27 September 2017

Food sits at the heart of every celebration, from the elaborate and time-consuming production of a family meal around the holidays, to the beers cracked at a backyard barbecue with your rec league dodgeball team.

Something about our inherent desire to commemorate successes, pay tribute to historic moments, and take part in community and family traditions compels us to share food.

On September 27th, E.A.T. visited Celebrations at the Reservoir, on the Southside of Richmond, VA, where we spent the evening taking a closer look at the specific foods that accompany festivals and celebrations from across the globe.

What makes the food we share at moments of celebration different from the food we share at other meals throughout the year? What is the cultural significance of the foods we use to celebrate? And what narratives are woven into the fabric of celebratory meals and dishes?

Chef Patrick Carey (Celebrations at the Reservoir & Celebrations Encore, Richmond) put together a menu that took dinner guests through each of the world’s six inhabited continents, tasting a different popular dish or celebration food from each.

Before sitting down around the table, guests were invited to take their bourbon apple cider punch, and go explore the beautiful Pool Pavilion, taking in the last few moments of the sunset on the patio, or down by the dock. Looking out over an operational reservoir, sipping a drink specifically designed to be made in large quantities and shared at moments of community gathering (check out the history of punch for more on this fascinating topic), the significance of communal dining wafted into minds and conversation before the meal even began.

After a brief introduction to the evening and what lay ahead, the meal got underway. Our first stop on this edible world tour took us to the West African coast.

Maafe – a West African groundnut stew

Maafe – Mali

Stewed Peanuts, Roasted Bell Pepper Jam, Brined Cabbage, and Crispy Chicken Skin

Maffe is a groundnut stew originally from the Mandinka and Bambara people of Mali. Throughout the nations of West and Central Africa variations on this staple are found, each one incorporating different ingredients and spices. The dish also serves as a reminder of our connection to the land, as the main ingredient, peanuts or other groundnuts, are grown and cultivated completely under the earth. (This is actually what the scientific name for peanuts, hypogaea, means – “under the earth.”)

Chef Patrick’s interpretation of this dish included stewed peanuts, roasted bell pepper jam, brined cabbage, and crispy chicken skin.

The crispy chicken skin nearly melted into the creaminess of the stew, and in contrast to many of the “sweet” peanut soup variations that found their way to North America with the arrival of African slaves to the continent in the 17th century, Patrick’s version highlighted the savory and earthy flavors of the ingredients, as opposed to their natural sweetness.

Yu – China

Pan Roasted Bass, Green Tea Soy Consommé, Ginger, Scallion, and Radish

During the Chinese New Year, fish is shared throughout the country, in part because the Mandarin word for abundance, “you,” is a homophone for the word meaning fish, “yu.” The phrase “nian nian you yu,” meaning “may the year bring you prosperity,” is uttered throughout the country, and at dinner tables around the world during this Spring Festival.

Fish are popular during this holiday for more reasons than simply punny wordplay, however. In many cultures, fish represent surplus and plenty, because of the fact that they typically travel in schools.

Chef Patrick brought this tasty symbolism to the table with pan roasted bass, green tea soy consommé, ginger, scallion, and radish.

The subtle heat of the ginger and radish added a nice kick to the dish without overpowering the delicate flavors in the bass, and the earthiness of the green tea and soy hovered over the fish, wrapping the entire dish in their aromatic embrace.

Smoked Country Lamb – Australia

Smoked Country Lamb

Potato Latkes, Fig Apple Compote, Crème Fraîche, Lemon, and Petite Herbs

For the third course of the evening, we were taken to a country, which celebrates grilling and barbecue culture, Australia. On Australia Day, which was first celebrated as a unified public holiday in 1994, grilling and barbecuing take place all over the country, much like American Independence Day celebrations.

Chef Patrick prepared smoked lamb for this course, a nod to the fact that Australian lamb is some of the most sought after globally. The smoked lamb was served alongside potato latkes, fig apple compote, crème fraîche, lemon, and petite herbs.

The tang of the crème fraîche nicely balanced against the hearty smoky flavors of the lamb. The jammy, honey-like quality of the fresh figs and apples rounded out the dish nicely, and created a sweet-salty flavor layering that keeps you coming back bite after bite.

