Tuesday, May 26, 2020
The Elevated Table-Rooted in Our Farms
Meredith Richardson pours wine from Cold Springs Winery as diners assemble in one of the greenhouses at lookout Farm.
Thursday, October 17, 2019


The temperature registered an unseasonably chilly 37 degrees as diners gathered around a fire pit at the Lookout Farm on a bluff overlooking the Big Wood River south of Bellevue.

The diners embraced the chill as part of the adventure by ordering hot, rather than cold, wild apple cocktails from Christina Giordani’s Roadbars, each boasting a dried apple slice taken from an apple tree on the farm.

“Look at the moon,” enthused Elkhorn resident Andrea Lieberman, as a nearly full moon rose over the Bellevue foothills. “A few nights from tonight the moon will be full and we’ll celebrate Sukkot, the harvest festival. So, it’s appropriate we’re doing this tonight!”

Amy Mattias shows off one of the tomatoes still on the vine at Lookout Farm.

Servers passed around cucumber chips topped with smoked roasted pumpkin and carrot top pistou, along with hors d’oeuvres of smoked trout, butternut squash and apple puree.

And, then, as the sun began dipping in the west, the group ducked into a greenhouse sitting near a field of kale and took their place at a long table covered with a linen tablecloth.

The occasion was The Elevated Table, a five-course feast grounded on the very earth that produces the  food raised in the Wood River Valley.

The family-style meals first offered three years ago have been held at a variety of farms around the valley. And each has been memorable in its own way.

Becky Klimes of Agrarian Harvest of Buhl helps herself to the winter vegetable plate.

Diners ducked inside a greenhouse to avoid a monsoon at Squash Blossom Farms in July but were rewarded by a double rainbow arching across the foothills. And in September the doors of the Hillside Grain mill opened wide onto a harvest moon.

“We don’t plan these things. But what we’re doing is so connected with nature that we share those moments with gratitude,” said Amy Mattias, co-director of the Local Food Alliance, a program of the Sun Valley Institute,

“The food is always spectacular and the settings are beautiful in the fields,” added Jamie Lieberman, who has attended a couple of the dinners. “They talk about farm to table, but this is table to farm—you’re bringing the table to the farm!”

The $150-per-plate feast was designed to raise funds for the Local Food Alliance to support such initiatives as its new $5 for Farmers program encouraging Wood River Valley residents to buy local. But it also provides person-to-person connections between valley residents and the farmers who raise their food.

A few of the diners examine the kale that survived an early hard frost.

“There’s a story behind every item on the menu,” said Andrea Lieberman. “It’s so special to be sitting outside in a field next to the farmer who produced the food you’re eating. We’re entertained and fed and educated. And, when you’re educated in a time of play, you learn more.”

 Many of those who raised wine glasses etched with “The Elevated Table” were old friends. Others were new, such as the young man from Arizona who was in town visiting his sister.

The conversation quickly turned to food, as one diner recounted being introduced to delicata squash by Chris Kastner of CK’s during a multi-day group ride along the White Rim Trail in Utah.

Another told of buying a case of her favorite $100 a bottle wine only to find her stepdaughter had helped herself to the stash when she ran out of wine at her birthday party.

Becky Klimes, Simon Neely and Jamie Lieberman are among those toasting the evening.

As they talked, servers brought platters heaped with roasted beets, grilled onions and arugula picked at the very farm on which they were enjoying their meal. It was augmented by squash and plums from Waterwheel Garden, and Lark’s Meadow Farms sheep milk ricotta topped with a grilled pear and roasted shallot vinaigrette.

A chardonnay and pinot noir from Cold Springs Winery near Hammett filled their wine glasses.

The Lookout Farm provided the most variety of fruits and vegetables of any of the farms that have hosted The Elevated Table, noted Mattias.

Simon Neely shared how he and his wife Brianna Swette had moved from California this past year to pursue their passion of farming in the Wood River Valley. They put three of 60 acres into production this year, selling their produce at the Wood River Farmers Market and to 40 families through a Community Supported Agriculture program.

They hope to expand the number of acres they farm next year, in addition to their CSA outreach. And they hope to get their produce into local restaurants.

As Neely talked, Chef Sean Temple served up Lava Lake herb-crusted baby back lamb ribs with stewed eggplant, sweet frying peppers onion and tomatoes provided by Lookout Farm, along with baby carrots from Itty Bitty Farms in Carey and acorn squash, young mustard greens and mint to cleanse the palate from Waterwheel Gardens.

“This farm is a natural place for the community to gather,” said Swette, whose farm also hosted the  Wood River Valley Studio Tour kick-off party this year. “It’s close enough to town that it’s accessible to people. And it’s so nice having the Big Wood River come through our property—we’re trying to manage that in a way that supports ecology of the place.”

Another platter arrived on the tables—this one filled with Agrarian Harvest Basque chorizo, baby potatoes, braised Lookout Farm tomatoes, turnips, Lacinato kale and creamy polenta.

“You feel like a big family here—one big family,” said Muffy Ritz, as she served one of her fellow diners from the platter. “It’s a wonderful way to build community around food.”

Aimee Christensen, who founded the Sun Valley Institute, noted the event’s ability to celebrate local farmers and benefit the Institute’s work building a community-based food system.

“Food and farming are so critical to our community,” she added.

Mattias said valley residents will start to see $5 for Farmers logos at Atkinsons’ Market and local restaurants in November. There will also be more local foods than ever available this winter, including  potatoes, winter squash, onions, dried herbs, hot house tomatoes  and meats.

Muffy Ritz addressed her fellow diners as she told how she started buying at least $5 worth of local food a week after watching “The Biggest Little Farm” about a couple who turns a barren piece of ground in southern California into a vibrant ecosystem where everything works together, down to the ducks that eat the snails that would otherwise damage new shoots.

“I was going to buy a package of feta cheese from California that cost $4.99. Then I saw a package of feta cheese from Picabo Farms that cost $6.99. And I bought it instead to support local farmers,” she said.  “if we all spend $5 a week on local stuff, we can keep local farmers in business.”

As she talked, servers brought out the final dish--chai poached pears from Waterwheel Gardens topped with oat streusel and flavored with oolong tea caramel. And with that diners began to straggle out—warm and well fed.

“We’ve experienced every type of weather from rain to cold,” said server Meredith Richardson. “But we’ve always made it work.”



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