Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Gaining Inspiration From Your Local Community

"If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." 
- African Proverb

Farm Dinner
Farm dinner at Ollin Farms under the stars in 2021.

It was a perfect seventy degree, end of summer afternoon, the sun had been out the entirety of the day with a few high cloud wisps here and there.  The warm breeze cut through my hair as I pedaled my bicycle throughout Longmont while gazing at the bare mountain peaks in the distance, wondering how long it will be until the peaks are snowcapped once again.  As I wound my way along the bike path there were still kids tubing in the river, families fishing, and just people having a merry old time with no sign of summer coming to an end yet we all know it's just around the corner, but not today.  I turned into the Ollin Farms driveway to find a packed parking lot with cars jammed bumper to bumper against the side of the road.  I slowly rode my bicycle past all of these cars and continued on towards the creek where I snagged the best parking spot in the whole place.  As I get my bike situated and watch car after car roll in I ponder why so many people have driven and how amazingly crazy it is how few people rode their bicycles and it really doesn't make any sense especially when the weather is perfect.  You get the enjoy the fresh air, explore parts of the town you normally don't see, get a great workout, all while avoiding costly gas and car maintenance.  It's an amazing form of transportation and you feel great when you get to your destination.  Plus the vast majority of people will surely be drinking tonight which would make riding your bike a safer choice not only for you but your fellow Longmontians.  After musing these thoughts for a few moments, which always results in me chuckling and shaking my head as my thoughts have meandered their way into a mystified stupor of a rabbit hole, I took my backpack off and pull out my party shirt along with a bottle of wine and a wine opener then I continue walking towards the festivities.

As I walk past the walk in cooler, washing station, and office for the farm a few chickens cluck on by me as they are looking for their own dinner.  These dinosaur-esque creatures hardly seem to notice me as they brush up against my legs.  I wind down the dirt path, past the poly tunnels and through the gigantic willow trees that make you feel as though you've just been transported and thrust straight into a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter story.  The path then opens up to the unassuming covered pavilion which sits about 100 feet away from Left Hand Creek which is where this evenings farm dinner is taking place.  I check-in, exchange greetings with everyone at the farm and I'm shown to my seat at one of the five large community dining tables where I'm seated amongst some random and unassuming guests who don't know what they're getting into with being seated around me.  I introduce myself to my neighbors at the table, "I'm James, it's nice to meet you and I'll be very awkwardly talking to you throughout the night."  Which results in a few chuckles and succeeds at breaking the ice while we converse about what brought us to the farm dinner while a live musician lightly serenades everyone in the background with some gentle guitar playing.

I walk around the willows to take in the scenery and I cross paths with Mark, the owner of the farm.  Mark tells me about a few projects they have going on and he excitedly takes me up to one of the greenhouses to quickly show me.  After a short time in the greenhouse we make our way back to the farm dinner pavilion.  Once everyone is seated Mark gets up and introduces himself to everyone along with his wife, Kena, their family as well as the rest of the farm staff before diving into the story behind their farm, why they do what they do, how they grow their food, projects they have going on along with the fact that Mark still doubles as a software engineer in the off season since farming is a tough life and not easy to make money with.  It's clear that farming is a true passion for Mark and all he wants to do is provide good, clean, healthy, and affordable food for the community.  Mark then introduces the Chef of tonight's farm dinner whom happens to be Chef Paul of the former and famed Beast and Bottle restaurant along with the still going strong Coperta restaurant as well as the brand new, sure to be delicious, Apple Blossom restaurant.  All of which are in Denver and are all known for their exquisite cuisine.  I've had Chef Paul's food before and each time it has been mind blowingly good, yet simple.  However I've never been able to enjoy his food in the intimate setting of a farm to table dinner before.  This is a night that I've been looking forward to all summer long, it's finally here, the weather is perfect, the company is great, the birds are chirping, the leaves on the trees are just starting to fade into yellow, the creek is gently flowing in the distance, and all the stars have aligned for a sure to be perfect evening.  When Mark introduces Chef Paul, he is on the other side of the tables we are seated at and is swiftly moving from plate to plate and station to station, busy prepping food with his team.  Chef Paul quickly looks up and waves to everyone when he is introduced, looks back at what he is doing as one of his teammates walks up to his side and the Chef seamlessly hands off the tasks he's currently performing then proceeds to run to the other side of the pavilion to talk to all of us.

