Farm-to-table has become increasingly popular among people looking to eat local.
But a dinner series in Nashua takes that concept a step further, by connecting people directly to local farmers and the food they produce.
Chef Sergio Metes carefully pulls a large pan out of the oven.
He takes off a sheet of aluminum foil, releasing a wave of steam.
The aroma of stuffed pork loin fills the kitchen of Unums in downtown Nashua.
He cuts off a piece and samples tonight’s main course.
“Nice herb, mushroom flavor. Cranberry in there. Light on the salt, not too much,” he says.
Metes is the head chef at Unums and is preparing tonight’s four-course meal.
But there’s something unique about this dinner.
“The pork is local. It’s from Steve Normanton’s farm. So it’s all local pork. Real nice quality. Very fresh,” Metes says.
At the Farmers Dinner, everything on the menu is locally grown.
The dinner series started last summer with two events.
Organizer Keith Sarasin said it was so popular, he continued the dinners this summer.
Instead of individual tables, people at the dinner choose their own seats at a few long tables, often sitting next to strangers.
Sarasin said the intimate setting is intentional.
“And that’s something since its inception; I said I wanted this to be a home-style dinner. I want people to get to know their neighbor. That’s the whole concept behind small farming. You know, to go out and meet your food, meet the people who are growing the food, and meet your neighbor.”
Local business owners Erin Gleason and Jillian Towne are first timers at the dinner.
“It’s delicious. I like the smoky bacon with the sweet peach. I think it works really well,” says Gleason.
The peaches are served on a roasted crustini with a honey jalapeno spread.
The honey is from Kagen Weeks, a Nashua beekeeper.
He’s at the dinner and talks with Joey and Janis Paradise from Amherst in between courses.
“It’s great to see people buying things local. And I think people are actually primed for the next step for some of this stuff.”
Janis Paradise says they were drawn to the dinner because they eat local as much as possible, even if it means spending a little more.
“I decided it was worth the investment. You can spend money on very unhealthy things or you can invest in what we’re eating and feeding our children. So I decided it was worth that.”
As a group of about 25 people dine, farmers and local food producers give presentations, talking about their business.
“At our farm stand we sell local cheese. Goat cheese, milk cheese. We sell local beef,” says Carl Hills of Kimball Fruit Farms.
He talks about how he has adapted to a changing market.
He took over what was at the time a strictly apple growing business, and expanded it. The farm now grows everything from garlic to heirloom tomatoes.
“We grow three or four hundred bunches of arugula every few days for our markets in Boston. And the arugula was on the appetizer, and the zucchini and the summer squash and the eggplant and the basil that was shredded all over it.”
To plan for each dinner, the farmers and the head chef Metes talk about what’s growing well right now and incorporate those ingredients.
There are gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options.
At tonight’s dinner, the other option for the main course is a garden lasagna, with roasted vegetables, shitake mushrooms and goat cheese.
Metes says being able to work with locally produced food makes his job a lot more fun.
“You get to see where the food comes from. The last dinner we did, I drove up to Ossipee and picked up the rainbow trout. Which was fresh, amazing. Had just been out of the water that day and was on the plate later on that day, in the evening.”
And while Sarasin, the organizer of the dinner, says the dinners have been successful, he also tries to improve on each one.
“One of the things we’re doing in this dinner that we’ve never done in a previous one is everyone’s going to go home with a recipe. I want to inspire people how to cook. And so, Serge has been more than accommodating. He’s going to give some of these recipes out that are people are going to taste tonight.”
The cost of attending the Farmers Dinner is $55.
Tickets are available for the next dinner on Aug. 25.
Sarasin says he’s already planning a series of dinners for the fall.