Chef Dante Giannini never considered anything but a farm to table cooking style. “It’s the way I eat for myself, so that’s how I cook for others,” he says. “What’s in season just tastes better.” A firm believer that the secret to extraordinary food lies in the quality of the ingredients themselves, Dante prefers seasonal and sustainable produce for its inherent freshness and minimal fuss.
With such caliber ingredients, all it takes are a few supporting accouterments — Dante’s favorites are thyme, olive oil and salt — to elevate his food to excellence.
On Kitchensurfing, an online marketplace where local chefs gather to prepare and share great food in people’s homes, his mostly locavore niche has become such a hit that customers request menus prepared solely with seasonal fare. Edible Brooklyn paired up with Kitchensurfing to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a six person, customized springtime farm to table dinner in their own home with Chef Dante — and we tagged along every step of the way. From his first trip to the springtime Union Square Greenmarket to the Brooklyn townhouse hosting the four course seasonal winner’s dinner, we saw firsthand what goes into Dante’s famed farm to fork meals.
Our trip to the Greenmarket one chilly, drizzling March day felt more like winter than spring, but the inclement weather didn’t hinder Dante’s quest to find quality produce. He scooped up beets, green onions and of course, his favorite herb: thyme. “I won’t even peel these baby carrots, they’re so fresh,” he remarked of the dirt-flecked root vegetable. In the coming weeks he’d search for edible microbes and spring peas, “a staple of the season.”
Dante’s mission proved successful. A few weeks later, we gathered at the home of a member of the “kale club:” the name the winner and her five guests had affectionately given themselves years before. All of the fresh produce we’d seen at the Greenmarket was in attendance, along with a few newcomers: pea shoots, arugula, asparagus, eggplant. Gluten-free, dairy-free and no red meat — the kale club’s list of dietary restrictions gave Dante an opportunity to showcase fish, his favorite protein. For our meal, he selected sushi grade, sustainable ahi tuna and coho salmon, sampled that morning to ensure freshness. Dante kept the prep simple but varied: while the tuna he flash-seared, the salmon he displayed two ways: the belly diced raw for an amuse bouche, and the fillet seared then roasted. No butter was no problem; Dante let each vegetable bask in its own wholesome glory with a simple seasoning of (you guessed it!) olive oil and salt.
The dining room was full of conversation and laughter, but inside the kitchen Dante kept talking to a minimum. His attention to detail was meticulous, and themes subtle: from our trip to the market, thyme was featured in both the salmon main (added to the oil before baking) and the carrot purée that was ladled below. Scallions were tossed with salmon belly in the amuse bouche, plus minced along with parsley and dill in a hand-cut garden pesto topping the tuna. In the starting salad, arugula added a raw crunch against the delicate pea shoots, then reappeared, slightly wilted, nestled between the salmon and a layer of crinkly roasted potatoes and creamy eggplant.
The meal was the quintessence of spring. The flavors themselves channeled words associated with the season: the pea shoots were grassy, and the crisp salad tasted like fresh rain. The guests praised each course within the intimacy of a familiar setting — the host displayed fresh cut lilacs; many others brought wine — and the ambience was nothing short of lovely. At the end of the evening, everyone departed in high, satiated spirits, with spring a little bit more on all of our minds.
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The menu: pea shoot-salad with beet purée, grilled asparagus, toasted sesame seeds and lemon emulsion; flash seared ahi tuna with spring peas, garden herb pesto and roasted pine nuts; pan roasted coho salmon with eggplant purée, fingerling potatoes, wilted arugula and carrot foam; grilled peaches with seasonal fruit sorbet and toasted oats
Salmon belly for the amuse bouche.
Tuna in progress.
Scallions in one of their finest forms.
Photo credit: Clay Williams