A Mystery Dinner On The Farm

Sous Vide A‘akukui Strip Loin

“The dinner is a mystery,” says Collin Darrell, sommelier and creation director of Grow Culture. “The anticipation is part of the experience. It’s like building up to your first kiss.”

I’m standing in the serene gardens of One Song Farm, listening to Darrell. There’s a buoyancy to his step as he approaches a cluster of guests, his blond hair flowing beneath a straw fedora. “Would you like a refill?” he asks, and pours chilled chardonnay into stemless, plastic wineglasses.

Grow Culture is a virtual farmers market. Farmers list available products and chefs place orders. In addition, Darrell cultivates a strong sense of community by producing pop-up dinners where local farmers provide ingredients, chefs cook them, wine is paired with each course and food lovers rejoice!

“I ate at Salt on a trip to Oahu and felt that they were interpreting Hawaiian cuisine in a way I hadn’t experienced before,” says Darrell, reflecting on his choice of chef for the inaugural dinner. “The scope of Grow Culture is statewide, so I felt that exposing Oahu chefs to the bounty of Kaua’i’s produce would be a step toward working locally, statewide.”

Sommelier Collin Darrell pours wine for Grow Culture guests

Two days before the dinner, Darrell received chefs Quinten Frye, Kelvin Goss and owner Danny Kaaialii of Salt Tasting Room on Oahu. They visited A’akukui Ranch, purchased fish from Kevin Yamasi and harvested produce from One Song Farm. As they selected ingredients ripe with flavor, the chefs created the menu.

Inside a greenhouse outfitted for tonight, fold-up tables are draped with white linen. In the makeshift kitchen, juicy tomatoes are cubed and plated with squares of raw papio, a young fish from the trevally family. Frye adds a dollop of coconut cloud foam and a perky sprig of cilantro before sending it out.

Lisa Fuller of One Song Farm writes entrées on a chalkboard as they are presented. When diners see “Edible Dirt,” a curious murmur circles the table. Powered miso “dirt” is sprinkled around raw, sweet turnips, tart pickled radish and kohlrabi quenelles tossed in basil pistou.

Tonight’s dishes are paired with organic and biodynamic wines, and before each course we learn about the wine’s terroir, appellation and varietal.

A sparkling red pairs perfectly with agnolotti, ravioli filled with beet greens. The handmade pasta is sautéed in butter and nestled next to a drizzle of rich Kunana Dairy goat cheese. Pickled beet stems add a colorful note, and paper-thin beet “chips” add a sweet touch to the earthy pasta.

Darrell with guests in the garden before dinner

Like the hero in a western, rancher Duane Shimogawa enters the greenhouse just as the beef course is served. Dressed in cowboy boots, a black western shirt and a ball cap, he addresses the diners.

“We have 100 percent sustainable, grass-fed, no-hormone beef,” he says of the cattle at A’akukui Ranch, “Red and Black Angus raised like cattle are supposed to be.”

As Shimogawa takes his seat, we tuck into tender, wet-aged strip loin accompanied by a bright green chard roulade, a sweet chard stem marmalade, ali’i mushrooms and decadent beef lardo.

For dessert, a 30-year-old Pedro Ximenez sherry is served with turnip panna cotta terrine, garnished with a peppery Surinam cherry. Turnips for dessert leave me dubious, but the custard is smooth and sweet.

“Grow Culture wants to start a dialogue by raising awareness,” Darrell says, closing the dinner. “It’s true expression an honest expression for those who love to cook and those who love to eat.”

Turnip Panna Cotta Terrine. Daniel Lane photo

Na Aina Kai will host the next dinner Feb. 15 at The Residence overlooking Kahili Beach. As the sun sets, diners will compare today’s food industry to a century ago, “When everything was local,” adds Darrell, “and community came together through food.”

Garrison Price, executive chef of Kaua’i Grill, will prepare a five-course tapas menu. Dave Power, owner of the Feral Pig, will pair old-fashioned cocktails made with farm-fresh ingredients.

For ticket information, call 722-6316, or visit GrowCulture.com. mlane@midweekkauai.com Correction: Gaylord’s hours are listed incorrectly in the Jan. 25 issue of MidWeek Kaua’i. The hours are: Monday-Saturday, lunch: 11 a.m.; dinner: 5 p.m.; Sunday Brunch: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.