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A Farmers Feast

Central Oregon Locavore Dinner Series brings together chefs, farmers and guests

Sinking my teeth into a bite of goat kibbe tartare, I was pleasantly surprised. A refreshing combination of mint and onions followed by cinnamon tickled my taste buds. I’d been told that goat meat resembled a cross between venison and mutton. After sampling my first course, I’d say it reminded me of pork. Wanting more, I gobbled up my appetizer and smiled as I surveyed the room. The guests around me were doing the same, oohing and ahhhing over the pleasing flavors before us.

For one enchanted evening, I had been invited to join a community-style dinner that featured local, organically raised goat meat from White Diamond Ranch, deliciously prepared by Chef Ramsay Hamdan of Joolz restaurant in Bend. The event was Meet Your Farmer, an educational dinner series put on by Central Oregon Locavore.

Central Oregon Locavore (COL), a non-profit that supports local food and farms, is run by Bend native Nicolle Timm. Back in 2009 she was working as a nurse, and wanted to find better resources for natural, whole food nutrition in the community. When she discovered a wide array of farmers and ranchers operating in Central Oregon, she went to work figuring out how to connect them to connoisseurs of wholesome food.

Her vision was to offer locally sourced meals at Central Oregon restaurants, presented in-person by both the chef and the farmer. It would be a new way for Central Oregonians to eat out. They could see who helped make their meal, both in and out of the kitchen. “I wanted to get farmers in front of an appreciative audience,” she says.

Timm’s enthusiasm was contagious, which helped others embrace her vision. “People love the personal connection with the farmer and chef,” she says. “They love learning about where the food is coming from.”

At the Joolz event, the cozy back room of the restaurant was filled with eager diners who were curious to sample the evening’s featured meat as well as the rest of the Lebanese-themed fare for which Chef Ramsay has become known.

Timm knew that Ramsay’s background and preference for Middle Eastern dishes would be a good fit for the goat meat provided by White Diamond Ranch. To the delight of my fellow diners and me, Timm was right.

Once seated at one of the many common tables, introductions were made with the opportunity to share our motivations for embarking on such a unique dining experience. Some guests were new, never having heard of Central Oregon Locavore until recently, while others were dedicated members who followed the COL event schedule as it rotated to other restaurants in the series.

Scanning our menus, I saw my epicurean adventure pan out before me: braised goat tacos with Sriracha lime coleslaw, grilled goat kibbe with fresh greens and braised goat tagine with root vegetables. It all sounded so exotic and new.

Before I could nudge my neighbor and ask if she was familiar with the ingredients, Chef Ramsay appeared to address the crowd. His jovial speech described the foods of his Lebanese heritage. Goat meat is considered a luxury in his country, and preparing it was a nod to his own culture. Ramsay dazzled us with a description of Middle Eastern spices and the history of our main course, tagine, which is a traditional Moroccan slow-cooked stew that’s typically made with sliced meat and vegetables. By the time he described his version, which was made with couscous, apricots and pistachios, our mouths were watering.

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What followed were dishes of delicious goat tacos and hearty portions of a steaming tagine. Plates flowed as diners dove into the dishes with gusto, ending with the iconic Middle Eastern dessert, baklava, presented in a sweet apricot theme and melt-in-your-mouth layers of filo pastry dough.

Timm says of audience response to the events, “People are surprised by the emotion in the dinner. By the end, everyone is clapping and the farmer is crying.” She credits the emotion to the fact that the farmers usually share the history of their hard work that led up to the farm they have as a whole, not just the dish that’s placed before the patrons.

The evening included a discussion led by goat suppliers Ann Snyder and Bing Bingham, owners of White Diamond Ranch, located in Ashwood, Oregon, in the heart of agate-and-thunder-egg country between the Deschutes and John Day Rivers. Snyder and Bingham have one simple goal: to raise the tastiest possible sheep and goats in a sustainable manner. Their evening discussion highlighted their antibiotic-free meat, and their tenacious spirit. At the end of the presentation, the owners expressed gratitude to Timm and COL for helping to bring recognition to the food providers in a direct manner.

Timm knows that ranchers and restaurateurs often have little time to connect to one another, and her introductions benefit both. “The ultimate goal is to create a lasting relationship between the farmer and the chef,” says Timm. Usually, once a partnership has been formed, the chefs continue to use the farms when sourcing local products.

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What started out as a collection of a few farmers now includes a network of 75 growers. Central Oregon Locavore has developed to establish and manage several successful education-based community programs, in addition to Meet Your Farmer.

In my experience, Meet Your Farmer is an especially delicious way to support COL. For more information on Central Oregon Locavore and its educational programs, visit www.centraloregonlocavore.org.

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