Many thanks to Growing Gardens for hosting me at Chef in My Garden. As always, all opinions are my own.
I’ve been told that Portland summers don’t officially start until early to mid July, but on the very last day of June, we were blessed with the perfect summer afternoon for Growing Gardens’ first Chef in My Garden dinner of the 2019 season. I was lucky enough to be invited to experience this special one-of-a-kind dinner featuring Farm Spirit.
Growing Gardens is a Portland non-profit organization that literally plants the seeds for good food and healthy people. Everyone has the right to nourishing food, and Growing Gardens makes sure that low-income communities have access to all the gardening skills and resources they need to grow organic vegetables. The experience of growing food in schools, backyards and correctional facilities helps cultivate healthy, equitable communities through Oregon. When Growing Gardens’ Executive Director Jason Skipton shared some anecdotes from their community work, there’s one that I will never forgot: one kid told them “if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
Every summer, Growing Gardens hosts Chef in My Garden, a series of incredible dinners created by some of Portland’s top chefs paired with wines from Oregon wineries. The dinners are hosted in private gardens that support Growing Gardens’ important mission. Farm Spirit kicks off the Chef in My Garden series at Celine Fitzmaurice and Larry Olson’s beautiful garden in Mt. Tabor. I stroll past Celine and Larry’s stunning home all the time on my neighborhood walks, and I was delighted to explore the hidden garden behind the mid-century house.
Farm Spirit needs no introduction as Aaron Adams has made a name for himself with the most inventive vegan tasting menus in town. In fact, at their new Belmont location (which I have yet to visit), Farm Spirit serves more tasting menus on a daily basis than any other Portland restaurant. Scott Winegard recently joined the Farm Spirit team, bringing along 20+ years of experience from his previous stints at some seriously impressive restaurants. This dinner is the only vegan dinner in the Chef in My Garden series, and as always, Farm Spirit brought out all the stops from delectable little bites to a vegan interpretation of meat and potatoes. It’s fitting that Growing Gardens’ dinner series kicks off with an amazing meal made entirely of vegetables.
As guests arrived for the Chef in My Garden dinner, Celine and Larry personally welcomed everyone into their home. We sipped on a refreshing grapefruit and cucumber cocktail from beverage sponsor Wild Roots Spirits, while marveling at the lush gardens and Larry’s breathtaking landscape photography. Next, we nibbled on burnt pickles with wild flower brine and lemon thyme oat crackers with fava beans and mustard seeds. The hazelnut gazpacho dotted with fig leaf oil was as pretty as it was delicious. I soon decided it was time for a glass of rose from Durant Olive Mill and Vineyards, who generously donated the wines and olive oil used at this dinner.
When guests took their seats at the dinner table, Jason encouraged everyone to strike up a conversation based on the question prompt included on the menu: what’s the first thing you grew and was it successful? Considering we are in Oregon, I’m not surprised that many people at the table answered cannabis. They’ve moved on to planting various fruits and vegetables too.
The first course of the evening was a classic combination of bread and spreads (eggplant, carrot, aquafaba butter). Next, we enjoyed a delicate salad of radishes, peas, beans, and sprouts atop a creamy sunflower seed puree paired with a glass of pinot gris. I had been eyeing the gorgeous grilled summer squash, and I loved how it was plated with smoked navy beans, cherry tomatoes, and nepitella yogurt for a satisfying vegetable dish. Farm Spirit always does mushrooms well, and for this meal, they presented foraged morels with potatoes, kelp jam, and unripe strawberry. Durant Vineyards Bishop Pinot Noir was the perfect pairing for the rich, earthy flavors. Last, but not least, we enjoyed a crumbly cake with strawberry and olive oil ice cream, paired with coffee from Portland Roasting and tea from The Jasmine Pearl Tea Co, for dessert.
You can help support Growing Gardens by volunteering, attending a fundraising event, or donating directly at growing-gardens.org.
Note: This post is in collaboration with Growing Gardens. I was invited as a guest to this dinner and received a complimentary meal. This was not in exchange for a positive review and all opinions expressed here are my own.