Group slows down  to enjoy local flavor

The idea started out as a brunch, with a menu including bacon, served in a field full of piglets. Slow Food Baton Rouge’s signature event, Dinner in the Field, has since matured to a multicourse gourmet dinner featuring local meat, dairy and produce, served in an elegant setting at Oakland Plantation in Gurley.

Slow Food is a moniker easily misunderstood. The Baton Rouge chapter says it isn’t demanding that each dish take days and days of preparation. All they want is a mutual appreciation between farmers and consumers, and a better appreciation of what south Louisiana has to offer.

“We’re very fortunate where we are” local chef Fred Heurtin said. “We’re trying to reawaken flavor.”

A lot of that flavor will be on display Sunday, March 18. Last year’s dinner was set in the strikingly beautiful old kitchen, lit by candles. Oakland Organics provided salad greens, which were served with Belle É corce goat cheese, roast beets, preserved kumquats and citrus vinaigrette. Bocage Honey glazed root vegetables accompanied Hollywood Livestock’s roast beef loin and Cajun roast couchon de lait. Latte et Miele contributed a dessert of gelato.

This year’s menu, as it depends on what will be available, is still in flux. It will be prepared by Fred Heurtin; Jason Roland, of Heirloom Cuisine; Jaime Hernandez, of Juban’s; Eric Arceneaux, of City Club; Luca Di Martino, of Latte et Miele; and Maureen Joyce, of MJ’s Cafe.

The group hopes that, through events like the dinner, people will respect local food and farmers, and will strive to cook and eat more meals prepared from local ingredients when possible.

“We’re not talking every meal every day,” Slow Food board member Carl Motsenbocker said. “One meal a week, maybe.”

Motsenbocker is eager to point out that south Louisiana’s climate is home to a wide variety of foods and that growing seasons may be longer than in other areas. An example, he said, are chickens. Laying hens in cooler parts of the country have cut back on eggs because of the stress colder weather brings. Balmy Louisiana, however, barely sees a drop in production.

People can begin by asking grocery produce managers and restaurant waiters where the food comes from. Where there is demand, Paige Heurtin says, there will be supply.

“If people start asking for these things,” she said, “If they start saying they want a tomato from Baton Rouge, (the stores and restaurants) will start looking for local suppliers.”

Farmers markets, roadside stands and locally owned grocery stores are great places to start looking for local products, Motsenbocker said.

He also points out that local food lasts longer because it doesn’t have to be shipped as far and may be more nutritious to boot.

Slow Food Baton Rouge’s growth, pardon the pun, has been organic, mostly through word of mouth and social media. The dinner, which Paige Heurtin calls a “celebration of local,” is their signature event. This year, they plan on 80 attendees, who will pay $125 per plate for their local feast.

The proceeds of the dinner will go toward the volunteer-run organization’s educational plans, which are in the formative stages. Cheryl Motsenbocker said the group would like to do more with schools, where eating habits start.

Slow Food Baton Rouge supports several community gardens through the Baton Rouge Garden Alliance. They also hold events like the free Farm Tour, which will precede the Dinner in the Field, and film screenings.

The group produces a local food guide of restaurants, food artisans and farmers markets, which is available on its website. Fred Heurtin said the general idea is to serve as a conduit between farmers and consumers.

“A lot of people have lost contact with what they eat,” he said. “We’re trying to reawaken the flavor.”