We are so excited that The Chalkboard Magazine just featured our very special dinner we announced here with Cook Pigs Ranch. This dinner was very dear to me because we were celebrating one of our favorite vendors and invited some fellow food people who are dedicated to progressive food policy to come join us. Sometimes cooking isn't just about the food you serve but the message behind it. It was an honor to able to share the message of our food at this dinner.
Krystina Cook who runs Cook's Pig Ranch has become a friend of mine so any excuse I have to visit her ranch in Julian I will take, and on one of these visits I collected rocks, fallen branches, wild turkey feathers and pine cones to make our tablescape for this dinner where we highlighted the sublime pork she raises.
Nicolette, one of our catering managers, and I created a mood board here to feel out the direction we would take for this event. We wanted to create a community feel so all of our esteemed guests could connect with each other in a ranch-like setting. Rather than servers pouring our house wine, we placed bottles on the table with custom stickers of little burlap piggies designed by our friends at Smog Design so they could just go ahead and help themselves to a glass.
Guests entered in through The Salon where we held a cocktail hour with a pork intensive Crostini Station. We made chiccharones, red wine pork liver pate, copa di testa, and maple and root beer cured American-style ham. There were pretty cheeses and pickles and maple candied marcona almonds too.
Julian is a little historic gold mining town outside of San Diego that is not only famous for their apple pie, but also for their Hard Cider so I felt compelled to pick up a keg of it for this event in Cherry Bomb flavor (!), but we also offered a bourbon drink with smokey bitters that gave a hint of bacon for this cocktail hour.
It was a thrill for me to introduce some of our favorite farmers and a couple of doctors and a nutritionist and some kitchen friends and conscientious eaters to Krystina at this dinner. I really wanted these people who I admire so much to meet one another since they share so many of the same ideals yet came to them from different perspectives. The Salon was buzzing with insightful conversation which truly was our intention in building it…. that and making good food!
Guests then made their way from The Salon to our garden area out back where some juicy chops were getting grilled off which filled the warm evening air with their delicious aroma. It's always fun for guests to actually see part of the cooking process, and for this dinner the grill was right off the seating area and contributed to the ambiance of our ranch theme.
Once guests took their seats they were served house made flour tortillas and an avocado butter which is a regular part of the diet of the pigs at Cook Pigs Ranch. We didn't want to make every dish pork so we thought it'd be fun to incorporate the macrobiotic diet of the pigs in our menu which so distinctively affects the taste of this richly marbled pork. Remember when we talked about it here and here?
Next up Matt formerly introduced Krystina and Mike Cook. He expressed how unusual small pig ranches are because they are so expensive to run. Without hormones or processed feed as used in conventional ranching, it takes much longer for the pigs to reach market weight which creates a greater depth of flavor and a firmer fat cap rendering pork that tastes similar to beef… or butter even.
Krystina and Mike answered questions about their ranch and talked about how they are committed to preserving and breeding rare, wild heritage pigs that are USDA approved. Their commitment goes well beyond that with their work to make their ranch completely sustainable. They not only collect beer mash and leftover organic produce from local farms for their pig feed but they are also building extensive solar power on their property.
Did I mention that Krystina and Mike rescue bully dogs? I love these people, I love them so much. Ok, I digress! The food! The food!!
First course: Matt called this "Pig Food", meaning this is a salad of what the pigs at Cook Pigs Ranch eat as their regular diet. Barley Salad with Macadamia Nut Pesto and Greens. This dish was really substantial and I need to remind Matt to make it as our dinner sometime. It was surprisingly delicious and filling and perfectly autumnal. Good dish for the winter months and holidays.
Dinner was served family style. We really wanted all of our chefs to be able to sit and eat and enjoy with all of our guests, so we plated up everything and sent it out all at once.
The next platters were a couple of sides. One being a Smoked Eggplant Puree, Grilled Zucchini, Lima Beans, Roasted Heirloom Carrots and Cauliflower Morado.
The other side was Cavatelli with House Made Pork Sausage and Broccoli Rabe. The recipe is pretty easy, see it here.
Let's get to the delectable entree! Here we have a rack of rib chops served with Basil Gremolata and Beans grown in our own garden. Some salt, pepper and a hot grill was all we did to this exquisite pork.
This dinner felt like our own invention of a Thanksgiving holiday. A bunch of dishes passed around informally and all to celebrate our gratitude for those who worked to grow and raise what was on the table. Instead of turkeys as decor everywhere, we used pigs!
Apple pie seemed the obvious choice for our last course. It was delightful to have our friend Chef Nicole Mournian of Gejlina and winner of The Good Food Pie Contest among our guests who asked me a lot of very scientific questions about my crust. Of course we used lard from Cook Pigs and a bit of butter (I hate to cut out all the butter!). Then we made an ice cream from apple cider made in Julian. It had a very delicate spice which was lovely with the pie. I like a bit of crunch so we made an oat crumble for the plate as well and then a tangy caramel smear to hold everything in place.
I loved everything about this evening, every minute of it. Each guest was so inspiring and added a different dimension to the conversation. Krystina and Mike put so much heart in what they do, their job is so challenging yet they continue to grow and learn and be better. They are such a model to us.
Photos: Jennifer Emerling
As featured here