Food, Music, Sustainability: ‘The Perfect Form of an Idea’
This post is written by Elizabeth Olson, Community Engagement Intern for Oxfam America
In a few days, Oxfam America will be hosting a community dinner with a long-time partner, Thao Nguyen of the indie folk rock band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. Thao and the band will dine with and serve a four-course meal to participants at The Sinclair restaurant in Cambridge. If dining with Thao isn’t enticing enough, the menu will certainly do the trick. As an important part of an Oxfam community dinner, the menu incorporates Oxfam’s Five Principles for Feeding the Planet: Save Food, Shop Seasonal, Less Meat, Support Farmers, and Cook Smart. Each ingredient is not only responsibly sourced, but has a charming story of its own.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Keenan Langlois of The Sinclair restaurant, who designed the menu. The first thing Chef Langlois looked at was the season we’d be in when the dinner took place. Sourcing produce from small farmers in or near your community is one of the most important factors in eating sustainably. Since the dinner is taking place in April between two growing seasons, the variety of produce available is not quite as wide as it would be in the peak of summer — but you’d never know that just by looking at the menu. In New England, a typical April brings us early root vegetables like parsnips, and various shoots, which Langlois masterfully combined with a poached cage-free egg and local apple cider vinegar to create the second course. Langlois notes the spring onions in this course — they’re much more delicate in flavor than yellow onions, and they reach their peak of the season just in time for the dinner.
The menu does contain meat, but of course, it’s sourced responsibly and has ties to Langlois’ childhood. Langlois grew up in coastal New England, fishing on jetties and piers, where many people fished for bass but caught skate (similar to rays). It was almost always thrown back into the ocean — though skate is a delicacy in parts of Europe, taste for it hasn’t quite developed in the United States. It’s considered an underutilized fish here, so Langlois thought it would be a perfect choice to complete a responsibly designed menu. Complementing the fried skate wing with cauliflower, capers and lemon brown butter, Langlois uses an old-world technique on a local fish for the third course.
The final course, dessert, is an Eidolon cheese topped with local rhubarb compote. The cheese has quite an interesting story — to start, it’s produced by a small farm in Martha’s Vineyard, where Langlois grew up. He selected the Eidolon specifically because the recipe for it was inspired by a French recipe whose name translates to “the perfect form of an idea.” Langlois sees the five principles as the “perfect form” of feeding the world and simply couldn’t deny the parallels. Additionally, the spring Eidolon will be more buttery, fatty and sweet (the pasture-raised cows’ milk tastes different depending on the time of year) which pairs perfectly with tart rhubarb. Many local menus in spring include rhubarb because it’s the first thing to come up this time of year.
Another principle is to save food by cooking only what you need, and saving what doesn’t get consumed. Langlois took this into consideration when thinking about portion sizes for this menu. Many American restaurants serve portions so large that much of the meal gets thrown away. A multi-course dinner with smaller, appropriate portions will satisfy diners with just the right amount of food.
The five principles for feeding the planet are tips that consumers can use to help fight world hunger from their kitchen tables. But feeding the planet isn’t the only benefit of eating sustainably — fresh, local food just tastes better. See for yourself — join Oxfam and Thao at The Sinclair restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 12th!