Smile Politely

Annual Allerton Forest-to-Mansion Dinner is April 29th

Each year Allerton Park hosts a Forest-to-Mansion dinner, a five-course feast featuring ingredients sourced from the Allerton forest. There’s a hike on Wednesday, April 25th from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in which attendees will learn about the foraged ingredients guests will be eating at the dinner. Dinner is on Sunday, April 29th; the two events are separate and will require separate registrations. 

Dinner will feature five dishes made by five local chefs: event organizer Ann Swanson of Hendrick House; Mark Hartstein of Watson’s; Drew Starkey of Bacaro; Adam Shallenberger of Smoked and Fired food trucks; and Heidi Leuszler of Berries & Flour.

More info is available on the Allerton Park website, and on Facebook. Our take on last year’s dinner is available here. (And one of the dishes made the Best of 2017 list, too.)

Tickets are $95 and can be purchased here

Here’s the menu, and bios of each of the five chefs:

Ann Swanson – 1st Course

Smoked Trout over Allerton Mustard Green Kimchee Consume, Grilled and Pickled Allerton Ramps and Legacy of the Land Fried Potato Noodles

I am originally from Monticello and happy to be back in the area promoting local fresh food.

My background is in culinary arts and I studied for many years under famous chefs in the southeast region of the country. Our focus was molecular gastronomy and farm to table cuisine.

I moved back to the area and started a farm for a company called Hendrick House, who provides dining and catering services to Universtiy of Illinois students, Carle and the Champaign, Urbana community. I currently have 4 acres of farmland in Champaign, Illinois where I grow produce for Hendrick House and Unit 4 school’s educational programs.

I was the recipient of a two-year SARE grant in 2017 to help facilitate educational programs for foodservice workers, youth and the community regarding the use of fresh local food in Champaign, Urbana. I currently serve on the NRCS-SARE grant committee board, reviewing future grants for 13 states in the central United States.

I participated in The Stewardship Alliance annual fundraiser last fall held in Springfield, Illinois. I also participate with The Land Connection’s annual market chef demonstrations at the Champaign Farmer’s Market. I have participated in Extension programs in the past, helping to bridge the gap between farmers and chefs, speaking at regional conferences around the state.

Nathan Beccue and I started this Forest to Mansion event back in 2014 and have held it annually since. We wanted to create awareness about local edibles that can be found seasonally in the area. This is one step closer to local than farm to table.
I am incredibly passionate about food and local food education from beginning to end/ farm to fork and am very excited to be a part of this event again this year.

Mark “Shades” Hartstein – 2nd Course

Blue Moon Farm spring greens, vegetable tops, and spruce-tip roasted beets; with nettle-cured Prairie Fruit Farm goat cheese and toasted Funk’s Grove wheat berries

Mark “Shades” Hartstein’s projects include Watson’s Shack & Rail in downtown Champaign; “Shady Dawgs,” a mobile hotdog and sausage cart; “Saru Ramen,” an infrequent ramen pop-up; “The Urbana Pickle Project,” a private larder club; and (partnered with Leslie Bettridge) “CuSP: Champaign Urbana Smørrebrød Project,” a Danish sandwich pop-up to raise funds for the Eastern Illinois Food Bank.

Drew Starkey – 3rd Course

Risotto Bianco with Allerton Morel Duxelle, Cascade Farms Egg Yolk Botarga and Allerton Chive Blossoms

Drew Starkey is the Chef/ Owner of Bacaro, which is a high-end restaurant located in downtown Champaign. Chef Drew, who has been cooking for more than 14 years, is committed and passionate about using fresh local produce and meats provided by area farmers.

Adam Shallenberger – 4th Course

Sugar Grove Roasted and Braised Pork, Allerton Ramps, Rhubarb, Sassafras Root, Allerton Japanese Knotweed topped with Allerton Red Bud Flowers

Chef Adam Shallenberger is as local as they come. Raised in central Illinois and graduating from Mahomet-Seymour High School he returned home with his culinary finesse in 2013. A Le Cordon Bleu Atlanta alum, he honed his skill working in kitchens from Savannah, GA to Fort Worth, Texas. At Ellerbe Fine Foods serving as sous chef he helped achieve the Bon Apetit award of one of the Top Ten Best New Restaurants opened in America in 2010.  Coming “home” and bringing the skills with it, he was the executive chef at 3 established local restaurants. Most recently he opened and was executive chef and General manager to V. Picasso. While there he participated in numerous charity events and even winning the Central Illinois Artisans Cup, twice. His style can be defined as southern comfort with bold flavors and unique ingredients. He transitioned from the brick and mortar grind to his brand-new food trucks, FIRED and SMOKED.

Heidi Leuszler – 5th Course

Trio of Cakes
Chocolate Apple Allerton Stinging Nettle Moss Cake with Salted Grapefruit
Strawberry Local Hazelnut Cake with Allerton Wild Parsnip Buttercream
Flourless Cara Cara and Allerton Sweet Cicely Almond Cake

I grew up the daughter of parents with wanderlust who believed that culinary experiences were among the best ways to know a place. We harvested wherever we lived; mangos in Florida, morels and mustang grapes from the back acre in Missouri, wild strawberries and holly grapes in the Colorado mountains, and chokecherries in North Dakota.  We traveled the world, dined in people’s homes and ate from hedgerows & tidepools & local markets. As we moved through a delicious world, my mother taught me to preserve seasonal bounty, and be adventurous with flavor pairings from the myriad of places I have lived and visited.

My husband and I purchased a home on 7 acres of rich loam soil, and we promptly planted native prairie , trees, and wildflowers, an orchard, berries, asparagus, and a “Midwest Hedgerow.” I now prepare seasonal dishes based on what grows in the backyard and on local farms. As a professor of ecology and botany at Parkland College and University of Illinois, I have continued to learn more about native plants, ethnobotany and agriculture. All of these experiences have helped me to become an advocate of food security based on a local food supply.

Recently, I decided to start a small bakery that is the synergy of all of these passions for me; culinary skills, ecology of native landscapes, growing of plants, foraging for wild foods, and teaching people about the plentiful Midwest land.

Photos by Jessica Hammie.


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