It's hard to believe our annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner that we co-host with Snail of Approval restaurant Uncommon Ground will have officially been occurring for a decade after next week's iteration. We're one week out from one of our favorite affairs of the summer - one that celebrates fresh, veggie centered ingredients, most of which were grown on the rooftop farm of Uncommon Ground's Devon Ave location (it doesn't get much closer to farm-to-fork than that)! To recognize 10 years of this delicious event (and to entice you to purchase a ticket and join us, if you haven't already) - we asked Michael and Helen Cameron, Uncommon Ground's owners, what guests can expect at this year's event. We hope you'll join us! This dinner historically sells out - so you'll want to jump on tickets sooner rather than later!
What are you most excited about for this year’s dinner?
Every year, we're extremely excited & thankful for the opportunity to grow such beautiful, organic crops that we can share with our guests.
What’s your favorite part of the meal?
The rooftop farm cocktail reception where everyone can enjoy the organic roof top farm & see how we grow all of the delicious food that they are about to eat during the dinner downstairs in the restaurant.
What is the first step in pairing a beer (or cocktail) with a dish?
The first step is always determining what produce we have available & how we want to combine those items into a dish. Once that is established, we look at the beer or cocktail pairing & choose the most appropriate item to match the dish. For example, the rooftop farm heirloom tomato & scallion shortcake with white cheddar ale whip is paired with our "Curselifter" summer blonde ale as we are using that beer in the actual dish & that bridges the taste profile between beer & food.
What can guests expect at the 10th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner that’s unique from dinners of years past?
Every season, we develop a completely different menu. Menu dishes are built based on the summer harvest of organic veggies that we have been planning since the beginning of the year.
Is there a particular ingredient that you haven’t grown before (or a different variety) that is featured on this year’s menu that you’re most excited about highlighting?
Yes, a few of the newer items that we have added to our crop rotation are leeks, which are featured in the leek & garlic fritters, parsnips which will be parsnip chips in the smoked carrot & wheat berry salad & scallions that will be in the scallion shortcake.
The second course features rooftop grown heirloom tomatoes. We have an heirloom seedling sale every spring - we’d love to hear what varieties you are growing/featuring on the menu?
Tomatoes were the inspiration for the farm & generally our highest valued crop. This year we are growing 2 varieties in the Slow Food Ark of Taste, Aunt Ruby's German Green & German Pink tomatoes, along with several varieties of heirlooms & a few hybrids. We always make sure that one of the dishes in the harvest dinner features all of the varieties that we have available.
Grain salads seem to be gaining popularity this summer. How did you come up with the wheat berry salad in the first course?
We feature a "greens & grains salad" on our menu year round. This particular grain salad was inspired by the Green City Market that recently started at Wrigley Field, just one block from our Lakeview location's front door. The organic wheat berries are coming from Brian Severson's farm in Dwight, IL.
What inspired the flavors and how does it differ from other grain salads you may have had?
We have a gorgeous crop of carrots & decided to slightly smoke them to present them in a sort of BBQ flavor profile as to highlight the carrots as the main focus of the dish.
As a Snail of Approval restaurant, we know you take special care in sourcing ingredients that you can’t grow and/or produce yourself. How do you ensure that items like dairy (huckleberry goat cheese in the 1st course, white cheddar ale whip in the 2nd course, etc) are sourced sustainably, humanely as well as locally?
We are very proud to have been the recipient of the 1st Chicago Snail of Approval & take great pride in sourcing ingredients that align with our shared slow food vision. The huckleberry blue goat cheese comes from Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Champaign, IL made by Leslie Cooperband, an award winning local cheese maker & very active in the farm to table movement.
In that same vein, how does Uncommon Ground (at this dinner in particular as well as during regular operating hours) ensure that you are reflecting the Slow Food tenents of good, clean and fair?
Basically, we use the ideals of good, clean & fair as a filter when purchasing food & beverage and ultimately any products that we use for the restaurant.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s dinner?
This dinner, to us, is the highlight of the year. It is the culmination of many months of planning & executing to deliver this meal to everyone that comes. The greatest joy is sharing the entire experience - - each dish is an integral part of the whole.
Do you have a favorite dish from this year’s menu that you are most anticipating guests tasting?
That's like asking if we have a favorite child. ;) Each menu item has it's own personality that we highlight & it's part of a symphony of flavors that we have grown to share with everyone.
Interested in learning more about Uncommon Ground and the 10th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner? All the details are below!
When: Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 / 6:00pm - 9:00pm