A Review: Farm-To-Fork Dinner Features Local Ingredients and Talent – starting a Real Food Revolution at Rice University
Real Food Revolution stands out among Rice University’s over 200 student-led organizations. With a unique focus on educating college students on the importance of sustainable food practices, Real Food Revolution engages the community both inside and outside the university for a semesterly farm-to-fork dinner. Kathryn Hokamp, president of the organization, says their team is small but mighty: "We've stayed a small but active team since then, with our biggest event being the Farm to Fork dinner every semester. We put on the dinner so that we can showcase the talents of our amazing Rice chefs, demonstrate how much great food is grown right here in Houston, and give students a chance to network with people who share a passion for food and sustainability. We try to facilitate connections and collaboration between people in the community, and these dinners are a fun and tasty way to do that."
This semester’s farm-to-fork dinner was prepared by Rice University chefs Luis Alves and Aviana Hightower and featured an all-vegetarian/vegan menu. Alves and Hightower purchased local ingredients for the dinner at the Rice University Farmers Market, which provides the Rice University campus and West University area with a selection of local foods every Tuesday. Hightower, who also interns as an on-site recipe specialist at the Rice University Farmers Market, was thrilled to plan her first all-local three-course meal. Her passion for local food shone through the array of colors she and Alves prepared for guests: “Cooking seasonally with local ingredients is fun, fair and full of color!”
Guests were directed to the starter buffet table while members of Real Food Revolution gave presentations on the benefits of a plant-based diet the importance of reducing food waste. A tangy, chilled yellow tomato gazpacho set the tone for a salty-sweet bruschetta with a tomato & basil medley. For guests who favored bold, earthy flavors, a pickled beet with caramelized onion topping combined with herb goat cheese was a favorite bruschetta alternative. The highlight of the starter selection was undoubtedly the braised artichoke hearts with tomato and mint. The blend boasted a dip-worthy texture and the hefty artichoke tones were complimented perfectly by the refreshing tomato-mint combination.
After a pleasant introduction to the tastes and ideology of farm-to-fork living, entrees were served. Guests were treated to a spinach salad with orange and caramelized fennel topped with toasted nuts and tossed with a pickled beet vinaigrette. The toasted nuts and local fennel took what some might consider an everyday spinach salad to an advanced flavor realm. The centerpiece of the entree buffet was a goat cheese tart with mushroom and green onion. The soft, smooth texture of the goat cheese and egg filling was coddled by a flaky, buttery crust. Following these buttery notes was the handmade butternut squash gnocchi in sage brown butter. “Gnocchi is really just pillows of flavor,” one guest commented, “I want my bed to be made of this gnocchi.” Accompanying these dishes was a selection of curry vegetables and kale, featuring crisp cauliflower in a mildly spicy-sweet sauce.
For dessert, beet kombucha was skillfully mixed with fresh beets and frozen into a delightfully tangy sorbet. On the more traditionally sweet side, Hightower and Alves prepared a vegan strawberry coconut pannacotta and a cajeta bourbon mousse, both topped with candied violas. Using agar agar instead of the traditional gelatin, Alves and Hightower were able to replicate a pannacotta’s bouncy texture without including animal products. The cajeta bourbon mousse hit all the right marks for a caramelly, rich treat. Candied violas offset these dishes’ sweetness while adding an unexpectedly edible garnish. Chef and Animal Farm owner Chandler Rothbard, whose ingredients were featured in multiple dishes, gave the meal a thumbs-up: "The food was delicious, fresh, and packed with nutrients. I'm so happy to see our younger generation taking the time to source local ingredients cultivated with integrity."
It's not often one can eat a meal with a message, but this dinner spoke directly to Houston. Why fight the parking lot traffic at the grocery store when your local farmers market has everything a creative home chef might need? Buying local is good for the environment, helps out your neighbors, and satisfies your taste buds! "Our club works because people love to eat," says Hokamp, "This year's Farm to Fork showed an amazing amount of local talent, be it the chefs, the growers, the local vendors, or the students and professors who showed so much knowledge and passion for food."
Special thanks to the following local farmers/vendors for helping us keep it local: Pine Valley Produce, Bella Verdi Farms, Rice University Garden, Atkinson Farm, Blue Heron Farm, Animal Farm, Nawara Farm, Sullivan's, Brenham Kitchen, Third Coast Kombucha, Chaste Foods, and Macaw Confections. For more information on the Rice University Farmers Market, visit farmersmarket.rice.edu.