Great chefs working for a great cause
Thursday, December 19th
George And Linda Smith
Celebrity chefs provide amazing food in a beautiful Buxton barn to raise money for Maine Farmland Trust.
For the last year and a half there have been some pretty incredible monthly meals being served by some of Maine’s top chefs in a Buxton barn. That’s right, Flanagan’s Table takes place in a barn. But it might be the most elegant barn you will ever step into. This post and beam barn is crisp, clean and will probably have you admiring the architecture.
Our visit took place a few weeks before Christmas. Imagine entering to see one long communal table set for 48 guests. Fresh flower arrangements in white alternate with purple fruit and vegetable arrangements all the way down the table. Both the bench seating and the table must have been made of hewn lumber especially for this space. A perfect Christmas tree adorned with white lights anchors one end of the room while towers of gas space heaters warm the room to toasty.
We were here for an incredible six-course meal prepared by Chef Melissa Kelly, who was recently recognized as the Best Chef of New England. Each course featured a different protein except for the vegetarian course, which held its own against all meat dishes. The simple titles naming each dish were the most understated part of the evening.
Our first course was “steak and eggs” and I wondered how this could be a light appetizer. Take the normal vision from your head, because out came a duck eggshell filled with egg, crème fresh and creamed kale. A small round of brioche was topped with Steak Tartare. I’ve never had this but it was so good — lemony and full of flavor.
I have to say the roasted beet course got as many rave reviews as any other entree that evening. It was almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Pastel shades of baby beet with the long taproot joined colorful watermelon radishes, Casa oranges and pistachios and rested in a York Hill Farm goat cheese fondue. I am going to dream about that dish.
The third course was Boudin Blanc. Many of us were stymied as to what this was. Debbie Gaspardi, the chef for other Flanagan’s Table events, cleared up the confusion by telling us that boudin meant anything in a casing. This very classy sausage made of pork and chicken was not overpowered by spices. Its sauce contained pickled mustard seed which went well with the apple and rutabaga accents.
Course four was scallops, slightly seared and lightly cooked with a celeriac ravolini (fresh filled pasta), along with tiny diced pancetta and jicama (I think.) Diners all around us were oohing and aahing about the scallops.
Right about then, I noticed that the Travlin’ Mainers weren’t the only ones photographing the food. As each course was presented, guests would get out their phones to capture the beauty of each dish. Usually we are the only ones taking pictures of food.
“Primo Chicken Cordon Bleu” was next on the menu. The range of textures for this dish went from a crunchy outside to tender chicken, back to crispy pancetta, then to a melty cheese center. Winter savory made this sing along with the creamed spinach, fancy tiny turned potatoes, crisp sweet potato curls and onion sprouts that jazzed up this dish. By now I was thinking Melissa was an artist. She’d taken all those white foods like chicken, scallops white sausage and pears and turned them into stunningly colorful offerings. They truly were things of beauty.
For dessert, a small perfectly poached pear was served with a sea salt rosemary shortbread and two delectable Ragged Island cheeses. You’d think that was quite enough and that you couldn’t eat another bite, until the most perfect plate of six tiny cannoli came, served family style. These nut-crusted cannoli had the creamiest center and were drizzled with a cherry sauce. Far better than any I’d tried in Italy.
This was a farm-to-table celebration to honor those who produce the amazing food we raise right here in Maine. Honor them they did. This was a meal to remember for a very long time.
After decades in decline, Maine’s small farms are coming back in no small part thanks to the work of the Maine Farmland Trust, where executive director John Piotti, a former legislative leader, is an evangelist for farming. His enthusiasm is contagious.
So when I noticed that the trust was involved in a monthly fundraising dinner with celebrity chefs, it didn’t take long for me to suggest to John that one of his dinners would make a great Travelin’ Maine(rs) column.
John agreed and gave us our choice of dinners — another easy one, given that Melissa Kelly, chef/owner of one of the state’s best restaurants, Primo (in Rockland), was creating the December dinner. Her focus on farm-to-table, locally grown foods and meats (including many grown and raised in the backyard of her restaurant) assured a great story and dinner.
Wow, wow, a thousand times wow! What a meal Melissa created for us on Dec. 8. It was sophisticated, elegant and delicious — and everything Linda has described. My job is to tell you about the Barn and the Farm and the Maine Farmland Trust.
Gwen Elwell-Flanagan, on her 65-acre farm, sold veggies and eggs at a roadside stand. Upon her death, she directed that the farm be permanently protected with an agricultural easement, and then sold to someone who would farm it.
Maine Farmland Trust accepted the easement and then sold the farm to Gail Landry, owner of the Barn on Walnut Hill in North Yarmouth, where she also provides meals featuring local farm products. The Barn at Flanagan’s Table is currently available only for the MFT monthly dinners and special events — principally weddings. They even have rooms to accommodate the bridal couple, parents of the bride and wedding party upstairs in the attached house.
Gail’s daughter, Alex Wight, and her husband, Oliver, travel from Brooklyn, New York to manage the Barn’s events. They are both very engaging young people, full of enthusiasm for Maine, the Barn and all of our state’s farmers.
We sat with John Piotti and his wife, Susan. John and I had to promise Susan and Linda that we wouldn’t talk politics — and we only had a couple of lapses. Mostly we talked farms and food.
Maine Farmland Trust was founded in 1999 by Piotti and my now-departed friend, Russ Libby, and provides a broad range of programs that help farmers find land, access new markets, craft business plans and protect their farmland with easements. The trust is in the midst of a very ambitious $50-million campaign to “Secure a Future for Farming” by protecting 100,000 acres of farmland and helping more than 1,000 farmers become more successful.
You can help achieve this important goal. More of Maine’s best chefs are lined up for upcoming dinners here. But you must pay attention to the opening date and time of reservations for each dinner. Melissa Kelly’s dinner sold out 14 minutes after reservations opened!
Indulge yourself with an amazing dinner at the Barn at Flanagan’s Table, knowing you are contributing to a cause that’s critical to the production of the food you are enjoying!
Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.