by Sherry Chen
It's not a Slow Food party until the locally sourced rabbit loses its head...
One of the highlights of the (s)low down festivities was when Back Forty chef Michael Laarhoven demonstrated how to break down a whole rabbit. "Off with its head" was never more literal as the head became the first thing to go, coming off swiftly, in one clean slice. Laarhoven then proceeded to make his way through the rest of the body until every part was expertly and efficiently butchered.
The rabbit, which was sourced from Hudson Valley based John Fazio Farms, made for some tasty meat. Guests were able to sample some roasted rabbit loin, which was moist, tender and extremely flavorful. You can experience the full extent of Laarhoven's whole-animal cooking approach at his restaurant, Back Forty, in which the menu impressively incorporates nearly every part of the featured protein.
As intense as the rabbit breakdown seems, the mood at (s)low down was light and merry. The upbeat, folksy sounds of bluegrass band Kül d'Sack set the tone for a festive, party atmosphere. The unlimited servings of artisanal cocktails also helped; which featured spirits from local vendors such as New York Distilling Company, Owney's Rum, and Coppersea Distilling. The raw rye smash, a concoction made with lemon, sugar, mint and Coppersea New York Raw Rye, was especially refreshing and well-mixed. Expert bartenders from nearby bars like Little Branch generously lent a hand with their mixology skills.
Liquid courage helped raise the bids at the silent auction, which showcased a diverse range of unique food experiences that money typically couldn't buy. A meal and kitchen tour at Gramercy Tavern was one of the featured items, while the more adventurous could opt for an in-depth tour of the farm-to-table supply chain process at Hudson Valley Harvest. At the time, the $550 bid for the Momofuku fried chicken dinner for eight was probably one of the highest bid items above suggested value. The proceeds from the auction would ultimately go towards Slow Food NYC's Urban Harvest Program, which seeks to educate New York City children about the far-reaching effects of good food on their health and well-being, as well as their surrounding community.
As expected, many New York based Snail of Approval restaurants pitched in to help by cooking tasty bites incorporating fresh, seasonal ingredients. The vibrant roasted vegetable salad from Prime Meats was especially memorable, a colorful medley of produce that tasted as good as it looked. There was a dish for any sort of mood — turkey meatballs from Left Bank, goat ricotta tart from The Green Table, housemade salumi from Freemans — the options seemed endless.
There were organized activities that guests could partake in as well, such as a wine tasting with North Fork vineyard Paumanok, a nose-to-tail duck demonstration with Black Tree, a beer tasting with Sixpoint Brewery and the previously mentioned rabbit breakdown with Back Forty. But really, everything was building up to the honoring of Chef Peter Hoffman as the 2014 recipient of the "Snailblazer" Award. Hoffman was recognized for being an early pioneer of the farm-to-table movement, playing a critical role in establishing New York's modern Greenmarket system, and putting these principles into practice at his own restaurants, Back Forty and Back Forty West.
Hoffman's closest friends paid tribute to him with thoughtful recollections on how he had positively impacted their lives. It was clear that he is someone who cares deeply not only about food but about the people around him. Whether it was closely mentoring colleagues, organizing chef picnic lunches, or planning community-oriented crab boils at Back Forty, Hoffman has always been passionate about sharing his food and experiences with others. As one colleague pointedly mentioned, there are "people you meet that change the course of your life — that's Peter."
The festivities concluded on a sweet note with an after party at Quartino Bottega Organica's backyard garden, in which guests were treated to desserts made by Estela and Runner & Stone. It was a fitting end to an event celebrating the pleasures of local food traditions — you really don't have to look farther than your backyard for a great meal.
Sherry Chen is a New York City-based food writer with a passion for delicious, locally-sourced meals. You can read about her food adventures at www.gabandgobble.com.