Smoked Duck Thigh – America & Canada

Smoked Duck, Pickled Beet Purée, Fennel, Craisins, Smoked Paprika Oil

Outside of the well-known hamburger, the national celebratory dish of the United States, which has been adopted by parts of Canada, is the roast game bird.

Chef Patrick took inspiration from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for this course, preparing a rustic, homey, and comforting dish. Unlike the Cratchit family of Dickens’ imagination, however, E.A.T.’s guests shared duck as opposed to the more traditional goose of 18th century British holiday meals.

It has been said, “duck fat is God’s gift to potatoes,” and as it turns out, it is equally well blended into the distinctive savor of pickled beets and sweet-savory licorice notes of braised fennel. The mild heat of Patrick’s smoked paprika oil bubbled around the slightly sour craisins to create a dish that was as intriguing as it was delicious. It seemed an appropriate tip of the hat to Christmas, to discover the “gift” of this unexpected flavor pairing.

Pork Belly Feijoada – Brazil

Rendered Bacon, Savory Rice Pudding, Black Beans, Preserved Poblano, Citrus Tuile

Originally from the country of Portugal, Feijoada (pronounced: fee-j-yoda), is the national dish of Brazil. It is a people’s dish in the truest sense of the word, as it is found at tables across all strata of society.

One of the main characteristics of this delicious stew is the manner in which it is eaten. Feijoada is meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace, and should not be prepared if you are pressed for time. It is a dish where the moment in which it is consumed is as important as the ingredients of which it is comprised.

There are few combinations as inviting and natural as bacon and beans, and the low-simmering heat of the poblano pepper accentuated this delicious pairing, slicing through the richness of the fat and diffusing a tasty tingle throughout the dish. The unhurried, easygoing intent of the dish was easy to understand given the desire to savor each individual bite.

Festa di Sette Pesci – Italy

“Coddies,” Mussels, Clams, Prawns, Crab Meat, Roe, White Beans, Tomato, Swiss Chard, Parmesan Lobster Broth

Taking us from Brazil back across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean, our sixth course of the evening was inspired by the Italian Christmas feast – the Feast of the Seven Fishes, or as it is called simply in Southern Italy, “The Vigil.”

The symbolic nature of this dish verges on the mystical, as the number seven has innumerable religious and theological significances, but for our purposes, it provided a delicious way to experience Chef Patrick’s deftness in regard to preparing myriad fruits of the sea.

Without a doubt, the star of this dish was the Parmesan lobster broth, which boldly placed a seldom-fruitful cheese and fish combination before our guests to great success. The broth struck a delicate balance between the savory nature of the cheese, and the briny sea salt of the shellfish and roe, wrapping everything in its warm caress.

Birthday Cake – complete with poppers to accentuate the celebratory pastry

Birthday Cake (!)

Espresso Trifle, Brandied Cherries, Candle, Party Popper

Humans have been sharing cake during birthday celebrations since as far back as the ancient Roman period. There are many reasons we stick candles in this pastry, ranging from a desire to ward off evil spirits, to marking an easy way to symbolize a bright year ahead. In any case, they are certainly a jolly way to end a meal.

The espresso trifle Patrick prepared was the hybrid dessert love child of a tiramisu, cheesecake, and pound cake. Indulgent is the right word to describe this delightful end to the evening, literally, “with a (brandied) cherry on top.”

Special thanks to Celebrations at the Reservoir, who graciously opened their gorgeous space to us as we explored what it means to celebrate in different cultures across the globe.

If you are considering hosting your own special celebration, we highly recommend you check out some of their beautiful venue(s), which include many sites we were not able to experience during E.A.T.’s event due to time constraints. (There is simply too much to see in one visit!)

Also, to get behind the scenes with the team at Celebrations at the Reservoir, and see what surprises, events, and community gatherings they have next on the roster, follow them on Twitter, take a peek at their Instagram, and like them on Facebook.

Finally, our evening would not have been possible without the brilliant and exciting menu put together by Chef Patrick Carey (Celebrations at the Reservoir & Celebrations Encore).

If you need an event catered, from a small party, to a large work event, Patrick and the staff at Celebrations Encore are sure not to disappoint. (Something about giving passionate creatives a chance to do what they love always seems to yield unforgettable, delightful results…)

Like and follow them on Facebook to keep up with all their cooking up in Richmond!

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