I always miss out on fancy fund-raiser dinners. For one, the menu at most fancy-schmancy gala-type events is loaded with carcasses for every course. And for two, well, I'm kinda poor. I can't afford to spend $100 bucks a plate for a good cause, even if I'd really like to. But on Friday, the stars must have aligned for me because the menu at the first-ever MemFEAST community arts dinner was mostly vegan and only $25!
Let me first explain a little about MemFEAST and the dinner's sponsor Crosstown Arts. Crosstown is a neighborhood in Memphis — my neighborhood — surrounding the massive, abandoned Sears Crosstown building. This sucker (pictured here in its heyday in the mid-1900s) is 1.4 million square feet, totally empty, and crumbling into disrepair:
Crosstown Arts, a non-profit arts group, formed recently to study the possibility of bringing arts amenities into the Crosstown neighborhood. MemFEAST was their first event, and seven artists were chosen to propose potential public art projects for the city (the art projects didn't have to focus on Crosstown, but many did). Each artist got five minutes to talk about what they would do with $1,500 (money raised from our $25 dinner fee), and we (the diners) got to vote on our favorite. Proposals ranged from a community mural in Crosstown and a parking lot party in the Sears lot to piano parties and seed-bombing blighted areas. Pretty cool stuff.
Before the artists made their presentations, attendees dined on delicious, gourmet mostly all-vegan food. Only three of the eight dishes contained meat. That's because the menu was prepared by vegan chef Elizabeth Reeves of Jackson, Mississippi. For starters, she created this Vegetable Aspic Terrine:
Sorry for the blurry photo, but the room was dimly lit and I was using auto-focus and a flash. The terrine was made with vegetable consumme and agar flakes and was served atop a mousse made with asparagus, leeks, and baby peas. It was served with toasted wheat bread.
Next was Cavatappi with Roasted Vegetables & Cashew Riccotta:
To see "cashew riccotta" printed on the menu blew my mind. I never thought I'd see those two words together on a menu in meat-centric Memphis. The spiral pasta was coated in a dairy-free Alfredo sauce and cashew riccotta and mixed with organic bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, and sweet onions. It was served alongside a salad of fresh, local organic greens with lemon tarragon vinaigrette. They even had vegan "almesan" for sprinklin' instead of parmesean!
The next dish was OUT OF THIS WORLD (yes, it was so good that it required all caps). A photo can't really do this Baked Polenta with Mixed Mushroom Ragout justice:
The organic polenta was seasoned to perfection and topped with a stew of porcini, chanterelle, baby bella, button, and shitake mushrooms. It was finished with a pesto of toasted walnuts and home-grown flat-leaf parsley. I wish I had a vat of this in my fridge right now ... or at least the recipe.
Here's my whole plate. The food was served buffet-style, so I probably didn't do the best job of plating. Oh well:
The vegan dessert was a simple dish of White Balsamic Glazed Fresh Fruit:
Nice light fare to finish off the meal. The fruit was drizzled with white balsamic vinegar and a Prosecco reduction.
After dinner, we listened to the artists' proposals and cast our votes. The winner was Tommy Wilson, a local photographer who plans to use the $1,500 for his Bomb-a-Blight project:
Tommy will purchase a seed cannon with the money, and he'll be driving to blighted areas around town and shooting wildflower seeds onto the property. Nothing wrong with a little guerilla gardening!
By the way, don't forget to enter my 101 Things to Do with Tofu cookbook giveaway. Click here for details.