August 27, 2010

‘Farm-to-Table Dinner’ open to public for first time

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Fifty gourmet dining fans can savor fresh foods and fine wines, all produced locally and prepared by novice chefs from one of Chicago’s premier culinary schools, at the third annual Farm-to-Table Dinner, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, at StarView Vineyards, 5100 Wing Hill Road in Cobden.

It’s the first time the event, hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s College of Agricultural Sciences and the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts, will be open to members of the general public.

“We decided to open it up as a fundraiser because the College of Agricultural Sciences is hoping to raise money for a new building,” said Sylvia Smith, pastry chef-turned-assistant-professor at SIUC and the dinner’s coordinator. “It’s a way of being pro-active, even in a small way, rather than just waiting for donations to come in.”

Part of a larger effort aimed at introducing Kendall students to the freshest of foods and the benefits of obtaining them from small-scale farmers, vintners and slaughterhouses, the dinner originally served as a culinary “thank-you” to all who had hosted or taught them during their week’s stay. (To read about the project in general, click here.)

But the dinner proved popular. People who attended the first year wanted to come the second time around, and last year’s diners clamored to be included on this year’s guest list. In fact, Smith saw so much interest she began to think people might be willing to pay for a gourmet, multi-course meal paired with regional wines, particularly if they were dining for a good cause. Plus, she noted, the meal itself is an experience.

“Most of us don’t put much thought into food preparation, but that’s what culinary students are trained to do -- to blow us away,” she said. “And the results are amazing.”

This year’s menu features hybrid striped bass with tomato, pepper and potato hash; wood-roasted lamb with candied apples, roast pumpkin and garlic butter; watermelon granita in mini-cones; braised greens with sweet potato gnocchi and fresh ricotta, topped off with red grape clafouti and buttermilk ice cream. Smith was working on a possible sixth pork-based course at press time.

Tickets to the event cost $75 per person -- $65 if the diner wishes to forego the wine -- and $40 of that will be tax deductible. Reservations, available on a first-come/first-served basis, can be made by e-mail at or by phone at 618/536-2157, but tickets must be paid for by Friday, Sept. 10. Make checks payable to the SIU Foundation, and mail with the name, address and wine pairing preference of each guest to Smith at 875 S. Normal, Mail Code 4317, Carbondale, Ill. 62901.