You may think you know farm-to-table. But do you know exactly which farm the local greens on the menu came from or how long ago they were picked? The 100-Yard Dinner gives you those answers: Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery and, most likely, earlier that day.
The 100-Yard Dinner, a collaboration this year between the farm’s owners, Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband, and chefs Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp of Sunday Dinner Club, will take place on the Champaign farm on September 9. The dinner is part of a monthly event series offered in the summer and is the only one to have sold out months in advance.
Here’s the gist: Fifty-five guests will descend on the farm and enjoy a seated dinner featuring ingredients that are sourced from—you guessed it—no further than 100 yards from the table. Exactly what that meal will entail is sort of a last-minute decision based on what’s fresh and seasonal. “It’s one of those things that’s challenging for us, but in a really good way,” Cikowski says. “Last year, we planned the menu in advance and then nature had different plans and we had to change it up at the last minute. So this year we decided to wait until we know what we’re going to get.”
That tests the chefs’ talents, which Cooperband says is part of the appeal. “It’s a challenge to produce a five-course meal with ingredients that 95 to 98 percent of which are grown on an individual farm,” she says. “There aren’t too many farms that have poultry, veggies, cheese, and fruit, and I think that diversity and the challenge that we’ve given to ourselves is probably intriguing to people.”
The chefs swear there’s no comparison between the flavor of these fresh-from-the-farm ingredients and whatever you can pick up at your local grocery. “Everything is just seeping with life and aromas and moisture and flavor you don’t find when it’s even a day old,” Kulp says.
Bringing out those flavors doesn’t take much. “We really try to manipulate our ingredients minimally,” Cikowski says. “It’s really nice to go down there like, ‘What do we have right now and how can we present it in the best way possible?’ and just let it shine.”
Here are some early bets about what the dinner will include.
Charred Seasonal Vegetables
“We always love going down there because they have an amazing huge grill,” Kulp says. “Wes will chop up wood for us, and we’ll char a bunch of veggies.”
Freshly Baked Bread
“Last year, I was super excited because Leslie grew some wheat on the farm, and we got a mill and we made focaccia from it,” Kulp says. “We’re hoping it worked out this year—sometimes you have to kind of wait to see what actually comes up—so if we have it, we’ll make bread with some freshly milled flour.”
The dinner will likely feature chicken, guinea hen, and goat meat. “We’ll use every bit,” Kulp says. “Last year, we did one dish where we made crispy chicken skin, and for another course we made chicken soup topped with bread and cheese.”
“The other thing they have that I didn’t realize I loved until I was down there is really fresh horseradish,” Kulp says. “There’s nothing quite like having Wes go out and pull out a piece of fresh horseradish from the field. It’s literally still damp and covered in dirt, but the whole room is filled with the aroma of horseradish. Last year, we served roasted tomatoes and chèvre and greens like a salad and then we just showered the whole thing with freshly grated horseradish.”
“Last year we had plans to do a really charred whole squash that we’d break open and put chèvre into,” Kulp says. “[The squash] didn’t come up, but this year Leslie’s much more optimistic that we’ll get it.” Last year’s dinner was held in October, but this year they moved it up to September to incorporate late summer vegetables like tomatoes and squash.
Prairie Fruits Farm leases part of its land to Delight Flower Farm, which grows edible flowers. “We’ll put a bunch of those flowers in a salad, so it’s not just as garnish but as nutrients,” Cikowski says.
Though farms in southeastern Wisconsin have been slammed with rain this year, Champaign has been hot and dry. Not ideal for the farm, though “the dryness has been really great for our peach crop,” Cooperband says. She’s been harvesting this year’s crop and freezing the peaches for the chefs.