Only five people put the massive together the massive June 19 event, including local real estate exec/food diplomat Thomas Williams and Judy Wright, who I was lucky enough to share the kitchen with for a memorable afternoon of cooking for some of Nashville's disadvantaged. A packed house of 250 diners filled the main hall at the Nashville Farmers' Market, and there were still folks clamoring to get on the wait list the day of the event.
Those procrastinators missed out on a lively silent auction where some attendees were not above a little hip-checking to protect their bid on the long list of food and travel-related items that had been gathered by the small committee. I did write my name on a few items, but I was so distracted by the outrageous passed hors d'oeuvres that local favorites Hal Holden-Bache and Jason McConnell had prepared, I was aced out on every single item. I'll choose their food over fighting off rabid bidders any time.
Particularly tasty were Holden-Bache's Beef Heart Tartar on Crostini with Kale and Peanut Pesto, and McConnell's Truffled Lima Bean Puree and Blistered Cherry Tomato Crisps, which may have changed a lot of people's opinions of that maligned legume left over from their elementary school cafeteria days. Servers were quick to restock their trays as folks hungrily gobbled down the appetizers, though I don't recall if they mentioned the word "heart" when describing the tartar. It worked for me.
The sit-down dinner was well-paced and admirably emceed by Nashville food legend John Egerton. The assembled crowd never got restless between courses as members of the Nashville Food Project explained the mission of the organization and a very professional and fast-talking auctioneer sold off live lots of some of the bigger trips and foodie experiences.
Chef Ryan Smith of Empire State South led off the dinner with a delicious dish of Tomato Terrine, fromage blanc, Bread, Crackers, Country Ham and Fennel, which was finished with an olive oil that was actually produced in Georgia. Chef John Fleer from Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley in Cashiers, N.C., followed up with a Pig Bread Crusted Sunburst Trout, Rum-Sorghum Glazed Pork Belly and Chili Braised Tuscan Kale, which was a wonderful presentation of the delicate fish.
I often complain that there's just not enough rabbit on menus around these parts, and Taylor Ricketts of the Delta Grill in Greenwood, Miss., treated us to a Beurre Noisette Poached Rabbit Saddle Roulade, Burrata Risotto, Pear Confit, Fried Sweet Potato Greens, Acacia Honey with Dried Fruit and Almonds. It was outrageous! Finally for dessert, Chef Tandra Watkins of Ashley's at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Ark., presented a lovely Blueberry and Buckwheat Upside-Down Cake with Coriander that was the perfect finish to a spectacular meal.
Well, actually, the perfect finish came about a half-hour after dessert when I was hanging around outside the market as volunteers cleaned up the dining hall and some of the assembled chefs enjoyed a cold beer and stretched their muscles after a long day of prep and cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. As a thank-you to the staff and the chefs, the organizers of Nourish had sent an intrepid volunteer up to Prince's to order 12 whole chickens.
The visiting chefs were familiar with the legend of hot chicken and were anxious to try some of the infernal bird. Williams had been kind enough to order various heat levels, but most of the chefs dove right for the hot and extra-hot. It was hilarious to watch their heads snap back at the first bite of Satan's fowl, but they were committed to the full experience. Locals offered advice about not wiping their eyes and to be sure to wash hands before going to the bathroom, but mainly we just stood around and chuckled while the sweat streamed down the faces of these culinary artists. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure all the visitors drove to town, thus avoiding my consistent admonition to first-timers never to schedule any air travel within 24 hours of hot chicken.
In the end, the event raised more than $80,000 for the Nashville Food Project to help them with their mission of using volunteer labor to address the problems of poverty and food insecurity in Nashville. The attendees got a great meal and had a fun time, the chefs enjoyed each others company and were genuinely enthused about helping out our community, and this worthy organization helped replenish their coffers for another year. They promise that this will be an annual event, so plan to join in the fun next year.