Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Slow Food Flourishes in Monsanto's Back Yard

Everyone, please welcome Kim Shreck, who was kind enough to write a guest post on the fabulous Slow Food-sponsored Lambstravaganza in Missouri. Kim often chimes in here with advice for vegetarian dishes, but the below post is her first forray back into the the carnivore world in years. Enjoy!

Dear What I Made For Dinner readers:

Adriana has invited me to share with you some particulars of an amazing Slow Food event I recently attended, perhaps to inspire you to look for similar events in your area. On June 7 of this year I attended the fourth annual LAMBSTRAVAGANZA, a fundraiser for the St. Louis Convivium of Slow Food USA. Check out this menu!

I had known of this event in past years but did not attend due to having given up eating meat when I married a long-time vegetarian. Giving up meat had been easy once I began to learn about the health and environmental damage caused by mass-produced, genetically-engineered, hormone-injected meat (and the food our meat eats). This year I was persuaded by a friend and repeat LAMBSTRAVAGANZA attendee to see and experience aspects of eating I valued from a grassroots standpoint (please forgive the corny pun), plus, she bought me a ticket for my 40th birthday. So I jumped off the vegetarian wagon for a day and oh, what a way to relapse!

Prairie Grass Farm owner Dave Hillebrand is a third-generation farmer on 520 acres of land in Montgomery County, MO. His farm, located an hour west of St. Louis, produces about 700 lambs for market each year, as well as 120 dozen eggs per week which, like his lamb, are sold to local farmers markets and restaurants. All the livestock on the Hillebrand farm are free-range, fed on pesticide-free grasses.

Mr. Hillebrand demonstrated his commitment to all phases of food production by standing amid his sheep in their grazing field, hoisting a clump of grass above his head at the beginning of the tour of his farm, declaring, "It is here where it all starts." He explained that chemical-free grass means pure meat, milk, and eggs for us to consume, a cycle of life the chemical company Monsanto (headquartered in St. Louis) has been messing with--to the great disadvantage of consumers and small farmers alike--throughout most of the past century. Since attending the event I have climbed back aboard the tofu wagon; however, I have no regrets about supporting a local grower and his family's commitment to healthy and sustainable food production, and to sampling the amazing lamb-centric dishes created by the best St. Louis restaurant chefs, all of whom privilege local and sustainable foods on their menus. Quoting directly from the Slow Food St. Louis mission statement, here are the reasons why I willingly lapsed for a day to get up close and personal with meat in a way that felt surprisingly virtuous:

Slow Food is good, clean, and fair food. We believe that the food we eat should taste good, that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare, or our health, and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.

We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process.

(Note: one need not be a member of Slow Food USA to participate in events like LAMBSTRAVAGANZA, though there is usually a discounted price for members.)

The fourth of seven lamb dishes served was, unfortunately, the first one I remembered to photograph. This dish creatively utilized fancy condiments such as saffron aioli and charmoula sauce to highlight and moisten smoked meat that might otherwise have been a bit dry and dull. My apologies to you fans of good bar-b-que, and I do know it is a religion for some, but I just don't understand why the artistry of smoked meat would ever be applied to tender lamb, which does not require slow cooking for tenderness. It was indeed fork-tender, and the saffron aioli rocked. But most of this dish I happily donated to other diners in order that I might conserve room for dishes more to my personal liking (i.e. the rare stuff).

The preceding course, which I did not photograph, was one of my two favorites of the day. Imagine a plate of rare slices of the juiciest leg of lamb topped with a crispy gremolata (lemon zest, mint, and fried garlic chips), shaved radish salad, and a delicate goats' milk feta produced by milk from the happy, grass-fed goats of Prairie Grass Farms.

Josh Galliano of Monarch, one my favorite St. Louis chefs, forever cemented his place in my affections when he attempted to give all the credit for this wonderful dish to the teen aged Hillebrand daughter (below, holding the brown kidd), who milked the goats for the feta garnish to his leg of lamb, leaving her beaming with pride as she was applauded by ~85 happy diners.

The fifth and sixth lamb dishes were both superb. Another favorite St. Louis chef, Gerard Craft of Niche, demonstrated why he continues to win most of the "best of" awards, as well as why he was a finalist for the James Beard nomination for Best Midwestern Chef earlier this year. His "Faggotini" (or little purses) of lambs' tongue floating in a delicate lamb and mint broth and topped with crushed cocoa nibs put a whole new spin on the pairing of lamb and mint, as well as mint and chocolate.

Chef Lou Rook of Annie Gunn's made some heavenly, soft-as-butter and equally rich, lamb chops cut from whole racks. Words cannot describe how perfectly simple and simply delightful this dish was, so hopefully the picture speaks for itself.

Chef Kevin Nasham of Sidney Street Cafe produced the most beautiful (if not also the tastiest) dish of the day. His lamb loin and sweetbreads was served with local baby golden beets and red beet risotto, local micro greens, and a touch of visual magic.

A tough act to follow, to be sure, but Christy Augustin, also of Sidney Street Cafe, did not disappoint with her lovely pistachio cream-filled pate choux served with local strawberries, jam, and honey. One must admire not only the beauty of each dish but the grand execution of assembly-line style cooking in the open air on a farm, far from a professional kitchen. All of the participating chefs are to be commended for enduring this unique challenge.

To conclude, this post is meant not only to encourage everyone to check out events of this sort in your area, but also to applaud everyone who is doing his or her part to counter the mercenary trends that have sponsored a renewed, highly necessary interest in sustainable, fair, locally-produced food that is eaten as well as produced by conscientious humans. To learn more about Monsanto's egregious policies and products you may wish to avoid, see: Millions Against Monsanto Campaign - Organic Consumers Association To find your nearest Slow Food Convivium, as well as restaurants and markets that support local growers in your area, see Slow Food USA

If you are ever in St. Louis and want to try one of these fine restaurants with me, I am always looking for an excuse. You can contact me at kim.schreck (at) gmail dot com

Kim Schreck is a foodie/locavore residing in St. Louis who loves to cook and feed people. She also teaches US race and gender history and is a member of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis.


Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, how wonderful. I'm a huge Slow Food fan, and I love to read that events like this are occurring around the country.

Kate The Great said...

Mmm. I don't eat much meat just out of personal preference, but lamb is delicious. All of this made me drool.

Welcome to WIMFD, Kim!