This past Saturday, Chef James Porter of Tapino Kitchen & Wine Bar took his popular series of Locavore Dinners one step further by moving from the restaurant kitchen into the great outdoors -- specifically, Superstition Farm in East Mesa. When Chef Porter said he wanted to show Phoenix diners where their food comes from, he wasn't kidding. Not only did guests at the sold-out event chow down on locally raised beef, they also dined with the cows. Literally.
If you didn't already know, Superstition Farm is a working dairy farm run by brother and sister team Casey and Alison Stechnij. Those eaters who were raised in rural areas saw the goats and chickens and the one-thousand cows and got a whiff of nostalgia. For the rest of us, that whiff was something else entirely. The scent of a dairy farm is... well, let's say that it might put off someone with delicate sensibilities.
Delicious little farmer's cheese, meat and heirloom tomato hors d'oeuvres were served following a short hayride around the farm. Wine and beer flowed. After mingling for an hour so with ranchers and farmers, everyone was led to a long table arranged with pristine white linens and china plates. Here, we were treated to Chef Porter's sumptuous but simple feast of tepary bean hummus, roasted beet salad, beef and suckling pig with glazed root veggies, and the best date-pecan pie this dessert lover has ever tasted. Oh, and did we mention the cows eating their dinner on either side of that elegant white table?
While the outdoor digs meant that most of the grilled foods arrived lukewarm to cold, the allure of the Locavore experience is that everything is fresh. Veggies were crisp and had none of the slight chemical, processed taste associated with some supermarket produce. The beef was tender with barely a hint of seasoning, although the suckling pig was too fatty for most of the participants to partake. The veggies were equally natural, the kind of homestyle side dishes that country moms cook nightly.
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Dessert was clearly a favorite (see Tapino's PR& Media Relations guru Wendy Goldman above, with the amazing pie), as was the accompanying Udder Delights fresh ice cream. Talk about really understanding where your food comes from. We were even treated to milk from "the girls" that was barely four hours old, served in souvenir wine goblets.
LocavoreAZ's outdoor dinners aren't for everyone, but I would urge foodies, locavores and anyone who appreciates the art of simple food to attend at least once. Desert dust and cow hair in our food aside, we all left more educated -- and not suddenly vegetarian -- so I'd call it a raging success.