Uncommon Ground 10th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner

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!

Uncommon Ground : Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

What: 10th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner

Where: Uncommon Ground Edgewater (1401 W Devon Ave Chicago, IL 60660 / Map)

When: Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 / 6:00pm - 9:00pm

More Info: Full event details can be viewed on the ticket website, here as well as on the event page.

What Goes Into A Meal?

If you caught our special edition newsletter that went out today - you already know that we're crushin' hard on the folk's at Uncommon Ground. As we approach our 5th annual Vegetarian Harvest Feast with Uncommon Ground, we thought it would be interesting to interview their Farm Director, Allison Glovak, their Chef, Evan Rondeau, and their Master Brewer, Martin Coad about everything that goes into planning and constructing the dinner. Slow Food Chicago board member Carrie Schloss got the scoop from the UC crew - their discussion is below. We hope that you enjoy the interview and also hope you’ll be joining us for a really special evening next Wednesday (8/26). You can purchase tickets here. (Wink wink.) 

A collage of images from Uncommon Ground Devon's rooftop farm.

A collage of images from Uncommon Ground Devon's rooftop farm.

Slow Food Chicago: Can you discuss how the dinner evolved?

Co-owner, Helen Cameron: Many years ago, when I first became aware of the Slow Food Movement, I was immediately engaged as this simple idea of good, clean and fair food meshed perfectly with the way I grew up—and the way my husband and I operate our restaurants.  Once we opened Uncommon Ground on Devon and we decided to build a certified organic farm on our roof, we took the ideals of Slow Food to another level—one story up-- to produce a good measure of veggies, greens, herbs, fruit, hops & honey for use in our restaurants.  We have hosted this Slow Food event for many years now-it is the highlight of our summer- and I am extremely proud of the fact that the grand majority of ingredients in the menu that our guests share come from something we have started from seed and nurtured to maturity, with great care and effort to produce something extraordinary.  With the addition of Greenstar Brewing, the first certified organic brewery in the State of Illinois in 2014, we brought organic beer to the table as well.  We brew our beer with local grain, hops and yeast, and occasionally with ingredients from our own farm.  I don’t think you can get much Slower than that! 

Slow Food Chicago:  Could you give a little synopsis of how you plan the garden and decide what you are going to plant and how much of it?  Is it just the farmer who decides what to plant or does the chef also have input?

Farm Director Allison Glovak: Many factors go into the planning of our farm. We keep very detailed records of all our crops year to year. Through analyzing this data we can determine which crops produce the best for us in our unique growing environment, and plant them again the following year. We focus on items that have high yields, quick turnover, high value for our kitchen, and crops that cannot be sourced through our distributors. We also focus on biodiversity as part of our organic farm plan and this year we are growing 56 crops using 120 different varieties of produce!  A few among them are Slow Food Ark of Taste selections.   Beyond that, we also sit down with our chefs in early February and delve into our seed catalogs. The chefs get a lot of say into what we'll be growing, and often ask for specific crops or varieties. One of the wonderful things about having our own farm is the diverse produce we can grow ourselves that our chefs wouldn't be able to get anywhere else. 

Chef Evan Rondeau:  It all starts with the farm. Our plan starts early in the New Year. All of us gather, seed catalogs in hand, giddy with possibilities. Keeping in mind the farm’s space, crop yield and building from knowledge of the years before us, we collaboratively make a plan for the coming season. There are certain no-brainer crops, herbs, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, as well as some experimentation. As the chef, I might hope to see if, say, Piquillo peppers are worth growing. I concede to our Farm Director’s best judgement. If we have space and it seems like a good crop we will go for it. The Tokyo Turnip is probably a great example of this. Our farmer Jen was unfamiliar with them last year and the baby turnips took to our space perfectly, becoming one of our better producers.  It became a new favorite early crop for us.

Slow Food Chicago: Could you discuss how you decide what to highlight for the Harvest Feast? 

Farm Director Allison Glovak: We decide which items we will highlight for the harvest feast through collaboration with the farmer, chef, and the farm itself. The date of the feast has a lot to do with which crops will be at peak production and flavor. But, we actually put a lot of work into planning for this harvest feast before we even put the first seed into the ground. The produce for the dinner is integrated right into the farm plan from the get-go, but the actual dishes are the chef's creation!

