The Annual Evanston Harvest Celebration, hosted by NWC Food Incubator (formerly Now We’re Cookin’) for the past six years, was held last Saturday at the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market. The annual benefit was the brainchild of NWC’s founder, Nell Funk, who sought to support nonprofits while featuring the unique partnership between the farmers at the Evanston Farmers’ Market and local chefs.
The event pairs top local chefs with prominent Midwest sustainable growers. This year, twelve chefs were asked to create a dish using seasonal fresh food grown by the farmer with whom he or she was paired. The concept has been a big hit from its inception six years ago, attracting ‘foodies’ with an increased interest in supporting access to locally grown food.
“The enthusiasm with which chefs and farmers collaborate each year is always exciting,” said Ms. Funk. “Every year the dishes come together to create a wonderful chef tasting menu which earns rave reviews.”
The benefit has been held at the NWC space at 1601 Payne St. for the past six years, but to highlight the 40th Anniversary of the Downtown Evanston Farmers’ Market, Ms. Funk and the benefit committee decided to host this year’s event at the Farmers’ Market.
“Forty consecutive years of the Farmers’ Market is an amazing feat in and of itself,” said Ms. Funk. “And this year we really wanted to celebrate the farmers. They are the ones who make the Market come alive every Saturday.”
This year’s event, dubbed “Truck to Table,” took a bit more coordinating than in past years as it was held during the hustle and bustle of a typical Farmers’ Market day. Each of the 12 chefs was stationed at the tent of his or her paired farm. Guests who paid for the event were given tickets to roam the market and select eight of the 12 dishes plated by each chef.
The sunny and crisp weather lent itself to the cheerful atmosphere of the day. Guests mingled about the Market, conversing with farmers and chefs from some of their favorite Evanston restaurants.
“We wanted to create a more casual dining experience this year,” said Ms. Funk. “It has always been a white table-cloth event and was held on a Thursday night. Many of the farmers have been unable to attend, as they often live a few hours away and have early morning work hours. It’s wonderful to have everyone here together.”
Some of the notable chefs who participated this year include Chef Nicole Pederson of Found, Chef Brian Huston of Boltwood, and Chef Debbie Evans of Peckish Pig.
Chef Eric Mansavage of Farmhouse who prepared a Harvest Panzanella Salad with fresh ingredients grown by Geneva Lakes Produce, said he was happy to be participating in the event again this year.
“The weather is perfect and it’s great to be out here with the farmers,” he said.
Chef Vince DiBattista of Campagnola and Union Pizza worked alongside
Kinnikinnick Farms to prepare a Grilled Beet Salad with Spigarello (a trendy heirloom variety of broccoli), Whipped Robiole Cheese, topped with Sunflower Seeds.
While the majority of plates were vegetarian, there was something for everyone including Skirt Steak with Cauliflower Tabbouleh from Chef Jonah Silva of Cooked and Sausage with Plum Mostarda created by Chef Brian Huston of Boltwood.
Funds raised will provide support for Friends of Evanston Farmers’ Market LINK matching program, which enables families who otherwise could not afford
the Market to buy fresh produce, eggs and cheese. The event also supports The Spud Club, an in-market kid’s educational program provided by the Evanston Farmers’ Market.