A few months ago a person whom I deeply respect and admire sent me and many other chefs an email asking us for our help in any way that we could give it. She was organizing the first Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust benefit.
Her name is Kristie Knoll. She is a woman with boundless energy, strong embraces, genuine smiles and great connections. We all love knowing her because the fall-out of her dedication is contagious and real. She and her partner Rick Knoll have moved their farm courageously to the "beyond organic" neighborhood of agriculture and have been passionate, opinionated and outspoken about their 'whys and hows' of such a bold move.
The Brentwood Agricultural Land trust exists because Brentwood is fast becoming a bedroom community for San Francisco and so paving over farms to replace them with tract housing. Some of the Bay Area's beloved farms call Brentwood their home and need help reminding everyone else that they want to stay.
For the dinner amazing produce was donated to the chefs who needed only to prepare delicious courses with it. The challenge was the kitchen. There was none. No refrigeration, no sinks, no ovens and no walls.
The most incredible thing about working benefits is that a certain kind of camaraderie ignites, and chefs of all stripes come together to help each other out. Working for fundraisers reminds us why we do what we do after service has beaten the hell out of us night after night. It changes our perspective, literally, and forces us to do what we do best---think on our toes, collaborate to solve problems, surprise diners with our inventive selves.
Chefs, although many are "celebrities" now, do what we do behind doors. It's rare we make contact with our diners as they are eating our food. And it's rarer still that diners have the opportunity to come into the kitchen while the cooks are cooking.
When I received Kristie's missive I wrote back immediately telling her that I definitely wanted to help but that I was un-employed so I thought I should be a chef-helper. But a few weeks & emails later I somehow metamorphosed into a dessert maker. Go figure. I saw that Knoll farms had (their extra ordinarily aromatic) verbena on the list of herbs being donated, ollallieberries somewhere else, and said, "I think someone needs to make ice cream with that verbena." You can guess who that someone turned out to be.
Instead of going into a really long description of the menu I will let the many photos I took speak for themselves. I met new chefs and chefs I had been wanting to meet. I worked with people who are my heroes and heroines and I even learned about a new green that I had never heard of: pissenlit. I partnered up to help run the kitchen, expedite and organize the 5 course menu's service with someone so organized and helpful I nicknamed her a goddess by the end of the night. A personal chef whom I had never met before turned into my right hand and we were finishing eachother's physical sentences by the end of the night. And lastly I must say that the Future Farmers of America high-schoolers made me proud and honored to work with them. They turned out to be the "waiters" and were stellar.
This benefit was raw. We were cooking outside and it was challenging. The systems that were created to make it all happen and come together happened on the spot with those who were willing to put heads together, make compromises, quit whining, make do and be grateful for the profound gift that we were all there in a beautiful warm place doing something pro-active for local and sustainable agriculture.