The Artisan Cup & Fork, a fundraiser for the Land Connection was held on October 23rd at the City Center in Champaign. One mission of the Land Connection is to inform the community about the origins of their food and to educate them on why that is important. The Artisan Cup & Fork supported that goal. Local protein farmers, as well as specialty farmers who produce on a smaller scale gave the "Artisan" to the title. Two farmers were paired with one chef and a local brewery in a blind date style of choice: names were drawn from a hat and the teams were made. This facilitated the development of new relationships. Small plates of each dish and a beer pairing from each competing team were served throughout the night giving attendees a chance to nibble and mingle with fascinating people involved in growing, preparing, or supporting our food and beverage community. 

An hour before the event began, VIP ticket holders could go upstairs and grab free beer and cocktails as well as mingle with the farmers and watch the chefs prepare. There was also a cheese table from Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, and Marcoot Jersey Creamery with bread by Pekara. I had a wonderful cranberry walnut bread with fresh gouda from Ludwig Farmsstead. The Kickapoo is a northern Italian style semi hard cheese with a hint of pineapple. The Vermillion River Blue is a surprising treat, a triple cream blue cheese with just a hint of blue, and makes it a good beginners' cheese. It will convert even the most opposed to the traditional strength of blue cheese.

 

Chefarmer Stu Hummel from Epiphany Farms gave us a Moroccan spiced local moussaka to match the truly astounding ventures of the farms. Moussaka is traditionally an eggplant dish containing lamb and béchamel sauce. Hummel built a Napoleon style tower of Bedinger Farm’s ground lamb shoulder, jeju radish, pasteurized pork shoulder, hakurei turnip, custard of goat’s milk chevre from Prairie Fruits Farms. So many layers, so many garnishes. It was a delightful treat. Don’t know what a Chefarmer is? Check out Epiphany's Ted Talk, it will be well worth your time.

Chef Adam Shallenberger from V. Picasso partnered with White Oak Brewing, August Creek Farm, and Sugar Grove Family Farm and served pork belly with Amish butter, braised mustard greens, hen of the woods mushrooms, pork rind, and micro greens. Topped with Moody’s jalapeno jam and dehydrated cherry tomatoes. The jam balanced well with the vinegar of the mustard greens. The dish was served on proper plates from the restaurant (not disposable). Their table had not only the best presentation of the night but was also the winner of the 2016 Artisan Cup & Fork.

Chef Drew Starkey from Bacaro partnered with PrairiErth Farm, Burning Oak Farm, and Scratch Brewing from downstate Illinois. They presented a seared chicken galantine with shaved fall vegetables and a mustard vinaigrette. One person in my group commented that this might be the most technically difficult dish at the competition. An overly simple explanation of how to make a galantine is to first debone a chicken. Then taking the meat of the chicken combine with other ingredients to make a pate, also known as a forcemeat. Then the forcemeat is placed into the skin of the chicken before being cooked. With even my simple, explanation is long, you know this dish took a lot of work.

Chef Jordan Coffey from American Harvest Eatery in Springfield partnered with JT Walkers, Meyer Produce, and Kilgus Farmstead. They presented the dish that won the People’s Choice Award: sweet potato gnocchi with milk braised pork ragu, lacinato kale, pickled apple, and housemade farmer's cheese. I thought it was delicious and the people agreed. Perhaps it was the perfect texture of the gnocchi; everything truly worked to together in a dish that kept me busy eating and out of the conversation for a little while.

Chef Ryan Lewis from Driftwood (also from Springfield) partnered with Blue Moon Farm, Bane Family Meats, and Apple Knocker Cider. They presented us a with a deli style tasso ham and pastramied beef tongue with butternut squash mousse and a spicy kohlrabi-turnip slaw. The meats were very good, but I enjoyed the smooth sweetness of the mousse and the wonderful crunch of the slaw. The kohlrabi and turnip were cut into bite-sized slices rather than shredded as the word slaw normally implies.

Chef John Redden and his wife from Taproot in Decatur partnered with Jones Country Garden, Cypress Grove Farm, and Triptych Brewing. They gave us sirloin steak pinwheels with hickory smoked fingerling potatoes, celery root puree, roasted Brussels sprouts and baby carrots in a red wine and beef reduction sauce. The hickory smoke gave the baby fingerlings a very pleasant flavor, the celery root puree gave a fresh alternative to heavy mashed potatoes, and the baby Brussel sprouts were fall vegetable made in heaven. Next time I'm in Decatur, I'll be looking forward to eating there.

Chef Scott Bachman from College Chefs partnered with Brackett Farm, Triple S Farms, and Rolling Meadow Brewery. They presented beer braised pork shank and beer braised pork belly served with butternut squash emulsion, mustard greens, pickled Japanese turnips and Korean radishes with an apple cider caviar...and yes it tasted like apples and looked like caviar. Don’t ask me how he did it.

Guest chefs Ann Swanson and Alisa Demarco from Hendrick House partnered with Triple S Farms and Legacy of the Land. They presented a dish but did not compete in the competition, which I think was a shame. They served pork tacos with kale tortillas topped with picked squash, carrots radishes, cilantro and goat cheese. The dish was fun, easy to handle, and unique. Had this dish been part of the competition, it would have made a strong contender for the People’s Choice Award.

Sugar by Sarah provided dessert. Scrumptious little cupcakes that even if you are watching your weight you could not pass up and not feel too guilty — pumpkin cupcakes with spiced cream cheese frosting and a wedge of carrot pecan macaroon on top. One bite finished off the meal but truthfully I really wanted more. Sarah enjoyed being part of the event and said, “There is so much talent in this room. It is astonishing!”

For my group's vote, Big Thorn Brewery had the best beer in the house: a ginger brown ale. This husband and wife duo have a farm and a brewery, all run completely off grid. Solar power pumps run the water for the house, farm, and brewery. They have just started beer distribution throughout the area and it is reportedly going well. They are very happy with the reception. So will the brewery be open to the public soon? We can hope.

At the end of dining, a live demonstration of butchering a whole hog took place. Everything from the snout to the tail! Triple S Farms donated the hog for the demonstration and Josh Boyd, a former chef and butcher shop owner in Urbana preformed the demonstration in a time test. He would give his butchers at the shop two hours to butcher a whole hog, but here he had only 45 minutes to complete the job and describe his actions. At the end, the goal is to have the whole head, Boston butt, picnic ham, bone in and boneless pork chops, pork belly, and two hams (one per leg).

The Land Connection believes that community is built around the table. I most heartily agree. I met new people and had wonderful conversations. As for the literal table, there was even a silent auction for an amazing butcher table, donated by Johns Boos in Effingham, with stainless steel and 1.5-inch-thick maple top. Eight people comfortably sat around it. I would like to say congratulations to Chef Shallenberger with August Creek Farm, Sugar Grove Farm, and White Oak Brewing for an amazing dish and pairing as well as all the other teams who gave us a piece of their passion, dedication, and life’s work on a plate.

All photos by Catherine Wiesener