Chef Paul has clearly been working hard today as you can see the sweat glimmering on his face in the cool evening, he catches his breathe then introduces himself and talks about how very excited they are for this farm dinner.  They look forward to these events as it's an intimate experience for them as well since they aren't hidden behind a wall in a kitchen and they get to directly interact with us and see our reactions as we try each plate.  Furthermore they love the challenge of getting a list of the produce that's available only the week prior to the event then building the menu off of that, incorporating any and all of the farm vegetables that's available to them.  How the menu that we will be enjoying tonight was put together less than a week ago, was a team effort amongst their entire staff and is centered around the available produce from the very farm we're currently sitting at.  How as a chef, there's no greater joy then being able to get food this fresh and it makes his job easy as it's not that hard to put together good food when you start with excellent ingredients that are already bursting with flavor.  Chef Paul explained further how Mark presented them with a unique challenge for tonight's farm dinner.  In addition to using the normal vegetables, they were challenged to incorporate a farm perennial into each and every course.  Chef Paul talked about how he loves a good challenge and they successfully pulled this off, although it wasn't easy with only a few days to mull it over.  Chef Paul talked us through the exquisite menu that we would be enjoying, going in detail course by course what everything is while throwing in some fun anecdotes along the way of how they came up with everything and the origins of dishes for those of us less civilized folk (myself included) whom do not know nor understand fancy cuisine terms such as pepperonata crostini, crudo, or soffrito just to name a few.  This is something you just don't get in a normal restaurant dinner, even fancy restaurants.  You never get to hear the farmer that grew the food talk about the produce and the history of the farm followed by the Chef discussing the menu in-depth while displaying his pure love for food.  You can see the devotion in their eyes, the seriousness in the way they carry themselves and hear the conviction in their voices of why they do their crafts.  The farm dinner guests applaud as we are all clearly moved by hearing Mark and Paul talk with such passion then the courses start rolling out, one by one.

While eating and in-between courses we guests marvel and talk about how amazing the food is, how each dish is seemingly so simple yet so delicious while we casually watch the cooking staff out of the corners of our eyes as they danced around in sync just like a well choreographed ballet as they are separated from us by nothing more than a few mere feet as they put together our next course.  Everything from the tostadas to the eggplant mezzaluna to the watermelon pie bar was phenomenal and bursting with flavor.  Everyone at the community table I was sitting with was in awe of the quality of the obvious five star meal we were having and none of us could believe how delicious everything was.  All you heard as the dishes were rolled out and gently clanked on the tables were exclaimed remarks of "Wow", "Oh...my...god..." or "Holy crap, this is amazing."  All of the nights guests bonded over this delicious and superb food.  The bring your own booze was flowing and everyone had the time of their lives while we all just sat unassumingly on a farm, down by the river, in the sleepy town of Longmont, Colorado that we call home while just enjoying life to the fullest.

After all of the nights courses had come and gone I got up and walked around, gazed at the glimmering stars that had poked out now that the sun was long gone and the night sky was clear as could be.  I walked down by the cool creek while pondering our existence on this tiny planet in the vast universe.  If there are aliens out there I mused, surely they would venture to earth solely to enjoy a meal like the one I had just thoroughly enjoyed.  If these aliens happened to not be peaceful beings then this type of meal would surely be the one and only thing able to bridge the gap between our two species, allow us time to talk, bond, and settle our differences which could only ultimately result in a peaceful existence despite our differences.  I walked back to the pavilion where I was able to catch Chef Paul now that there weren't any more courses for him to prepare and he seemed to be in a much more relaxed demeanor now that all of his hard work had clearly paid off.  I let him know how enjoyable all of the food was, how this turned out to be the perfect evening, and how I don't think anything could have made this night any more serene.  We chatted for a few minutes before I let other guests share similar thoughts with Chef Paul.  I spotted Mark and Kena and had the same conversation with them and thanked them for the night.  Most of the other guests had left and Mark invited me to have a beer with him amongst the willows.

We sat down on some old wooden stumps that were arranged in an inviting and communal circle as we cracked open our beers.  Chef Paul came over and joined us while we had great conversations about food, farming, and cooking, along with ideas, hopes and dreams we all have for the future.  These types of conversations would be extremely unlikely to be had anywhere else.  We all just let our unfiltered thoughts flow and added onto the thoughts of the others in what could be considered an improvisational and flow like state of conversation.  Once we all decided we should turn in for the night and go our separate ways, I wandered back over to my bike, put on my coat and backpack then proceeded to have an enjoyable and peaceful bike ride home under the stars.

Once I left the farm and made my way to the bike path I couldn't help but lift my hands out to my sides so I could truly feel the cool air rushing around me while I let out a few loud and excited hoops and hollers about the night I had just experienced, the truly exquisite food I had enjoyed on the very same farm where the vegetables were grown while being in the presence of the chef whom made this delicious food.  I left that night having talked with old friends and I made new friends.  I gained new found inspiration and ideas to try in my very own cooking as I continue on the journey of trying to kick my own food up a notch, each and every day.  It's easy to get stuck in the ruts of life, performing the exact same tasks day after day,  cooking the exact same food, etc.  The more you perform these repetitive tasks then the deeper those ruts get and the harder it is to stray from them.  However by venturing away from the well worn path from time to time, by coming to a fork in the road and taking it, you come across new ways of doing things, new ideas, and new inspiration to mull over and try out in your everyday life.  So that once you return to your well worn path that is your everyday life, you look at it in a new light, and you have new twists to try out which ultimately make the well worn path less maniacal and more exotic.  The mundane tasks suddenly become exciting again with this new found flare that you can't wait to sprinkle onto your life.  All from just attending a seemingly simple and unassuming farm dinner in the town I call home.  There's nothing more uniting nor more enjoyable in this world than food.  We all have and need to satisfy the basic need of eating so you might as well enjoy it.  Tonight, I surely did and I cannot wait to attend another farm dinner!

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