On the most beautiful late summer evening a couple of Sundays ago, I had the unique pleasure of attending The Spence Farm Foundation’s Harvest Feast. The Feast is a once-a-year fundraiser for The Foundation, and features tastings from Chicago and Central Illinois chefs. Proceeds from two auctions (silent and live) benefit the Foundation.

The Spence Farm Foundation’s mission “is to cultivate healthy food systems through education.” To achieve this, the Foundation works to “connect the key elements of a healthy food system — farmer, chef, food industry, healthcare providers, and food citizens — to one another, [to] support the principles and practices of sustainable production that lead to personal well being.” That’s a grand and noble cause with which I am on board. You can check some of the programs, including Chef Camp and Bread Camp here

There were probably about 300 people, many from Chicago, some who work within the food system, there to support The Foundation’s efforts to connect and educate. Some of these people had (and probably still have) the means to drop $5,000 on dinner with Rick Bayless at his Michelin-starred Topolobampo, which was one of the live auction items. That’s kind of awesome. What was more telling — and arguably more important for the cause — was the participation of, and excitement from the chefs. To hear these chefs talk about Spence Farm, The Spence Farm Foundation, and the importance of cultivating sustainable food systems was moving, and if I had a boat load of monies to spend on the live auction items, I'd have easily spent it. If you have an opportunity to attend next year’s Feast, I encourage you to do so. It was quite the experience, and, as you can probably imagine (and will soon see), the food was stunningly beautiful and friggin’ delicious, and well worth the $125 price tag. 

The collective résumé of the eleven participating chefs was impressive: James Beard nominees and awardees, Michelin (stars and bib gourmand), and Top Chef. Among that group was Champaign’s own Drew Starkey, Executive Chef at bacaro. We have nice things in this town, people! But you already know this. 

All of the food was outrageously good. Check out my photos, and scroll through the gallery for more images from the evening.

Dustin Allen | Edge, Peoria
Housemade sausage with peppers and organic oats; apple muffin

Ashlee Aubin | Wood + Salero restaurants, Chicago
Catalpa Grove lamb “harira” with tomatoes, peppers, and labna

Rick Bayless | Frontera Restaurant and Grill + Topolobampo + Xoco, Chicago
Tamal Colado, goat barbacoa [pudding style tamal filled, Kilgus Farmstead goat barbacoa, guajilla chile sauce, Spence Farm purslane-tomato salad, añejo cheese]

Chrissy Camba | Maddy’s Dumpling House, Chicago
Assortment of sweet and savory pork; cake with snickerdoodle ice cream

Jon Dubois | Green Zebra, Chicago
Chilled Red Norland potato salad, mushroom “bacon,” Shishito pepper salsa verde, Kennebec potato vichyssoise

Stephanie Izard | Girl & the Goat + Little Goat + Duck Duck Goat (opening in November), Chicago
Szechuan goat sausage skewers

Thomas Leavitt | White Oak Gourmet, Long Grove
Guajillo braised pork skewers with pepita sauce

Ken Myszka | Epiphany Farms Restaurant, Bloomington
Pork Yakitori, charred shishito peppers, smoked tomatoes, elderberry glaze roasted over homemade cherry tree charcoal

Nicole Pederson | Found Kitchen and Social House, Evanston
Melon and green harissa + sweet corn and pickled squash

Drew Starkey | bacaro, Champaign
Fried lamb mortadella, wait and see gazpacho, pea tendrils, lemon sea salt

Greg Wade | Publican Quality Meats, Chicago 
Bread selection of sourdough served with house cultured butter: a five-grain, five seed multigrain “1979” featuring Spence Farm wheat and rye grains

All photos by Jessica Hammie.