All across the nation, the locavore generation has been driving the dining experience to a whole new level. Although the seasonal and artisanal mantra rings loud at most respectable restaurants, it’s a lot more enjoyable to eat at the source — especially when that source is in the very field where your dinner was grown. Farm to fork gatherings have been bolstering the relationship between the garden and the food on our plate; celebrating the magnificence of our pastoral scene. At the same time, it has also generated great awareness regarding the importance and vitality of our own agricultural community and the delicious, wholesome and abundant bounty it provides us.

In the vein of Outstanding in the Field and Plate & Pitchfork, the Fullerton Arboretum hosted a Spring Farm Dinner right on their idyllic grounds. Arguably the first of its kind ever in Orange County (barring Adam Navidi’s aquaponic Future Food Farms, which is more aquarium odyssey than hallowed ground), resident farmer and botanist Jonathan Duffy Davis dug deep into the Arboretum’s soil to harvest his most prized specimens for the momentous occasion.


Amidst the backdrop of greenhouse, vintage Woodmanse windmill and verdant panoramas, guests congregated with a getting-to-know-you wine & appetizer set before being seated for what promised to be one of the freshest meals to graze their lips. The long and communal white linen table, so emblematic of these types of feasts — laid out pristinely with the glint of silverware and wine glass array refracting myriad tea lights and Milky Way constellation hung overhead — evoked a subtle declaration of the memorable evening about to unfold.

And what an evening it was — sustainability had never tasted so good. Davis and culinary consultant Jonathan Dye (of Williams-Sonoma) presented a 7-course beer and wine paired collaboration while the attentive, volunteer waitstaff graciously facilitated service for the three dozen adulatory patrons. As Davis exuberantly introduced each progression, he highlighted the richness of our local traditions of farming and the often forgotten value of eating organic, vibrant food cultivated by a dedicated yeoman we know and trust.


Starter Course: Heirloom Bean Pâté on Soft-Neck Garlic and Herb Crackers

Served family-style at the table to instigate more socializing, thyme adorned platefuls of golden, flecked buttery rounds piped with  a legume purée (recipe here) were shared amongst neighbors. Dainty nibbles of the savory cookie imbued with the milder soft-neck garlic alternated with quaffs of red ale supplied from nearby Anaheim Brewery.


Soup Course: Gently Poached New Potatoes with Leek Consommé and Toasted Nero di Toscana Kale

Rustic mason jars transported tender, yet firm potatoes basking in an amber bath of rich leek stock that was simmered low and long. Davis couldn’t quite recall the exact variety of the tuber, but offered humorously that the word banana figured somewhere into it. The baked Nero di Toscana kale (hailed prominently as a superfood with a perfect score 1,000 on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) with its shattering crackle quickly became everyone’s new, addictive fix.


Salad Course: Roasted Chioggia, Golden & Bull’s Blood Beets with Valencia & Blood Oranges and Crushed Walnut & Goat Cheese Fritters

The jewel colors of this radiant, mosaic dish illustrated the sensory impulse of first eating with our eyes. The gentle musk emanating from the just-picked roasted beetroots mingling with the ambrosial fragrance of the orange supremes resulted in a simple, yet divine perfumed creation. With the tangy and sharp notes of the goat cheese and the complementary complexity of the walnut crust, it easily won us over as our favorite dish of the night.


Pasta Course: Gigante Inverno Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli and Grilled Violetta Precoce Artichokes

A billowy purse of the most delicate pasta that our fork had ever fissured gave way to a melt-in-your-mouth and nutty blend of fortified heirloom greens and creamy cheese. The pointed, purple-hued artichoke bud, one of nature’s botanical ornaments, was grilled and drizzled with a silken, herb butter sauce. Davis took painstaking measures to judiciously choose each globe based on congruent size for aesthetic appeal.


Sorbet: Lemongrass and Citrus Granita 

The basic recipe for this frozen treat requires no special equipment. It is a sweetened liquid stored in the freezer in a shallow container and scraped occasionally to render its granular and slushy consistency. Served elegantly in stemware, the lemongrass and citrus granita served to cleanse our palate for the showcase of the night.


Main Course: Braised Trabuco Canyon Beef with Sauteed Heirloom Beans

Prime cuts from happy, roaming bovine raised on the pastures of Trabuco Canyon by 5 Bar Beef were braised in red wine with root vegetables and laden with sauteed “cranberry” heirloom beans. The rich, comforting centerpiece was plated so generously that we could barely budge from our seats. Chunks of glistening bacon beckoned from beneath the healthy vegetables, so we had no choice but to surrender.


Dessert Course: Strawberry and Victoria Rhubarb Crumble with Lavender Whipped Cream

Although the main course virtually did us in, there was no escaping our swan song dessert. There was no more room, but we made room. The warm strawberry-rhubarb compote was mildly honeyed and ticklishly tart. A crumble of ground and slivered almonds and a gossamer dollop of lavender whipped cream sealed our fate. Obscenely sated, we were ready to be gurnied away afterwards.

Not only was the Spring Farm Dinner an excellent, epicurean adventure, but the fundraising aspect of it strengthens the community by supporting the efforts of the non-profit arboretum.

Established in 1979, The Arb (as it is fondly called) has served this regions as a premier resource for ecological, horticultural and historical education. The largest botanical garden in Orange County and encompassing 26 lush acres, it has assembled a permanent collection of over 4,000 unique and unusual plant species from around the world. With its ponds, streams and wildlife, it offers a tranquil retreat from a fast-paced urban life.

Stay tuned for exciting news on the next thoughtfully grown and inspired Farm Dinner. For now, you can find culinary classes led by Davis, Dye and guest chefs at the Arboretum’s “Thursdays in the Kitchen” series here.

All photography: Brian Feinzimer of Feinzimer Photography

Corky Nepomuceno

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