This features post is brought to you by our friends at Stella Artois.
Stepping into North Brooklyn Farms feels like being in two worlds at once. This green space on Williamsburg’s East River waterfront is one of the few places where you can take in rows of lush vegetables and bright yellow sunflowers in the foreground and the New York City skyline towering in the background. As soon as you arrive and appreciate this view, you know you’re in for something special.
On Tuesday night, that something special was Chowhound’s inaugural event produced in partnership with Stella Artois and Feastly. Thought it was an unusually blustery evening for late August, the atmosphere was warm and bright under a tent decked out in strings of lights. Here, an intimate group of about 40 diners gathered around picnic tables to enjoy a multi-course meal from Chef Theo Friedman.
Since graduating from Tufts University just two years ago, Friedman has made a name for himself and his company Theory Kitchen, which Vogue included in a 2016 list of “The 5 Most Amazing Underground Dining Experiences in America.” According to the Theory Kitchen website, Friedman’s inspiration for hosting pop-up dinners is “to reintroduce stories, emotions, and personal experiences into the industrial food system.” In my eyes, sitting down to a fresh farm dinner, flanked by icons of industry like the Williamsburg Bridge and the old Domino Sugar Factory, did just that.
The event was the culmination of months of preparation on behalf of Chef Friedman, Chowhound, Feastly, and Stella Artois. Before we dug in, Friedman told us a bit about his inspiration for the evening: “We’re on a farm. Let’s eat some simple great food.” After all, he explained, it was the best time of year for markets, and we just so happened to be a mere three subway stops from what he considers the best farmers market on the East Coast: the Union Square Greenmarket.
He then let us know that we could expect about nine to ten dishes to come our way throughout the night. “They’re just gonna kind of fire away until you say stop.” Spoiler alert: we didn’t. Once we'd toasted with the first of many glasses of Stella, we were off to the races.
True to Chef Friedman’s introduction, the produce from the Greenmarket was showcased beautifully in every course, whether it played a starring or supporting role. Just one example of produce taking center stage was a dish of freshly charred tomatoes on a bed of homemade ricotta infused with basil and garnished with festive purple basil leaves. You could also call it “pizza with no gluten,” said Friedman.
Throughout the evening, we encountered new ingredients (I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Mexican sour gherkins) as well as familiar ingredients used in unexpected ways. This included a barbecue sauce made with blackberries and a play on elote inspired by Japanese flavors in lieu of the traditional Mexican toppings.
Another highlight for me was a tartine slathered in “zucchini butter.” While I consider myself a zucchini enthusiast, it's not a word I associate with "butter." According to Friedman, it was prepared by melting down zucchini for hours until it developed a jam-like consistency. Also on board the tartine were smoked feta, bush basil, and my new friends, Mexican sour gherkins. “They look like baby watermelons, but they taste like sour cucumbers,” my table-mate explained.
After we’d lost count of how many dishes we’d sampled, the ding-ding-ding of silverware on a chalice signaled that the evening was coming to a close. We applauded the team for hosting a truly memorable night and quieted down to hear the details of the grand finale.
For dessert, Chef Friedman handed out scoops of yuzu frozen yogurt and strawberry angostura sorbet. But wait, there’s more. “Grab a spoon, grab a jalapeño blueberry corn whoopie pie, and do it up," Friedman added. "And then we have kefir lime and burnt corn husk churros.” Before making my sundae, I’d never thought about jalapeños and corn showing up at dessert before. But when I tried a bite of whoopie pie with a bite of frozen yogurt, the contrast of grainy cornbread texture and cold, smooth cream made a delightful kind of sense.
While New York can be an energizing place, people often look for inspiration far beyond the city limits. Lucky for me, inspiration was just a stone’s throw (or $12 cab ride) from my front stoop. Full and happy, I headed home with new friends, new ideas about which ingredients can be used where, and a new appreciation for fresh local produce. I'd say the chef achieved his goal of bringing personal experience and a story to the table!