We Got Wild


I love what I do. It’s truly a dream come true to have the fortune of being selected to prepare a meal to the best of my ability, for someone on the day that they will cherish for the rest of their life. To be able to have done this for several years and for years to come, is time very well spent.

All that being said, once a year we love to take all of the ideas that we have been dreaming about, and start to develop something very special; a dinner of our own.

A wedding planner friend of mine, Magdalena, and I had been doing annual dinners for a few years at local farms in The Berkshires, and with great success but due to sudden growths in both of our businesses, we had to hit pause for a year.

Late last season we decided that we really wanted to produce another event that was our own. There is only so much time in the off season, and so many beautiful locations to scout, though when we found Gather Greene, we knew we hit gold.

Amna and Jackie, the owners of Gather Greene, had big plans for this former shale quarry. When we went for our first site visit, they had 17 tiny cabins on order, and were just finishing up their grand pavilion. Once we walked the property we knew that this was it. In our heads we mapped out an idea of what the flow for the event would be. The evening would start with an unconventional cocktail hour which would take you on a trip through the woods, ultimately leading you to the “dining room,” which would wrap around the quarry.

We ended up doing two more visits so we could fully grasp the conditions in summer. The day before the dinner, we blazed a trail through the woods with chainsaws, built a canopy from spruce branches, and laid the groundwork for the dinner the next day.

There was a threat of serious rain that loomed heavy over our heads. Somehow, some way the gods wanted to see what we had up our sleeves, and gave us hell leading up until the cocktail hour and then gave us a reprieve for the rest of the evening (thank you!).

The evening started with guests arriving, and following a walkway to the grand pavilion. Upon entering, the guests were greeted with a map that would guide them through the woods. The next stop saw a welcome beverage (foraged sumac iced tea served on tap from a log) as well as a “trail mix,” which consisted of a parsley and mint crumble, bread stick “twigs,” and rocks made from chocolate coated dried fruits dusted with charcoal and cocoa.

Trail mix in hand, guests followed the mushroom laden trail that wove through the trees, when a spruce canopy appeared with Pine Beignets filled with a spruce pastry cream tucked in between the branches to mimic pine cones. The guests picked the pine cone shaped beignets from the tree and bit into them with curiosity, pleasantly surprised by the flavor and their “harvest.” Once they exited the canopy they were given a hazelnut and Mezcal cocktail that was smoked. A table had been constructed that was connected to our version 1.0 oyster smoker and a hand crank forge fan to pump smoke up into glass cloches that housed the cocktails, and perfumed them with sweet wood smoke.

As the diners continued through the woods, their next stop was a large tree trunk that was essentially a pop up ice cream shop. This course featured a scoop of birch ice cream on top of a sugar cone made to look like tree bark. To adorn this already delicious treat, we added a maple caramel, crushed hickory nuts and a caramelized ramp bulb as our “cherry on top.” To cleanse the palate we featured Roger’s Hard Cider with it’s amazingly dry and delicious flavor, that is aged in bourbon barrels.

The last stop brought them right to the edge of cliff that overlooked their future dining room and our current kitchen. This view is what made the dinner. This was everything. Months prior to “Into The Wild,” we cured various wild game to treat our guests to hand sliced charcuterie, an Heirloom Fire standard. After guests took in the view they were instructed to make their descent down into the quarry.

Once reaching the road to the quarry our team handed them a freshly juiced carrot Bellini to get them in the mood for the first course.

Nestled in the shale quarry, our kitchen seemed otherworldly. It was important to me to build aspects of our equipment into the terrain as if it has been there all along. From the rods that we literally smashed into a rock face where the Venison roasted, to our metal cage structure emerging from the quarry where the pheasants spun on a perfectly placed platform.

I don’t know how it happened but somehow it appeared we were in some kind of geo dome. We could see rain falling in the distance, but it never hit us (during dinner at least). This caused a rainbow to appear right as Magdalena, and I walked out on the platform to give our welcoming speech.

The first course was our take on a salad and was already on the tables. Halved logs with lettuce growing out of the sides, and mushrooms that were smoked and braised. Green bread crumbs ran down the center to look like moss with pickled wild green grapes and preserved fiddlehead ferns.

The second course was a nod to the guests’ surroundings and to the great state of New York. We created gnocchi in the shape of the black shale that was around all around us. On top rested a piece of roasted rainbow trout, and the finish, a sauce made from fish broth and algae.

The Third course saw the aforementioned venison and pheasants served on our 5 foot planks. The accompaniments were a wild bitter apple and choke cherry sauce and wild blueberry sauce, all of which we foraged.

Dessert greeted the guests after a trip through the kitchen and to a massive bonfire. We built benches to surround the fire and added furs and hides to provide comfort. Desserts included fresh brewed coffee, shaved ices from fruits we preserved and a burnt cream and bramble berry tart.

It was so important that we captured as much of this evening as possible. Thankfully our dear friend and photographer Elaina Mortali joined us, and the talented Sage Atwood created a video which saw the experience through the eyes of a guest.

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to creating something special like this for our annual dinner next year. Since we released pictures and guests shared their experiences with friends we have been overwhelmed with emails asking us when we are doing another one. This has really pushed Magdalena and I to begin designing the next dinner and a select a date. We plan to release said date closer to the holidays so people have time to mark their calendars and plan an amazing evening next summer.

#intothewild #magdalenaevents #heirloomfire #heirloomfire #tabletofarm #jamesgop #epicdinner #elainamortaliphotography #gathergreene #upstateny #followme #follow #eat #food

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