by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — I had the fortune to attend the Farm-to-Table Dinner fundraiser for the Wake Forest Farmers Market Monday night at The Fire Pit in Gateway Commons shopping center.
Before I get into any description of the food, or its preparation by the restaurant’s celebrated chef Andrew Forrester, I have to say that this was a veritable Babette’s Feast of meals for me. Every bite was its own reward.
The dinner consisted of five courses: an appetizer, two servings of meat, fish and then dessert. With the exception of the grits accompanying the first course, all the food was freshly obtained from the Wake Forest Farmers Market, including the meat and seafood.
The course ingredients were mostly donated by members of the Farmers Market. The first course was a Tasting of Cheese, i.e. a macaroni ball, pimento cheese on toast and a scrumptious middle eastern-style cheddar katifi with berries, honey and nuts. Next up was Asian lamb sausage with stir fried zucchini, squash and onions.
Then a salad, which was probably the most delicious salad I’ve ever eaten, right down to the cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and homemade dressing, topped with tilefish — which Locals Seafood owner Ryan Spekman called “poor man’s grouper.”
Though they kept the portion sizes small, by this time the 41 attendees were filling up, including the diners at my end of the table, Bobby and Rhonda Moody of Wake Crossroads, William Beal of Youngsville and Glenn and Christi Haynes of Heritage Wake Forest.
Perhaps it’s because we ate every bite and there was no wasted accoutrements, no fat to be cut off, no garnishes just for show.
But it’s good we didn’t stop there, because the next course was a ham roulade stuffed with mushrooms and herbs, served with grits and corn. This course was fantastic, and my favorite. The final course was dessert, fresh berries mixed in with pound cake and zabaglione sauce, which I had to look up — it’s a frothy Italian custard.
There was no salt or pepper, no hot sauce or steak sauce and no one got up to ask for them. Some had wine with their meals; I preferred water.
Third time a charm
I can’t say with scientific certainty what this meal did for my innards, but it felt as if from the first bite this freshest of foods turned into instant energy, and immediately set about destabilizing the cauldron of fast-food chemicals and preservatives I’d previously inundated my system with.
Whatever the effect, all of my companions agreed, however, that the dinner was delicious and worth repeating.
Bobby, a professional jazz saxophonist with Moment’s Notice, who was to return to The Fire Pit tonight (Thursday) for dinner music, told me he’s eating his way through Wake Forest and looked for tips on where to go next. The Haynes are newcomers to Wake Forest — he came for a job late last year and she followed just a week ago.
A Texas native, Christi said she’s been to The Fire Pit before and loved the brisket. They were looking for arts and cultural events to attend without having to drive to Raleigh or Durham.
This was The Fire Pit’s third combined dinner. Its owner, Ted Patterson, came up with the idea in part to let his chef — who once appeared on the TV show Hell’s Kitchen — spread his wings. The most recent combo was a beer dinner with food accompanied by Big Boss beers.
I attended the first beer dinner in January, held jointly with White Street Brewing Company.
Though I generally don’t drink much of anything with a meal (except Coke), I quite enjoyed Forrester’s cheddar soup with Golden Ale, pork shanks and kale with the Scottish Ale and both seasonal fish with couscous and pork with collards with the Pale Ale.
The best beer-food combo, I think, was actually dessert. The chocolate stout mousse went perfectly with the White Street Stout.
For Monday’s dinner, Forrester got up at 6 a.m. that morning to begin preparing the food, most of which he picked up Saturday at the market, located next to CVS on North White Street in downtown Wake Forest.
First he went to Gabies Garden Vegetables for the last items — fresh blackberries, herbs and tomatoes. Then he went back to the restaurant and began preparing the meal. At 10:30 a.m., he worked on proteins and the stock for the lamb sausage. Then it was on to the vegetables, of which there were plenty.
“This one really was easier this time,” Forrester said, in part because the portion sizes were scaled back — you don’t need as much food when serving five courses!
The funds raised will go toward the Farmers Market educational and culinary programs and a better sign, as well, according to market manager Robin Hendricks.
“It went extremely well,” she said. “The love that Andrew put on that food was amazing.”
Also impressed was longtime market regular and former manager Terri Wilkinson, who was wowed by what she thought was a run-of-the-mill eatery germane to the South.
“Until they had this I thought it was an ordinary barbecue restaurant,” she said, describing the chef as “a treasure.”