On Thursday, July 21, attendees to the Sixth Annual From Field to Fork Fundraising Dinner came out to support one of the worthiest causes in the area. House Farm Workers! (HFW) is the nonprofit organization that put on the event, whose proceeds will support safe, decent and affordable housing for Ventura County farmworkers. Organizers and sponsors (which included Ellen Brokaw and John Krist, both members of the HFW board; Chef Tim Kilcoyne, who coordinated all the chefs and contributed to the meal; and numerous farms and ranches throughout the county) exceeded the mark, providing exceptional food in a jovial atmosphere.
Dinner was served at the picturesque Walnut Grove at Tierra Rejada Ranch in Moorpark. With a handsomely landscaped patio surrounded by dozens of walnut trees and manicured grounds, it was a cool and shady respite on a hot summer night, and the definition of rustic elegance. Beer from Enegren and wine from Four Brix (the 2011 petit Syrah) and Waterloo Cellars (“The Opulence” albariño) along with jugs of ice water garnished with orange slices kept guests refreshed.
Appetizers were suitably sophisticated. First up: roasted vegetable tamales, prepared by Ernie Borjas of Waterfront Catering using Rio Gozo Farm produce and served with mole, a lighter but no less delicious version of the Mexican classic. Also on offer was an herbed green onion pancake with garden vegetable relish, made by Kai Krupa of King and King Ranch using almost exclusively ingredients grown on the ranch: Lamb Hass avocados, tomatillos, a variety of chiles and cucumbers and more. I was impressed by the creative uses of all the fresh summer produce in season, which went way beyond a ratatouille or simple salad.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a good salad. The red-leaf lettuce, shaved squash and charred shallot version served to guests was lovely, a wonderful way to get the more substantial portion of the meal on its feet. But even better was the heirloom tomato salad, which had a smoked tomato vinaigrette so good we were sopping up the platter with hunks of bread. If Chef John Paolone of Cafe Firenze cares to share the recipe, I’m all ears.
The second course was a hearty roast pork, prepared by Kilcoyne himself with roasted corn, cabbage and nectarines. Just this side of rare, it was tender and rich with a hint of sweetness enhanced by the stone fruit and corn. The side dish that came with it — another Paolone creation — was a work of art: roasted Blue Lake and yellow wax beans served with spiced almonds and decorated with edible flowers. It was so pretty, I almost didn’t want to eat it. My hunger overcame my reluctance, allowing me to enjoy the tender-crisp beans in their savory anchovy vinaigrette.
Rounding out the meal was a delicious dessert: a fruit crostata, showcasing a wonderful selection of ripe summer fruits. I’m not sure what all went into it — plums for sure; picked up some berry flavors too — but it was a knockout. A thick, almond-flavored crust (almost cookielike) was busted up and served on top of the bright, berry-colored filling, making for a somewhat deconstructed cobbler. Not particularly tidy, but it kept the crust in perfect, crisp form that contrasted against the soft fruits beautifully. Every bite was a delight, full of tangy sweetness and the very essence of summer. My compliments to pastry chef Anastashia Chavez.
The meal was punctuated by highlights of HFW’s endeavors: scholarships awarded to the children of farmworkers, a screening of the film From Harvest to Home, and a rollicking auction that included Limoncello sets and boxes of produce. But the real star of the show was the food itself, all made from farm-fresh ingredients. From Field to Fork is a delicious reminder that the food on your plate gets there thanks to the efforts of some 23,000 employees of local farms and ranches; and the important work HFW does to support these people — truly the backbone of the agricultural industry — is well worth endorsing. And thanks to the sponsors, growers and chefs who donate their time, products and talents, this farm-focused philanthropy is as flavorful as it is valuable. Be sure to check out the featured chefs at their regular businesses; they are at the top of their field.