It didn’t take place at a restaurant, so it didn’t make my Top 25 List, but it was pure magic nevertheless. Perhaps it was all the more sweet because it took place at my home, but I suspect a meal like this would have been just as sweet wherever it occurred. It combined primo product, super people, live fire and a spontaneous onslaught of off-the-cuff cooking, winning wines and marvelous mixology after what had already proved to be a wonderful weekend of food, drink, cooking and touring the farms and lakes of northeastern New York. Oh, and it involved a Michelin two-star chef (should be three IMO), his chef de cuisine and their restaurant’s resident botanist.
Chef Matt Lightner of Atera had been looking to recharge some batteries and gain some inspiration at some farms in the area and he asked for my advice. What resulted was one of the most remarkable and memorable few days of my life. Chef Lightner arrived on a mid-Sunday afternoon in June along with his talented Chef de Cuisine Jaime Young and Ian Rothman, the botanist in charge of Atera’s indoor farm and more. They settled in and that night we had an extraordinary dinner cooked at my home that featured sensational grilled Fourchu lobsters from Nova Scotia and black bass. Along with some kickass wine, cocktails, and desserts made by my talented wife, it was a great night.
The next day was bright and sunny. I hightailed it it over to my brother’s place in nearby Cambridge, NY to meet up with Matt, Jaime and Ian, who had all spent the night at the former country inn. We soon hit the road to stop in at one of my favorite area farms, Jody and Luisa Somers’ Dancing Ewe Farm. There, we toured the cheese-making facility and paid a visit to the sheep before we enjoyed a wonderful lunch of farmstead cheese, meat and pasta.
At that point it was starting to get a little late in the day, leaving us just enough time to take spin on Lake George in our boat. With some sun, mountains and refreshing lake water for swimming and skiing, everyone was quickly rejuvenated.
We returned to my home once again, where we were joined by my brother, his son and his grand-son as well as two of my three sons and my youngest’s best friend. Unfortunately, my wife had a prior commitment and was unable to stay for the dinner.
I fired up the Big Green Egg with some all-natural hardwood charcoal and some sweetfern, a gastronomically useful shrub, identified on my property by Ian and Jaime. I had previously thought naught but just another weed.
Matt and Jaime went to work on the food prep, while Ian and I started making cocktails. I had defrosted a beef heart from my friends at Mack Brook Farm. Their Angus cows are entirely grass-fed and the meat is full-flavored, nicely marbled and outstanding. Matt seasoned and grilled the heart on the Egg with sweetfern along with a side of shiitakes.
As nightfall descended upon the grill, the magic started happening. Lightner took the heart and the mushrooms off the grill and started slicing the cardiac muscle.
With so many ravenous males, we couldn’t resist and started eating the rich, tender meat as it was sliced, sometimes pairing it with vinegar laced mushrooms and sometimes not. Either way, the heart was pure in its deliciousness. This was but the start.
I had some Mack Brook grassfed ribeyes ready for the grill and the Atera crew had brought whole Santa Barbara spot prawns along with the lobster and bass from the night before. Young seasoned the ribeyes and the prawns with Lightner doing the grilling in the dark aided by flashlights and iPhones. With the edge of our appetites satisfied by the frenzy on the heart, we were able to wait for Lightner’s chef’s vision to come to fruition. The steaks were grilled alongside the prawns on the hot grate. The steaks had been cooking first and removed to a platter to rest.
Once done, Lightner transferred the prawns to the platter holding the steaks. He did not simply set the prawns to the side, however. Rather, he placed them on top of the steaks, allowing the prawn’s precious juices to mingle and coalesce with those from the steaks. The resulting sauce was simply other-worldly.
A meal like this one was shaping up to be, called for some serious juice to lubricate it and I descended into my cellar to roust a couple of gems – a 1995 Penfold’s Grange and a 1997 Gaja Barbaresco. Both drank superbly and were ideal accompaniments to our exercise in Paleo dieting.
Once again, as the meat was sliced, the base animal instincts of the all-masculine crew were simply too great to be restrained, and we all descended upon the earthen and maritime flesh that had so wonderfully been placed at our disposal. It is difficult to describe the pure pleasure of the primal passions aroused by the smells, flavors, textures and sheer camaraderie of this fabulous feast, but we were all struck by the gustatory ecstasy of this essentially unplanned event. We all felt and were indeed absolutely fortunate to have been able to take part in such special evening that highlighted an extraordinarily fun and delicious couple of days. Indeed, it was an evening that none of us from 11 years old to seventy are likely to ever forget.