Monday, August 04, 2008

A Summer Supper: Chef Eley and The Goose

It couldn't have been more perfect. Sunday afternoon, more than 40 people trekked out to Good Life Farms, a vegetable and flower grower near Eminence, Indiana, about 30 miles southwest of Indianapolis. It was a showing of some of the best Indiana has to offer in the summer. Chef Christopher Eley of Goose, the Market and his team put together a country feast with a who's who of central Indiana producers. And feast we did. From the fresh Viking lamb to the array of vegetables, Eley showed everyone that he's truly one of the best chefs in the city -- even if he's not serving customers in a restaurant each night. Not that the Batali isn't great, but it's a superb understatement of Eley's true talents.

As we toured the farm, I couldn't help but keep a watchful eye on the chef and his team as many components of dinner graced the grills. One would think that cooking from a tent with charcoal for such a large group would limit a chef's ability to execute, but Eley and his staff handled it all with cool aplomb. Serving the long outdoor table family style was the perfect way to go. And, honestly, with the quality of the food, I'd have lapped it out of a bowl on the ground.

No dinner with Eley would be complete without his signature cured meats. Our first course was -- no surprise -- a regional ham tasting featuring Iowa's acorn-fed La Quercia culatello (an American prosciutto), the Newsom weather-cured country ham from Kentucky, Benton's country ham from Tennessee, and Chris' own Lomo. All were delicious with the salt and sweetness in the direct sunny heat paired with small tastes of cantaloupe, watermelon, plum, and tomatoes. With New Day Meadery's dry hard cider, ahh, so refreshing.

Next came a shared-course of flavorful roasted eggplant puree with grilled squash blossoms, garlic, lemon, and white anchovies, a salad of field greens with smoked pork tongue, blueberries, and marcona almonds, plus a meaty rabbit terrine topped with a blackberry mostarda/sauce with watermelon rind pickles for that great zing. Too many of us become used to bland, slimy eggplant, but this was sublime -- so flavorful and even a a bit salty, perfect for the heat. The salad greens were courtesy of our host, Darin, who even in late summer is growing his popular six-variety lettuce blend. This course also paired with New Day's dry plum new mead -- a unique take on dry fruit wines with sweetness added using Indiana honey.

Headlining were a fresh Viking lamb that had been cooking in a smoker box all afternoon along with a duck, squash, and apple sausage grilled on top. And while the meats were fantastic, the vegetables were the real star of the show. A simple sliced zucchini with salt, pepper, olive oil, basil, and toasted pine nuts, crispy new potatoes with herbs, cauliflower with leeks and cuitalacocohe, grilled whole carrots "blistered" with tarragon, a rich polenta with Swiss Connection's Parm-like Pazia and oyster mushrooms, and a creamy, cold sweet corn panna cotta with a carmel, buttery top, all served with New Day's dry blueberry mead -- a tiny, sweet, dark flavor to compliment the bright freshness.

As if we needed more, we ended with Indiana sugar cream pie, a sweet cream filling with a nutty, Bourbon crust and macerated peaches on top, all served with a cold Triple de Ripple Belgian ale from Brugge Brewery and introduced by brewer Ted Miller. (And poured in Indiana Brewers Guild glasses to take home.)

Eley isn't an amateur at this. In his past restaurant lives, I'd wager that he's had to pull off more complex dinners for more people or even more exacting diners. But given the venue, the heat, the number of people, and that the Goose has been his primary focus for the past couple of years, one would have forgiven a mis-step or two. Wonderfully, there was nothing to forgive, and Eley proved what many of us suspected, that he's one of Indianapolis' top culinary talents. Quite simply, Chef Eley has ensured we will all remember his debut dinner. Better yet, he's left us hoping for more to come.

These Farm-to-Table dinners are benefits for Slow Food Indy and the chefs and delegates attending the Terra Madre conference. Many of our state's top independent producers donated time and product including Good Life Farms, Stouts Melody Acres, Homestead Growers, New Day Meadery, Brugge Brewery, Viking Lamb, Gunthrop Farms, Swiss Connection, Fischer Farms, and Crossroad Vintners.

Pictures at Flickr.


BAS said...

I was hoping to meet you yesterday evening & tell you how much I enjoy your blog, but we must have been @ opposite ends of the table! Regardless, what a wonderful evening. I think you captured some of my thoughts as well about Chef Eley ... it was a pretty impressive performance! I have some pictures up here if you're so inclined ...

braingirl said...

So sorry I missed you! Thanks for reading and your pics are great!

Kevin said...

I would just like to enthusiastically 2nd Braingirl's great synopsis of the fine event that Chris and The Goose family put on Sunday! That includes the fine folks at New Day Meadery, Good Life Farms, Viking Lamb, Brugge's, and the support staff of The Goose.

It was quite simply a wonderful event. The food was unbelievable, the drink was a terrific suprise, and the new folks we met made it a great evening in a wonderful setting.

And I agree with Braingirl on this as well...Chris needs to be doing this on a more frequent basis! While enjoying his fine skills behind the counter at The Goose is always great, experiencing the full range of his talents was a wonderful confirmation of what anybody that's been to The Goose already knew!