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Dinner Party Challenge: Farm Fresh

Dinner Party Challenge: Farm Fresh
October 2009
McCrady’s chef Sean Brock welcomes friends to a down-home dinner at Thornhill Farm

Ask chef Sean Brock to entertain, and you can count on a farm-to-fork experience. Raising pigs and vegetables on Wadmalaw Island, Sean has turned locavore dining into a reality at McCrady’s, fashioning fresh menus from seasonal crops. And recently, he put down roots at Thornhill Farm in McClellanville, working with Our Local Foods director Maria Baldwin to add pigs, pastured beef, and a seed-saving heritage garden to her chickens and organic veggies.

On an ideal fall afternoon, Sean invited friends to Thornhill for an old-fashioned country supper. “When I go out to the farm, I succumb to its rural tempo,” he says. “I want my guests to have a relaxed evening, so my menu is unpretentious and just as easy for someone else to recreate in their backyard.”

The Challenge

Chef: Sean Brock, McCrady’s
Goal: Prepare a four-course supper that celebrates the Lowcountry’s autumn bounty
Number of guests: 8
Per Person Budget: $20
Menu: 1. Carolina rice middlins with brown butter crumble and squash 2. Lettuces with balsamic roasted pears, goat cheese, and pecan vinaigrette 3. Pork roast with Sea Island red peas, greens, and onion purée 4. Pumpkin bread pudding and bourbon ice cream

First Course

“Carolina Gold rice can be traced back to colonial Charleston,” explains Sean. “It very nearly became extinct, but Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills has dedicated his work to reviving this incredible grain.” Rice middlins, or grits, are the small pieces that come from rice grains broken during milling, and it’s important to cook them with great care. “Extra starch is released because the delicate pieces react like risotto rice,” Sean says, “so middlins are prepared by a similar process. Just don’t leave the stove while they’re cooking.”

The Shopping List

  • Yellow onion $1.00
  • Rice grits $5.95
  • White wine $8.99
  • Filtered water $0.89
  • Unsalted butter $2.59
  • Lemon $0.43
  • Parmesan .13 lbs. @ $15.99/lb. $2.08
  • Parsley $0.99
  • Tarragon $1.99
  • Mushrooms 2 lbs. @ $4.99/lb. $9.98
  • Thyme $1.99
  • Squash 3 lbs. @ $1.79/lb. $5.37
  • Anise $5.39
  • Milk powder $4.39

Final Cost: $51.90

From the Pantry

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Canola oil
  • Cinnamon stick

see all recipes below...

Second course

The chef-farmer likes to use a variety of lettuces in this perfect-for-fall salad and suggests shopping for them at a farmers market. “There are more locally raised and just-picked options,” Sean advises. He also notes that any type of pear will do, just select whatever is fragrant and ripe. “Growing food has changed my life,” he says. “It makes me think about how to highlight the flavors. Let the lettuce be the lettuce, the pears be the pears.”

The Shopping List

  • Lettuces $6.79
  • Heavy cream 1 pint $2.39
  • Pecans $2.59
  • Goat cheese $3.99
  • Pears 2.25 lbs. @ $2.49/lb. $5.60

Final Cost: $21.36

From the Pantry

  • Red wine & balsamic vinegars
  • Honey
  • Kosher salt & black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sugar
  • Canola oil

see all recipes below...

Third Course

“I didn’t have time to wrangle one of my pigs this week,” Sean laughs, “so we’re having Caw Caw Creek Farms pastured pork.” The red peas are of African origin, “another heirloom crop that Anson Mills is bringing back into our cuisine,” he notes. “According to Roberts, they ‘informed early versions of the dish we know as Hoppin’ John in Coastal Carolina.’ I like this combination of pork, greens, peas, and onion purée for its textural contrasts, and I cook each simply to showcase its flavor.”

The Shopping List

  • Pork butt 6 lbs. @ $3.99/lb. $23.94
  • Vidalia onions $1.80
  • Stock 2 qts. @ $2.59/qt. $5.18
  • Red peas $5.95
  • Yellow onion $1.00
  • Carrots $0.89
  • Celery $1.49
  • Garlic bulb $1.00
  • Greens $2.59
  • Shallot $0.65
  • Red pepper flakes $1.89
  • Lemon $0.43

Final Cost: $46.81

From the Pantry

  • Brown sugar
  • Kosher salt & black pepper
  • Paprika
  • Dijon mustard
  • Unsalted butter (left over from first course)
  • Heavy cream (left over from second course)
  • Bay leaf
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

see all recipes below...

Fourth Course

“I grew up making pies from fresh pumpkin,” says Sean. When shopping for a cooking pumpkin at the farmers market, he advises chatting with purveyors about their favorite varieties. “They probably chose the kind they grow because they enjoy eating it.” He also warns to avoid pumpkins that look perfect for jack-o’-lantern carving: “The best-tasting ones are often the ugliest!”

The Shopping List

  • Croissants $3.89
  • Half-and-half $1.29
  • Eggs 2 doz. @ $1.49/doz. $2.98
  • Pumpkin pie spice $3.49
  • Walnuts $2.29
  • Pumpkin $3.00
  • Maple syrup $6.59
  • Milk $1.99
  • Heavy cream 1 quart $3.99 (plus more left over from second course)
  • Bourbon $7.95

Final Cost: $37.46

From the Pantry

  • White & brown sugars
  • Unsalted butter (left over from first course)
  • Vanilla

see all recipes below...

The Results: Challenge Met!

McCrady’s chef and Thornhill farmer Sean
Brock successfully dished up a down-home four-course dinner on a budget of $160.
Amount Spent: $157.53