Sarah Willis
Part I- 14th Annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner Weekend

This year’s 14th annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner was a unique farm-to-table event which celebrated the hard work and independent spirit of the farmers who supply humanely and sustainably raised pork for Niman Ranch.

Chefs: Jeffery Surprise, Frederic Morineau, Scott Pampuch, Jordon Barnett, Niman Ranch Executive Chef Andrew Hunter, John Villa, Tyson Grant and Charles Kassels

Six chefs, who are committed to honoring these farmers in their kitchens and restaurants around the country, and abroad, cooked a six-course meal to celebrate the farmers. The attendance at the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner has grown tremendously the first year we had fewer than100 guests and this year’s event sold out at 400 guests.

The featured chefs were selected because they have shown true leadership in their communities by raising awareness that great food starts at the farm. Each chef has shown their commitment to excellent food and their support of traditional, humane and sustainable farming practices employed by Niman Ranch farmers and others in their community. The 2012 Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner featured chefs were:

Chef Jeffery Surprise- 18 Oaks Restaurant, San Antonio, TX
Chef John Villa- TAO New York, New York City, NY
Chef Tyson Grant- Parkshore Grill, St. Petersburg, FL
Chef Charles Kassels – El Chorro Lodge, Paradise Valley, AZ
Chef Frederic Morineau- Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman
Chef Scott Pampuch – The Iron Horse Hotel, Milwaukee, WI

The chefs arrive early to prep for the dinner and visit our farm. Upon arrival Thursday evening, I took the featured chefs and a few special guests to one of my favorite local establishments and a big supporter of Niman Ranch: Django in Des Moines, Iowa. Django a brasserie-style restaurant created a special menu to celebrate sustainably sourced Iowa ingredients. We all received a warm Midwestern welcome and started the meal with a La Quercia charcuterie plate. Tasty cured meats carefully crafted with Niman Ranch pork by our good friends Herb and Kathy Eckhouse.

La Quercia charcuterie plate with Niman Ranch pork

Neil and Khanh Hamilton, joined me in hosting our out of town guests. Neil is a champion of the traditional family farmer as the head of the Drake Ag Law Department while Khanh is well-known for her many skills including gardening and catering, and together they have Sunstead Farm. Sunstead Farm is a treasure trove of some of the most fabulous organic produce mostly heirloom varieties. Django created a masterpiece, Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio featuring Sunstead Farm Tomatoes and Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Bacon- the combination was incredible.

Django, continued to impress our visitors with taste of Iowa serving a second course of Navy bean & Niman Ranch Ham Soup made with Iowa Sweet Corn, Niman Ranch Hamhock and chicharonnes.

Our guest of honor this year was Lynn Rosetto Kasper, Radio Show Host of NPR’s; The Splendid Table & cookbook author among her many accomplishments. Her rich voice was captivating even in person and sparked up some terrific dinner conversations.

Our third course was a Iowa free-range French chicken, local fingerling potatoes, baby vegetables and black truffle sauce. The final course was an excellent pear tart, but I have to confess I couldn’t finish it. I took a doggie bag home and enjoyed it twice as much.

With satisfied bellies, we all looked forward to the Willis Farm Tour and pig roast the next day.

-to be continued-


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