WOODBURY — “Same great cause. Same amazing food. Different seat.” So reads the invitation to Farm to Flanders: The Ultimate Gourmet Picnic and Online Auction, a creatively reimagined event that this year is replacing the annual Farm to Table dinner at Flanders Nature Center and Land Trust. Over the past five years, Flanders has gathered an increasingly impressive list of chefs from top area restaurants, each contributing one spectacular dish toward a multi-course meal to remember.
Ordinarily, that meal is served to guests at long tables under tents at Flanders’ bucolic Van Vleck Farm and Sanctuary. But this year, the pandemic necessitated a re-tooling of the annual fundraiser to ensure the safety of all involved.
Rising to the challenge, committee members came up with a multi-course, gourmet meal-to-go created by the same renowned chefs using local, farm-fresh ingredients and packed in a signature insulated tote for pick-up from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, August 23.
“I think it’s a very creative idea,” said Flanders Board Chair Ingrid Manning. “I haven’t heard of anything similar.”
Ingrid tapped Middlebury resident Mel Larkin to head up this year’s effort, which includes an online auction to replace the live auction that adds to the fun each year.
“Lots of organizations are cancelling their events this year,” said Mel. “But Vince LaFontan, our new executive director, is very enthusiastic. He really wanted to have an event, so we came up with the ultimate gourmet picnic.”
It will be a picnic like no other. Each tote will contain two appetizers, two salads, a choice of three main courses, artisanal bread and a delectable dessert, to be picked up and enjoyed at a venue of choice, whether that be the Van Vleck Farm, one of Flanders’ other properties or the ticket-holder’s own backyard.
Chef John Bourdeau of The Owl Wine and Food Bar in New Preston and Chef Carole Byer-Alcorace of Sanctuary Kitchen at CitySeed in New Haven are coordinating chefs for this year’s event.
To start the meal, Chef Bourdeau will provide a cheese and charcuterie appetizer and Chef Byer-Alcorace will prepare pita wedges with a roasted red pepper, walnut and pomegranate spread.
The salad course will come from two of Woodbury’s favorite restaurants. Chef Carole Peck of Good News Cafe will create a chopped summer vegetable salad and Chef Dennis DeBellis of John’s Cafe will offer a pasta salad with housemade cavatelli, Roden’s Farm sweet corn, lemon, basil and Parmesan cheese.
Each meal will include its own loaf of artisan sourdough bread made with freshly milled local organic grain, courtesy of Chef Whitney Flood’s Litchfield County catering company, Farmers and Cooks.
Guests will have a choice of three main course entrees.
Chef Dan Magill of Arethusa al tavalo in Bantam is offering Arethusa Buttermilk Marinated Fried Chicken.
Chef Christian Hunter of Community Table in New Preston has chosen Whippoorwill Farm Beef Kofta with golden raisins and pine nuts, spiced tahini dressing and sourdough fattoush with harissa vinaigrette.
For a vegetarian option, Chef Chris Prosperi of Metro Bis Restaurant in Simsbury has created an herbed quinoa dish with tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini.
To finish the meal, Chef Paul Pearson of Salisbury’s White Hart Inn will provide a traditional English lemon and lime posset with blueberry compote.
Karen Rotella and culinary students at Naugatuck Valley Community College will assemble a children’s meal of “build-your-own” chicken tacos with Cowboy Caviar salad, sweet cornbread and churro cookies.
Mel and Ingrid said all the chefs are enthusiastic about this year’s event, and particularly enjoy the opportunity to showcase local farms.
“Almost all of the chefs have been on board since the beginning,” said Mel. “They all volunteer to do it — they’re not getting paid in any way.”
“These are very, very generous people,” said Ingrid.
The cost of the meal is $75 per person. The children’s meal is $20.
When reserving their meal, guests will have the option to purchase various “add-ons,” including bottles of red or white wine from Walker Road Vineyards, craft beer from Woodbury Brewing Company, specialty cocktails from Litchfield Distillery — even bouquets of fresh flowers.
The gourmet picnic is meant to be easy and fun. It’s also a bargain, considering the unique aspect of the collaborative meal.
“There are nine items in the bag,” said Mel. “Where else can you get a meal like that, prepared by these chefs, for that price?”
A maximum of 300 meals will be prepared, and organizers expect a sell-out. The deadline to order is Monday, August 17.
New Morning Market and Drakeley Real Estate are the event’s two main sponsors.
You don’t have to purchase a meal to take part in this year’s online auction, offering an assortment of unique items and one-of-a-kind experiences.
One of those experiences is a dinner party for 12 in the private dining room of the James Beard House in Greenwich Village, including an intimate reception with drinks and hors d’oeuvres, a multi-course tasting menu created by a guest chef from a nationally celebrated restaurant, wine pairings for each course and a meet-and-greet with the chef and his team.
Also offered is a hike with lunch on the Appalachian Trail led by Flanders Executive Director Vince LaFontan.
Eric Zipkin of Tradewind Aviation has donated a flight for two to Nantucket along with a $250 gift certificate to one of the island’s best restaurants.
“One of our most popular auction items comes from O&G Industries,” said Mel. “Basically, they give you the keys to their trucks! Kids of all ages get to drive the heavy equipment at the quarry.”
Also up for bid are a generous gift certificate from Southbury’s Pine Meadow Gardens, a painting by local artist Melody Asbury, a family membership to the Beardsley Zoo, a three-piece set of Thule luggage and a birthday party with goats and baby bunnies in the Flanders barn.
Anyone can bid in the online auction, but three special items are reserved for those who have purchased tickets for the gourmet picnic and plan to stay and eat at the Van Vleck Sanctuary.
“We’ll be auctioning off one of our picnic tables, which will be totally decorated in china, crystal and cloth napkins, in one of the premier spots on our property,” said Mel.
The table can seat up to eight people and will have a tent for shade.
“We’ll also have two romantic tables-for-two in very scenic spots,” she said.
Throughout the pandemic, Flanders has remained open to the public. Programs have been modified but have continued wherever possible.
“Our executive director has been determined to keep it open,” said Ingrid. “People are very enthusiastic about Flanders. I’ve talked to parents dropping their kids off at camp and they all say their kids love it. They’re happy to have a place for them to go.”
“There’s a breadth and depth of programs here, from star watching to maple sugaring to afternoon tea, and it’s all so reasonably priced,” said Mel. “Just to come here is free to the public — but it’s not free to run. We’re a nonprofit.
“We have to do these events, and do them well, in order to maintain the property.”
“It takes a tremendous effort on the part of our staff and volunteers to keep Flanders running,” said Ingrid. “We have over 200 volunteers, very loyal, very devoted. A phenomenal staff, too. It really is an extraordinary organization.”
Those wishing to pre-order a picnic meal may visit flandersnaturecenter.org/farmtoflanders or call 203-263-3711, ext. 11. Orders will be accepted until August 17 or whenever 300 meals are sold.
The online auction can be accessed at the website as well.