Wisconsin-Based Underground Food Collective Visits NYC to Host Spring Feasts
"The morel mushrooms were fantastically meaty, probably even more so than the chicken, lamb, or veal skewers."
The Wisconsin-based Underground Food Collective came through town this weekend to cook up spring feasts for New Yorkers. A merry band of cooks, grad students, and local friends, the Underground Food Collective, or UFC, combines seasonal food and area talent to fashion cozy, locavore meals. Locations varied: Friday night's feast was on a Brooklyn rooftop, last night's was on Added Value's farm in Brooklyn, and tonight's will take place in somebody's (large) kitchen. Though the intent was to be as locavore as possible, most ingredients were sourced out of state because of New York's unseasonably cold weather.
"What about this?"
"Umm. More greens?"
—a typical reaction at last night's Underground Food Collective dinner
The UFC made good use of vegetation hauled in by Vermont-based Wild Gourmet Food and created a brazen menu featuring seven courses of greens. (Poultry, lamb, and veal cheered on as sides.)
Proceeds from the event went toward Added Value's urban agriculture and youth development programs. The dinner was much less about the food and more about the sense of community both Added Value and the UFC promote.
Before the dinner, there was a talk and tour of the farm. Added Value described their outreach, youth empowerment programs, and various ways the community could help.
Against a surreal backdrop of factories, Ikea, and blight, Added Value transformed a dilapidated ball field into a 2.75-acre self-sustaining farm manned by volunteers and area schoolchildren. Broccoli, green garlic, lettuce, and basil grow in shallow inches of top soil covering the asphalt of the old playground. The farm's vegetables are sold through farmers' markets, the CSA, and to local area restaurants.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Seamus, Ben, and various men named John grilled our dinners.
The harvest and processing station.
Spring lamb headlined the original menu, but because of cooking facility limitations, the collective grilled young greens and sausage instead.
Our dinner companions were a mix of the hungry and curious.
Dinner started with grilled bread and ramp aioli. The ramp flavor was mild but the toasting on the bread was exquisite. Next was a duo of asparagus. The green asparagus had a nice char flavor. The Japanese red asparagus was served raw and dressed lightly with oil. The latter's flavor was akin to rhubarb—tart, crunchy, and stringy. The oddest thing about red asparagus was the stems' hollow cells.
Served third was a plate of spring chicken sausage, pheasantback mushrooms, and braised greens. The chicken was butchered in Wisconsin and shipped in bloodied hockey bags the UFC checked in before flight. Fresh! The pheasantback mushrooms had great, nutty flavor but were rubbery to gnaw through. The greens were not identified.
The mild feta and cucumbers were a pleasing palate cleanser. The lettuce was harvested from the Added Value farm.
The grilled baguette with sheepsmilk ricotta, sauteed greens, and ground lamb were easy to love. The ricotta had a sweet creaminess with a touch of tang.
Cattails, brackenhead ferns, and Added Value's greens were exotic fun. The ferns had a slick texture to them, much like mucilage.
The morel mushrooms were fantastically meaty, probably even more so than the chicken, lamb, or veal skewers. The cheese course consisted of two Wisconsin cheeses, cheddar, and Gruyere. The chipped cheddar had a toasty age to it.
We enjoyed shortbread crackers with mottled ambrosia honey. Our rhubarb, bee pollen, custard, and meringue dessert was made thanks to Lee of Pamplemousse Preserves. The bee pollen took the shape of irregular nuggets and could easily be mistaken for Grapenuts.
Thanks to the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York, our dinner was handsomely outfitted with fine brews. Ommegang makes its beers in the Belgian style: smoother, darker, and maltier, flavored of smoked caramel, chocolate, and raisins. The fruit in their Rare Vos was a little jarring, but their Hennepin, Witte, Three Philosophers, and self-titled Ommegang complemented the other Belgian beers they provided nicely. Also served courtesy of Ommegang: Duvel, Chouffe, Maredsou. All were pleasant with no lingering flavors and were the perfect match to the slight bitterness of our greens.
Though tonight's UFC dinner is sold-out, if you're interested in attending another underground supper event this week, check out the Brooklyn Edible Social Club. They have a dinner scheduled this Thursday.