Last year, Will and I hosted our wedding in our backyard. It was intended to be simple, not to drive us crazy, and to jive with our busy lives. Still, it occupied every spare moment. From interior painting to sangria tasting to prettying up straw bales to cutting cloth napkins from old bed sheets, it was a whirlwind of Pinterest searching, errand running, decision making, and detail priming. Every. Spare. Moment.
As exhausted as we were (finishing sangrias ‘til 2 a.m. the night before), there was a little brain-magic that happened as we spied on our guests gathering in the backyard before it began. Suddenly and without warning, it all became worth it. A little like birthing a child, I suppose. All that stress, all that work, all that pain, and it was suddenly worth it. (Forgive me birth mamas. Childbirth and event planning are, at best, loosely relatable.) Point is, the hardship fades into the background and you realize that something very special has happened that makes all that work suddenly worth it.
I suspect many events are like that: the planning, the headache, the stress, the heartache, the lists, the minor and major freak-outs, the sleepless nights, the backache, the pleas for it to just—for God’s sake—be over already. And then. The smiles. The laughter. The joy. The relief. (I once read that people somehow stave off death until after major holidays and events. Perhaps we are evolutionarily wired for ensuring that we all come together, even for one last hurrah.)
Last fall, the Northwest Washington Chefs Collaborative gathered around southern delicacies of pork, red beans and rice, grits, and biscuits at Chef Gabriel’s dining room table. A simple monthly meeting of this young group was hijacked by their building excitement as they got a collective bee in their bonnet to host an event to celebrate local farms and local food. The conversation and initial planning was electrifying. From its genesis over grits, this group spent the next nine months planning, procuring, and preparing the Field-to-Flame feast on August 30.
The chefs included our very own Will Annett, owner/chef of Pizza’zza; Mataio Gillis owner/chef of Ciao Thyme; Patrick Durgan, executive chef at Western Washington University; Josh Silverman, former chef/owner of Dashi Noodle Bar and Nimbus; Gabriel Claycamp of Jack Mountain Meats; Arlene Mantha, chef/owner of twofifty flora; and Crave Catering. Artisan beverages were prepared by Sara Sutherland, owner of the Electric Beet Juice Company and Sustainable Connections Food and Farming Program Manager; Onyx Coffee; and Boundary Bay Brewery.
Consider for a moment that these are folks who have full-time (plus some) jobs running and building businesses, managing programs, and in Sara’s case, both. To make an event like this happen, they stepped away from busy restaurants, personal commitments to family and friends, and myriad other responsibilities. They overcame obstacle after obstacle all in the name of good, local food. And for this, I just want to take a moment to give tribute to their work and dedication.
No event goes off without a hitch. There is always something that tries the patience of even the most serene and seasoned event planner. But these guys faced more than their fair share of turmoil. For starters, after all the promotional materials had been posted and printed, the original event site fell through. Fortunately, the beautiful site at Boxx Berry Farm was available on short notice.
Despite planning their menus well in advance to allow plenty of time to make connections with local growers and ensure that everything was in place for the big day, they ran into multiple sourcing issues due to our unusually warm summer, farmer relocations, meat processor recalls, and other unforeseen complications. Despite these issues, they kept the meal 100% locally sourced. 100%, folks. That's a huge accomplishment and took hours of dedication to a singular purpose.
These struggles are enough in and of themselves, but add the worst wind-storm in a decade and multiple power outages the day before the event, and you have a prescription for crazy making, for sure.
But here’s the thing. No one lost their marbles. As far as I could tell, no one even blinked and not a single feather was ruffled. And this isn’t just the view of a guest who can’t see the chaos of the kitchen from her comfy seat. I was in the kitchen all weekend helping with prep and clean-up. There were no tears (as far as I could see). No one threw up their hands and walked out when we lost power. No break-downs when it didn’t come back on. No tantrums when they found out we could only run off a single generator at the farm. This was a kitchen full of cool cucumbers, I tell you. And here’s the kicker – they were all smiling. I kid you not. Even at the end of the day and after only a one and a half hour nap that served as a substitute for a full night’s rest, they were pleasant and smiling.
And all those volunteers who generously gave their time on the day of and in the days leading up to the event, I bow to you as well. You left your homes and responsibilities to join others in a feast to celebrate the thing that brings us together time and time again—our food. Thank you.
In simple celebration for the bounty our little corner of the world provides, this event was a tremendous success that goes well beyond the actual dollar amount raised and speaks to the connections made between people, connections between those growing our food, those cooking our food, and those eating our food. So, I pay simple homage to this amazing group of growers, producers, chefs, and the fine folks at Sustainable Connections. Without you, our hearts and bellies wouldn’t be filled with the bounty of this incredible slice of land we call home.
Thank you for everything you do!