WOODBURY — Flanders Nature Center and Land Trust will host its fourth annual Farm-to-Table Dinner, an elegant al fresco event set for 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, August 25, on the grounds of Flanders’ bucolic Van Vleck Sanctuary. The dinner has gained a reputation as a culinary must with Connecticut foodies who come for a festive meal crafted of local ingredients by some of the state’s most celebrated chefs, all in support of a nonprofit organization dedicated to land acquisition and conservation towards a better understanding and appreciation of the wonders of the natural world.
Coordinating chef of this year’s Farm-to-Table Dinner is Yorkshire, England native Paul Pearson, executive chef of Washington’s Community table — Ct Restaurant and Bar, where he develops and prepares imaginative menus that change and evolve with the seasons.
Chef Pearson will be assisted by Carol Byer-Alcorace, formerly of The Provender at New Morning Market, now catering manager/culinary coordinator at New Haven’s Sanctuary Kitchen, formed in 2017 to celebrate the culinary traditions of refugees and immigrants who have resettled in Connecticut.
Other participating chefs include food columnist and radio personality Chris Prosperi, chef/co-owner of Metro Bis in Simsbury; four-time Farm-to-Table participant Dennis DeBellis, chef-owner of John’s Cafe in Woodbury; Kristin Eddy, award-winning pastry chef for the Tyler Anderson team at Millwright’s Restaurant and Tavern in Simsbury; and original Farm-to-Table coordinating chef John Bourdeau, chef-owner of The Owl Modern Wine Bar in New Preston.
Rounding out the team are Whitney Flood, chef-owner of 9 Main Bakery & Deli in New Preston and co-owner with his wife, Julie, of a farm-to-table catering company; Jeff Smart, chef/co-owner of Sasso’s Coal Fired Pizza in Torrington and inventor of the Pizza Dome, and members of the Naugatuck Valley Community College Culinary Program under the direction of Karen Rotella.
Several of the chefs have been with the Farm-to-Table Dinner for all four years. And according to event chair Eileen Reed, the talent and reputation of the returning chefs has made it easy to recruit new ones.
“All of our chefs value locally sourced ingredients in their restaurants,” she said. “That’s a criterion for the chefs we recruit.”
Upon entering the nature center, guests that evening will walk down between the historic Van Vleck house and the adjacent Natalie Van Vleck Studio into a field surrounded by farmland, with views of the pond and the ridgeline beyond.
An array of passed appetizers will be offered while guests enjoy a glass of wine from Walker Road Vineyard, beer from Black Hog Brewing Company or a signature cocktail.
This will also be a time to hear live bluegrass music from Sweetcake Mountain and Friends while perusing the various show tickets, restaurant gift cards, artwork and other items gathered for a silent auction.
At around 6:30 p.m., guests will find their place in the seating tent. Following brief opening remarks, Dr. Bob McWilliam will preside over a live and lively auction of five to six high-end items, including an African photo safari and a stay at a lakeside cabin.
A fleet of volunteers will then begin serving the plated four-course dinner.
In true farm-to-table fashion, the exact menu will feature whatever is fresh and at peak flavor at the moment.
At press time, the appetizer menu included a Mezze Table of small Middle Eastern dishes, including Slow Roasted Lamb Ragout, Afghan naan and more, provided by Chef Byer-Alcorace and Chef Bourdeau.
Other appetizers will be prepared by Chef Smart, Chef Flood and students in the NVCC Culinary Program.
For dinner, Chef Pearson plans to prepare a Tuscan Salad, Chef Prosperi will provide a shellfish second course and Chef DeBellis and Chef Pearson will collaborate on a main course of Beef Brisket with Braised Peppers and Polenta.
Dessert, provided by Chef Eddy, will be Browned Butter Cake with Peach Caramel and Berries.
“It will be like eating in a restaurant,” said Eileen. “Everything is going to be locally sourced from within Connecticut, even fish from Long Island Sound.
“The chefs have been wonderful to work with,” she added. “They’re very collegial, very collaborative. Egos don’t seem to play a part in it.”
The live and silent auctions have become a popular part of the Farm-to-Table Dinner and a key element of its success, with all money raised supporting agricultural and environmental education programs at Flanders.
The entire event is extremely well-staged with volunteers who are trained to pass hors d’oeuvres, serve promptly and professionally, then clear plates between courses.
“It’s very much a volunteer-driven event,” said Eileen. “We had 50 volunteers last year; many come back every year. Last year, the entire Nonnewaug High School football team came the day after to help us clean up!”
The evening also serves to shine a light on local farms and their importance to Litchfield County and the entire state.
New Morning Market is the Farm-to-Table Dinner’s major sponsor. Dress for the event is “summer casual.” Vegetarians will be accommodated if they so indicate when purchasing tickets.
Tickets are on sale now at $160 per person. Only 200 tickets will be sold; those planning to attend are advised to reserve early as every Farm-to-Table Dinner thus far has sold out.
“We do have a number of repeat customers who look forward to this every year,” said committee member Ana Jordan, adding that people begin calling Flanders months in advance, inquiring about tickets.
Those wishing to attend the Farm-to-Table Dinner can purchase tickets at FlandersNatureCenter.org or by calling the Flanders office, 203-263-3711.