A harvest feast with friends

The romanticised version of the first American Thanksgiving involves early settlers sitting down around a long table with natives to enjoy a friendly feast of the harvest. That vision is a useful way to describe the Brasserie Harvest Dinners.

The fifth Harvest Dinner of the 2010/11 season took place on 24 March in its usual setting, the screened-in shade house garden adjoining the Brasserie restaurant.

There, among the pineapple, lemon grass, sugar cane and various vegetable plants, guests first enjoyed a java apple punch with Panamanian Abuelo rum.

Passed to the mingling guests were hors d’oeuvres that included ‘stamp & go’ fish fritters, pepper jelly glazed pork tacos on coconut flat bread and, as a bonus, sashimi from a yellow fin tuna caught just hours earlier.

During the welcome reception, some guests toured the Brasserie’s shade house garden, where some of what they would later eat is grown. Executive Chef Brad Phillips picked fruit from a gooseberry bush to give some adventurous diners a taste of the sour berries.

Guests then sat down at two long, rectangular tables for a feast from which no one left hungry.

Another tradition

As is customary at the Harvest Dinners, Chef Phillips and Brasserie Consultant Chef Dean Max spoke to guests before dinner.

“What we’re trying to do with the Harvest Dinners is highlight the culture, traditions, food and products produced here, but do it in a modern way,” Chef Phillips said.

Chef Max, renowned for his seafood, spoke a little about the yellow fin tuna that had been caught on the Brasserie fishing boat, the Brasserie Catch, just hours before part of it was used for hors d’oeuvres.

He said that keeping a fish from stressing after it was caught was important because a stressed fish releases enzymes that affect taste. He said it was important to keep the fish at a temperature of 32 degrees.

“Every two degrees above that you lose a day of shelf life,” he said.

The meal

Harvest Dinners menus identify two courses, but since both courses feature multiple dishes, it seems like much more than that. The food is served family style on large platters or in large bowls. Food is passed around from guest to guest and it seems like it just keeps coming.

A cold soup starter, served in old wine bottles, is a hallmark of the Harvest Dinners. On this night, it was delicious chilled watermelon and ginger soup with bits of fresh, crunchy cucumber.

Two other dishes made up the first course: baby spinach salad that featured, among other ingredients, local java apple and fried green cherry tomatoes; and flatbread with goat cheese, local arugula and smoked local conch.

Chef Phillips said the smoked conch was something he was trying for the first time.

“I’ve wanted to smoke conch since I got here,” he said, asking guests to let him know how it turned out.

It was a hit.

The wines for the evening were provided by Blackbeard’s, with Terrazas de los Andes Torrontes from Argentina paired with the first course and Domaine Durand Syrah from France accompanying the second course.

As usual, gardener extraordinaire Joel Walton – who helped the Brasserie establish its gardens and supplies the restaurant with many fruits and vegetables – was on hand talk about gardening. This time he spoke a lot about soil quality.

“Think about soil health and not plant health,” he advised. “Focus on your soil because healthy soil will help fight disease.”

The second course of the Harvest Dinner featured swordfish caught on the Brasserie Catch and then roasted in cast iron skillets among logwood coals on the restaurant’s caboose, a traditional Caymanian barbecue grill.

Also served was Brasserie-style jerk chicken, the restaurant’s delicious and spicy version of the popular barbecue favourite.

Eight different local vegetables or side dishes were served with the main courses, including purple kohlrabi slaw, garden tomato festival, blistered garden tomato, local chard and sweet potato mash.

The most talked about side dish, however, was the local pumpkin salad made with coconut oil, shaved coconut, cilantro and shaved fennel.

The dessert course featured a trio of treats, including a pecan bar and a lemon and strawberry tart. The most intriguing item was served in a shot glass, with black sapote mousse on the bottom and passion fruit ‘soup’ on the top. Chef Phillips suggested that the best way to consume the tangy treat was to down the liquid on top first, and then eat the mousse with a spoon, although some of the guests decided it was better to mix up the two elements and then eat it.

“That’s fine, too,” said Chef Phillips. “However you want to do it.”

In the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the Brasserie Harvest Dinners, guests are indeed free to have it their own way and not worry about anything but enjoying themselves.