Before guests can drink and dine, toast and taste, before the bartender and chef can demonstrate their skill, before the Paris of the Plains Dinner at The Farmhouse could take place on Tuesday night, August 21, 2012 to highlight a five-course pairing of cocktails and food, local ingredients were gathered and readied.
The Farmhouse was an ideal setting for this cocktail dinner pairing where locally-sourced ingredients, presentation, and technique were celebrated. Throughout the night, owner and Chef Michael Foust demonstrated his dedication to farm-to-table cuisine, sourcing meat and produce from Crum’s Heirlooms, Good Acre Farms, Wood Mood Garden, Rare Hare Barns, Windhaven Farm, and Green Dirt Farm. Equally so, Vera-Felicie took care to prepare and assemble an array of fresh ingredients, shrubs, syrups, bitters, and other handcrafted elements of the bartender’s trade.
To begin the evening, Vera-Felicie poured half glasses of Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé for guests. Bubbles escalated without a care up the champagne flute bearing pale pink Rosé from Alsace, France.
Next, Vera-Felicie and his assistants Katie Garcia and Elizabeth Bohannan prepared a Summer Shooter using a peach honey shrub. Shrubs are a syrup made from fruit, sugar, and vinegar that add fruit flavor and tempers acidity with sweetness in a drink. [KC Star cocktail and spirits writer Anne Brockhoff writes in-depth about Vera-Felicie and shrubs here.] This shrub was blended with zucca, an Italian aperitif that adds complex flavor from rhubarb, and smoked sea salt for a finishing touch.
“The decision to add the zucca was last minute. The shrub was on the stove when I poured it in,” says Vera-Felicie. “It was somewhere between gut instinct and eureka moment. The bitterness of the rhubarb Amaro really balanced the tartness of the shrub and the sweetness of the peaches.”
The Summer Shooter was served with an amuse bouche of bourbon-infused chicharron topped with peach mustarda and caviar.
Back in the kitchen, Foust and his sous chefs Ken Booth and Quinn Polsinelli assembled plates for the second course. Polsinelli sported an olive cap and black chef’s jacket. His counterpart Booth worked in Portland for years before coming to Kansas City. A tattoo with yellow flower petals on his neck peeked from beneath the collar of his white chef’s jacket.
The trio in the kitchen set a small mound of melon and cucumber sunamano salad topped with Dungeness crab, grapefruit, and a graceful crescent of whole pink prawn poached in ginger. These fruits of the sea with fresh summer flavors appeared to wash delicately ashore onto the light salad.
For this first course, Vera-Felicie opted for an Aperitivi Punch of Aperol, an Italian spirit with flavors of citrus, herbs, and spices, as the main driver. Grapefruit, watermelon, hibiscus syrup, and Burlesque bitters rounded out the citrus with subtle floral sweetness and bite. Chilled punch was served in a bowl filled with an ice mold, making for a simple yet effective serving presentation.
Servers glided from table to table and delivered the punch and matching first course. Lively chatter filled the room like a convention of auctioneers. During each course, Vera-Felicie and one of the chefs addressed the dining room and shared insight into the ingredients and flavor pairings involved with each cocktail and dish.
Back in the kitchen, Foust, Booth, and Polsinelli took turns sharing notes about the forthcoming courses and extending invitations to sample dishes. Soon, servers arrived to swoop up plates for the second course: goat chorizo stuffed sardine served with saffron papas bravas and pimento. Earthy flavors played off the sardine for an interesting flavor profile.
Papa’s Fizz, the corresponding cocktail, used basil lavender syrup, lemon, and soda with Boyd and Bair potato vodka. The complexity and interplay of flavors with both food and drink were carefully planned to link elements and appeal to the senses.
“This dinner was unique in two aspects,” says Vera-Felicie. “First the dishes were designed to pair with the drinks when usually it’s the other way around. Second, Chef Quinn and I decided to really push ourselves creatively. We tried things we’ve never done and are incredibly happy with how everything came out.”
The bartender and team of chefs sketched out a menu over a month prior to the event, dropped some possibilities, refined others, and solidified the menu in time to have ingredients ordered and shipped. Vera-Felicie prepared some of his syrups and shrubs in advance, but of course the drinks were made to order this night.
Garcia, who also tends bar at Remedy, and Bohannan, a regular sight behind the bar at The Farmhouse, assisted Vera-Felicie with each round of cocktails. Depending on the drink, they vigorously shook shakers, strained cocktails, added garnishes, and worked fluidly as a team to prepare over forty beverages in each stage.
The kitchen had fun with the third course. Their sticky rice, a blend of glutinous Japanese and Korean rice, was flavored with squid ink and resulted in a glossy charcoal color. House-made fermented carrot kimchi puree and a petite fried quail egg topped the sticky rice served with Pernod-braised rabbit. The dish was a creative combination of robust, rustic fare with Asian accents and textures.
The cocktail dubbed Br’er 75 was Pernod with carrot simple syrup, lemon, and ginger beer. A curious discovery took place when the chefs and bartender sampled the rabbit dish with the cocktail.
“The carrot kimchi puree changed the flavor of the drink. At first sip, the body of the drink was anise, the sweetness came from the carrot, and the effervescence and ginger was on the sides of the palate,” says Vera-Felicie. “When you bit into the kimchi, the anise from the Pernod instantly disappeared from the palate. It was really cool how the drink didn’t just pair perfectly with the dish, the dish actually changed the flavor of the cocktail.”
The fourth course featured a chicken skin tostada with carnitas and mole sauce. In a creative twist, the chefs baked chicken skin to a golden crisp disc with intense flavor. Chef Booth prepared a 27-ingredient mole sauce based on a recipe he obtained from a former cook’s Mexican grandmother. Aromatic cinnamon in the slightly sweet and savory sauce added depth to the tender carnitas.
Vera-Felicie paired this course with a roasted tomatillo Bloody Mary built with blanco tequila. In the dish and the drink, the addition of spices and seasoning and cooking techniques bolster flavor in the respective tomato and tomatillo base. This pairing demonstrated the skills employed by the men in the kitchen and bar at their finest.
With only the dessert course to go, Chef Foust unwound for a moment, removed his jacket in the kitchen, and revealed a gray T-shirt with artwork from Green Eggs and Ham. A tattoo on his right bicep depicted colorful barnyard animals. The chef’s dedication to and respect for local farmers and food is self-evident. Throughout the night, he acknowledged gratitude for farmers like Alan Garrison of Windhaven Farms in attendance at the dinner.
Foust says, “I couldn’t do this without farmers like him.”
The final dessert course used Green Dirt Farm Bossa cheese in a sweet corn bossa flan with tamarind syrup. Evening in Buenos Aires, the exotic-sounding closer, combined cachaca, corn horchata, and a housemade coffee cordial. Sweet earthy flavors were a spot-on call to finish the night.
Kansas City’s restaurants host more wine dinner pairings each month than a hearty soul could possibly attend. This dinner at The Farmhouse demonstrated the appeal of a cocktail-driven alternative not only for the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival, but also hopefully for similar events year-round.
Bartender Arturo Vera-Felicie and chefs Foust, Polsinelli, and Booth expertly illustrated the limitless possibilities of pairing flavors, colors, aromas, and cultural references through cuisine and cocktails. This well-executed showcase dinner was a promising harbinger for the advancement of Kansas City’s culinary and bartending community.
Amuse bouche of bourbon-infused chicharron topped with peach mustarda and caviar.
Carnita on chicken skin tostada and mole sauce.
Pernod braised rabbit, squid ink sticky rice, quail egg, and carrot kimchee puree.