When our friend and eco-informant Shiva Rose invited us to do the tables for Reclaim Real Food, a three-night pop-up dinner series at The Standard's 24/7 Restaurant catered by rising chef Nina Clemente with co-chef Michael Reed, and hosted by Rose with actress Marisa Tomei, actor Adrian Grenier, we had one question: What does Reclaim Real Food mean?
THE REAL DEAL We can be forgiven for not initially knowing, since the event happened to be the organization's official launch. The group was formed to educate the public on the dangers of genetically modified crops and to raise support for non-GMO sources. Fittingly, a portion of each night's proceeds went to the Garden School Foundation, an elementary-school nutrition program in south LA where Clemente is a volunteer teacher.
THE DECOR We roped in Ashley Bryant and Christina Contento of Meinschatz Events, to help us create a tablescape worthy of the feast. "We wanted to do something funky, retro, and sustainable," says Bryant, who mixed ferns with tiki-riffing vessels for a cheeky Three's Company nod. Produce also played a starring role, with leafy kale, romesco and wispy-stemmed carrots (donated by Malibu farm One Gun Ranch) arranged to spill elegantly from apple crates. Meanwhile sage, wild blackberries, and blueberries were incorporated into floral arrangements. Apothecary bottles filled with sprigs of clover dotted tables, hurricane candle pillars packed with barley added a glow with textural interest, and kraft paper name tags provided a rustic complement to seeded menus.
THE FEAST To translate the mission to the plate, Clemente (whose culinary know-how was cultivated at Michelin-starred Piazza Duomo and Osteria Mozza) enlisted chef Michael Reed, a fellow Mozza alum, to collaborate on a six-course menu whose nature-oriented aesthetics mirrored their pure origins. "Nancy Silverton once told me, 'It should look like it fell from the sky or grew from the plate' and it resonates to this day," says Clemente, who prizes artful presentation as much as flavor profile. The menu spanned simple white risotto served with English pea puree, asparagus tips and smoked local mushrooms, to pan-roasted local halibut presented in a sunchoke soup with baby artichokes, root vegetables and kale.
THE FINALE When the last panna cotta was ravished, patrons including photographer Douglas Friedman, musician Lykke Li, and filmmakers Liz Goldwyn and Gus Van Sant left satisfied ("One more bite and it would have been too much" was the contented chorus) with the lingering wish for a follow-up engagement. "We're already working on the next one," Clemente promises. We'll keep our calendar open.
No soiree would be complete without a signature cocktail, and this one called for a libation that celebrated the party's farm-to-table vibe in a quirky-cute vintage way. Our solution: the Meyer lemon gimlet. Easy to make--and even easier to drink--this dangerously delicious tipple can be adapted to whatever citrus fruit's in season, but is especially divine with fresh Meyer lemons.
1 cup of fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice, divided
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup high-quality gin
1. First you need to make your Meyer lemon simple syrup. Combine 1/2 cup of fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice with the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring to ensure the sugar fully dissolves. Let cool completely.
2. In a large pitcher, combine the simple syrup, remaining 1/2 cup of Meyer lemon juice, and gin.
3. Place pitcher in the refrigerator until the mixture is fully chilled. Serve in chilled cocktail couples and garnish with a thin slice of Meyer lemons, if so desired!
Photographs: Andrew Arthur