Chef Evan Rondeau: I think the key to this question is season. As I said, certain ingredients are no brainers. Shishito Peppers, for example, are so simple to prepare, so delicious and abundant at the end of August, they have been on the harvest menu every year. Tomatoes are our main crop, and the reason that our Harvest Dinner is in late August is they are at the peak of their flavor and harvest so we can purposefully highlight how special they are in the menu. Other things are of the moment as we are developing a menu, adjusting to the reality of the harvest. The Ground Cherries went crazy this year, whereas say the long beans weren't producing much. So we keep that in mind when we develop the harvest menu.  We really try to use as many of our homegrown ingredients as we possibly can in the menu.

 Slow Food Chicago: Could you discuss how you construct the dishes - how to prepare the main ingredient, flavor profiles, etc?  Do you consciously try to highlight a number of different cooking techniques?  Or is it only about highlighting the main ingredient?

Chef Evan Rondeau:  Going into my third slow food dinner I have learned a few things in regards to developing the menu. How do we plan for a large plated meal? How can we highlight a variety of flavors? In any menu plan a mix of textures, temperatures, and tastes is the key. When we plan for over 100 guests, efficient execution of dishes becomes a factor in our choices. The cooking techniques aren't quite as important as creating a delicious finished product. All in all, we want to show respect for the ingredients and highlight the bounty of yet another beautiful growing season.

Slow Food Chicago:  Can you discuss how and when the brewer is brought into the process in terms of pairings?  Can you also discuss how the brewer utilizes the rooftop garden ingredients for the dinner?

Master Brewer, Martin Coad:  We see our organic beer as a culinary item, just as much as anything else on the menu.  When thinking about the menu for our very special Slow Food Harvest Dinner, each item is paired with the beer by considering the beer as an ingredient in the overall flavor profile.  Each beer pairing is in collaboration with Chef Evan Rondeau and me, through discussions of the particular subtle flavor profiles of our beer and ensuring they fit well with every aspect of our well-crafted food.  

When we decided to open an organic brewery, the knowledge that beer is a mostly agricultural product gave us an obvious desire to include ingredients from our own certified organic farm.  Not to mention the necessity of using organic ingredients in organic beer!  Making farm collaborative beers is something that we will always do and will be a fluid development only limited by our combined creativity.   We've designed several farm-based recipes, utilizing our own organic Cascade Hops as well as Green Coriander Seed that are seasonally used in our flagship beers.  Included in this year's Slow Food menu, we are happy to provide one of our most popular beers since our opening, our Black Currant Kölsch.  This delicious beer uses a German Kölsch as its base, which starts by providing a subtle sweetness and creaminess from the malt, and the naturally clean refreshing finish that you would expect from this German style of beer.  To this we added fresh organic black currants, grown at our Devon restaurant, to provide a wonderful combination of sweet and tart strawberry, vanilla, and currant flavors.  Pröst!

The Slow Food Chicago 5th Annual Vegetarian Harvest Dinner at Uncommon Ground will be held on Wednesday, August 26th. There will be a cocktail reception on the rooftop from 530-7pm after which guests will descend into the dining room for a 4 course vegetarian meal featuring seasonal rooftop produce paired with Greenstar Brewing beer and specialty drinks. Join us!


Vegetarian Harvest Dinner at Uncommon Ground

It's almost upon us. The Vegetarian Harvest Dinner at Uncommon Ground. If you haven't dined at Uncommon Ground's Devon Ave location - equipped with an impressive rooftop farm, you are in for a treat. Not only do you get to get up close and personal with some of the ingredients that will be going onto your plate, but the meal - all four courses of it - will be paired ever so thoughtfully with just the right spirits for you to wash it all down with. This is going to be FUN.

Uncommon Ground Hosts Slow Food Chicago's Vegetarian Harvest Dinner on August 26th.

Uncommon Ground Hosts Slow Food Chicago's Vegetarian Harvest Dinner on August 26th.

Event: Vegetarian Harvest Dinner
Date: Wednesday, August 26th, 6-9pm
Location: Uncommon Ground @ 1401 W Devon Av, Chicago, IL 60660 (map)
Details: Slow Food's annual Vegetarian Harvest dinner returns to Uncommon Ground. Enjoy apps and drinks on the rooftop farm and then descend into the dining room for a 4-course vegetarian meal with Greenstar Brewery beer pairings
More about this project: Tickets available here.