Tuesday night, at 11 venues scattered around New York City, generous and lucky diners celebrated the food of the season, the urban farmers who produce it, and the chefs who render it delightful. This event, billed as “A City Farmer, A Chef and a Host,” was organized by, and for the benefit of, Just Food and The Sylvia Center. Battery Rooftop Garden hosted one of these dinners. Our farmer was, of course, our own Annie Novak, who with her associate Melissa Metrick seeds, plants, tends and harvests our rooftop produce. Our chef was the spectacularly talented Howard Kalachnikoff from Gramercy Tavern. Just Food also dispatched to the roof, as our “celebrity co-host,” the brilliant Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society who, with colleagues, developed the pivotal Human Footprint map and, to the delight of many New Yorkers, recreated the Manhattan of 1609 in his book Manhatta: A Natural History of New York City.
During the afternoon, Annie and Melissa harvested from the roof, in no particular order: baby celery, Malabar spinach, plump blackberries, basil, tomatoes, three varieties of kale, four varieties of chard, small purple and orange carrots, blue and yellow potatoes, rats-tail radish blossoms, scallions, onions, beets, lavender, several varieties of mint and red veined sorrel. Chef Kalachnikoff, not entirely trusting to the adequacy of our on-roof supplies, supplemented this with ingredients procured by Gramercy Tavern. After lingering over watermelon mint mojitos and a series of exquisite vegetarian hors d’oeuvres, the following meal (to the best of my morning-after recollection) emerged from the kitchen over the next 3.5 hours:
Island creek oysters, plucked from the sea the same morning, garnished with on-roof miniature celery
Chilled carrot soup (from off-roof carrots), garnished with on-roof carrot slivers, and a delicious spiced Labne (a middle eastern fresh cream, but this time made from yogurt)
A beet-centric composition, too jewel-like to be called a salad, in which the flavors of the beets mingled with roof-top blackberries, meticulously de-veined Red Veined Sorrel and roof-top Lavender
A striped bass, which Chef Kalachnikoff informed us had returned to season only last Wednesday, sitting on a bed to toothsome roof-top kale and garnished with summer squash
Sweet Corn Agnolotti, which everyone present agreed was a rare example of culinary perfection, garnished with roof-top onions, tomatoes and basil
A tart featuring rooftop blackberries and blueberries, with Anise Hyssop and a companion scoop of Strawberry Ice Cream
I urge the readers of this blog to visit the web sites of both Just Food, www.justfood.org, and the Sylvia Center, www.sylviacenter.org. These two organizations remind us of the many the reasons it is vital to reconnect all New Yorkers – especially children — with fresh healthy food, and the vital role that urban agriculture can play in making that vision a reality. And last night’s dinner reminded those fortunate enough to be present that the culinary arts rank alongside art, music and literature as pillars of human civilization, and that the eating of fine food in congenial company ranks as one of the great pleasures afforded to us as human beings.