I love pretty much everything about Allerton, and this year's Forest to Mansion Dinner was no exception. After a pandemic pivot in 2021, where participants prepared dishes at home under the virtual guidance of Chef Ann Swanson, the event was back in person at the Allerton Mansion on Sunday. It was an evening of fresh, unique flavors and good conversation.

The evening began with a cocktail hour, featuring "beertails" made with Triptcyh beer concocted by brewer Whitney Braddock.

A clear plastic cup with a hazy orangish brown liquid sits on a wooden table. It has small dark berries resting on the bottom and floating at the top of the cup. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

The Lost Garden: Dank Meme was a hazy pale ale mixed with rhubarb simple syrup and garnished with Allerton spruce tips and local elderberries. The syrup added a subtle fruitiness to the hoppy beer, slightly tart and not too sweet.

A clear plastic cup is three quarters of the way filled with brown liquid mixed with white frothy cream. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

The Death of the Last Centaur was made with 80 Shilling Scottish ale, mixed with vanilla and Allerton sassafras simple syrup, topped off with Kilgus cream and nutmeg. This was a root beer/cream soda inspired drink, and that was exactly what it tasted like: rich, creamy, and delicious.

A long great hall with ornate ivory colored walls and three rectangular windows on the back wall. There are two rows of round tables covered in white tablecloths, and set for dinner. They have vases with white and yellow daffodils in them. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

After cocktail hour, it was on to our seven course dinner, all made with ingredients foraged from the grounds at Allerton and other local ingredients, and prepared by a group of area chefs.

A round white plate on a white tablecloth holds a small white spoon filled with brown meat, a yellow crisp, and a white and purple bloom. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

The amuse-bouche, prepared by Chef Ann Swanson of Hendrick House Farms, was beef tartar with Allerton ramps, egg yolk botarga, Allerton wild garlic mustard, and garnished with a Ropp's horseradish cheddar crisp. It was a burst of garlic flavor, and the cheese crisp complimented it well.

Two round potato croquettes on a small round white plate and white tablecloth. It is topped with yellow flakes and white and purple floral garnish. Photo by Julie McCLure.Photo by Julie McClure.

Chef Jeff Hake of Funks Grove Heritage Fruits and Grains prepared potato croquettes crusted with Funks Grove cornmeal, maple sugar, and Allerton ramp powder. It was topped with duck yolk and sat on a bed of Allerton nettles and ramps. These were a definite highlight with a satisfying creamy potato and crunchy coating contrast.

A round clear plate on a white tablecloth. It's topped with a leafy green salad and two slices of baguette on the side. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

Chef Sarah Pierson of Hendrick House at Carle at The Fields prepared a forest flora salad with pickled spring vegetables. Hiding under the greens was an Allerton mushroom duxelle that was a great topping for the Central Illinois Bakehouse baguette on the side.

A round white plate on a white tablecloth. It is topped with small tubes, one green and one cream colored. A small plant with a bulb on the end lays across them, and there greens surrounding them. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

From Chef Chris Alwes, formerly of Destihl, was a Koss Farms tilapia quenelle with Allerton ramp gnocchi, pickled ramp bulb, braised Koss butter crunch, and tilapia nage. This offered unique textures with a nice subtle fish flavoring from the nage and some contrast with the pickled ramp.

A large round white plate on a white tablecloth. There is a small stuffed piece of chicken with a brown sauce on one side and roasted mushrooms on the other. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

Chef Blake Biggs,of Epiphany Farms in Bloomington, put together our main course, chicken stuffed with Allerton wild ginger and accompanied by Allerton mushrooms, local honey sauce, and Allerton spruce oil. I'm not exaggerating when I say I could have licked my plate to get every last bit of that sauce. But I didn't, because I'm a generally civilized person.

A small clear round plate on a white tablecloth. It is topped with two dessert bars, one yellow and one brown, and they are topped with swirled white cream. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

I enjoyed every course of our dinner, but for me, the desserts stole the show. Everyone at our table had an audible and visible reaction to these meringue topped tarts from Chef Heidi Leuszler, owner of Berries and Flour. One was made with paw paw and the other from autumn berries. They were dense and rich, and that meringue on top was creamy, sweet, and heavenly.

A small white square dish sits on a grayish brown table. A round chocolate truffle, cut it half, sits on the plate. Photo by Julie McClurePhoto by Julie McClure.

The second dessert came in a to go bag — thankfully — as I did not have the capacity for any more food in that moment. These truffles from Ann Swanson made for a very happy Monday moment. The decadent chocolate with a hint of bitterness just melted in my mouth.

We are fortunate to have the beautiful Allerton mansion and grounds and so much local talent able to transform items growing nearby into unique and delicious dishes.

Allerton Mansion

Top photo by Julie McClure.