed with the notion of doing a weekly vegetarian tasting menu to also 1. provide a truly fine dining option to our neighborhood vegetarians 2.demonstrate that we can and do cook vegetarian all the time, so don’t be shy, just ask!
Andersonville Green Week seemed like the perfect time to try a vegetarian tasting menu and see how it’s received, for a couple of reasons. Number one, it would be promoted by the Development Corporation’s EcoAndersonville and The Chamber of Commerce, so there would be a good chance folks would know about it and give it a try. Number two, it represents an outstanding opportunity to tell some more of our story to our guests.
It’s a well-known secret around the kitchen at Big Jones that I myself was vegetarian for years, and even ate vegan for a year of my life. I can cook this stuff, and well. I love cooking vegetarian, it allows me to revisit an important time in my life in a very intimate way – with food. I can also relate to why many folks are vegetarian these days: the modern industrial factory/feedlot meat production system is an environmental catastrophe. In fact, that was why I myself went vegetarian in the first place. Further realizations regarding the horrifying treatment of animals in the egg and dairy industries left me no choice but to go vegan, at least until I found better sources for these foods.
Today, I strongly believe that farm animals raised with loving care under proper conditions are environmentally benign and in many cases can actually do their part in improving marginal land. Food from animals raised this way is more expensive, and we catch the occasional criticism at Big Jones for being “expensive.” Whatever. Try buying land and a house, making improvements, investing in your community, getting your kids into school, and then one day, someone starts a corporation and puts in a 50,000-head hog facility across the road (or anywhere within a few miles upwind) and the law is steadfastly on the side of this corporation that will now be generating as much solid waste as a city of 250,000 people right across the street with few or no statutory requirements for water treatment, air pollution, or odor control. Suddenly, your house is worthless. Now that’s expensive. So is all of the medical care resulting from salmonella and campylobacter-contaminated chickens and turkeys, and E. coli 0157:H7 contaminated beef, or the recalls thereof. You may have a cheap price at the grocery store or someone else’s restaurant, but someone somewhere is paying a very dear price. All food costs money, it just depends whether you want to spend it on quality food itself or on the cleanup of environmental and public health issues that arise from factory/feedlot production.
Even though we could feature a menu for Green Week that is 100% local and environmentally benign and contains all manner of local meat or sustainable seafood, I thought we could all learn something by going vegetarian (and the tasting menu is vegan, in fact) for a day and eat some truly delicious food in the process.
The tasting menu will be featured Friday, July 16th from 5-10 p.m. and the price is $35 for five courses. Yes, I’m crazy. No, really I just want this dinner to be accessible to as many people as possible, particularly folks of more modest means. I could easily charge $75 for this menu downtown and get away with it, but for this Friday let’s have an affordable celebration of vegetarian cooking, Southern style!
Andersonville Green Week 2010
A Special Vegetarian Tasting
July 16, 2010
Sea Island Red Pea Cappuccino, Puffed Carolina Gold Rice,
Pickled Baby Fennel, Black Garlic Foam
Gargillou of Green City Market Vegetables, Farro Piccolo, Pickled Michigan Chanterelles, Preserved Blackberries, Basil Oil
Nichols Farm Zucchini & Green Beans, Puna Gardens Hearts of Palm
Local Herb Chimmichurri
Green Acres Farm Eggplant “Country Captain”
Coconut Curry, Carolina Gold Rice, Almonds, Dried Seedling Plums
Banana Curd, Snickerdoodles, Charred Marshmallow, Blueberry sauce
Thirty-five dollars per person