Chef Jacob Mains is taking locavorism to a whole new level this summer by offering a series of farm dinners served right in the fields where the food is grown.
Such dinners have been held piecemeal around the region in the past, including one that Mr. Mains staged last September at Mott Family Farm in Eastern Ohio. And some farms have scheduled such dinners again this year with the cooperation of chefs from local restaurants (see end of story for a list).
But this is the first year Mr. Mains has established an official business -- The Farmer's Table LLC (farmerstable.org) -- for the express purpose of scheduling farm dinners throughout the local growing season.
He's got five dinners on the books already and a desire to do more.
Even the bulk of the cooking will happen right on the farms. Mr. Mains will prepare a few items, such as dough or homemade pasta, ahead of time at a Homestead kitchen he uses for storage and prep work. But everything else will be made fresh on site, using trucked-in burners and a stainless prep counter under a tent.
Menus will be developed around each farm's specialty crops -- not only fruits and vegetables, but also meats and even grains. If an individual farm doesn't grow an ingredient Mr. Mains needs, he'll track it down on another farm.
Last year at Mott Family Farm, for instance, the menu included squash soup, tomato tart, salad, homemade sausage with sauerkraut, and raspberry-and-rhubarb tart, all made with Mott ingredients, as well as chicken-liver pate and roasted chicken thighs from chickens supplied by a neighboring farm.
Each dinner is limited to 75 guests. Menus typically consist of five courses, and Mr. Mains will try to accommodate vegan or gluten-free diets with advance notice. In case of rain, he'll have walled tents available, or dinners may be moved indoors if the farm has a barn or other building. In the event of a complete washout or lightning storm, he'll refund diners.
Mr. Mains will do some of the cooking, but for this first year, he'll also help set up tents and greet guests. Two additional chefs have signed on to assist with cooking.
Guests will have the opportunity to meet the farmers, as Mr. Mains gives each farmer six dinner tickets. Some farms will offer pre-dinner tours or after-dinner hayrides.
Mr. Mains, who lives in Friendship and will soon graduate from Westmoreland County Community College's culinary program, apprenticed at Square Cafe in Regent Square under Chef Doug Genovese. Mr. Mains and Mr. Genovese now work together at Shannopin Country Club in Ben Avon Heights, and Mr. Mains runs The Farmer's Table on the side.
Mr. Mains works only with farms that don't use agricultural sprays and don't grain-feed their livestock. He also needs locations that have parking available for 75 guests. He is still working his contacts and is interested in scheduling more dinners.
"Taking people directly to the farm, where you clip your greens for the salad right there, just makes it that much more special," Mr. Mains said.
Dinners thus far are scheduled for June 15 at Manchester Farms and Left Bower Farm in Avella, June 29 and Sept. 21 at Blackberry Meadows Farm in Natrona Heights, July 13 at Morris Organic Farm in Irwin, and Aug. 29 at Jarosinski Farm in Buffalo Township.
Here are a few farm dinners scheduled for the region in addition to the ones done by The Farmer's Table, and more are sure to pop up this season:
Churchview Farm Summer Dinner Series: Seasonal menus are built from farm-fresh ingredients, meats supplied by Wild Purveyors in Lawrenceville, wine pairings and, as the website notes, "tableside visits from some of our free-range chickens." Dinners feature chefs from local restaurants, including E², Crested Duck, Root 174 and others. Dinners are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 9 and 23; July 14 and 28; Aug. 11, 19 and 25; and Sept. 22 and 29 at Churchview Farm in Baldwin Borough. Each evening is limited to 24 guests. Cost is $85 per person. churchviewfarmpgh.com.
Jamison Farm: The Latrobe lamb farm occasionally holds lamb and wine dinners, including one at 6 p.m. June 1. $110 per person. Reservations required: 412-391-1709. jamisonfarm.com or dreadnoughtwines.com.
Cure: The Lawrenceville restaurant moves to local farms in August, including Aug. 4, 11 and 25 at White Oak Farm in Hampton ($125 per person, see curepittsburgh.com) and Aug. 13 at Jarosinski Farm in Buffalo Township ($190, see outstandinginthefield.com).
Chef Jacob Mains used this tart shell recipe as the base for the Fresh Tomato Tart he served at last fall's farm dinner on Mott Family Farm in Ohio. He didn't use a recipe for the filling, but he did supply us with the following description: "For this dish we filled our [tart shells] with roasted heirloom tomatoes and freshly made cheese. The tart was topped with a nasturtium picked an hour before plating."
-- Rebecca Sodergren
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons milk
Using a pastry cutter or food processor, mix flour and salt. Cut in butter until dough is mealy. Combine liquids and add just until dough starts to come together. Do not overmix. Allow dough to rest in a very cool place or in refrigerator before rolling it out.
Roll out dough and form it in your pan. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees until golden.
Yields 1 10-inch tart or 4 to 6 individual-size tarts.
-- Jacob Mains, The Farmer's Table
Rebecca Sodergren: email@example.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.