Hi, have we met? If we had, you'd know I love my coffee. I blame my aunt for taking me on summer walks to get iced coffee when I was a kid and my father for brewing multiple pots every morning. My friend Melody calls me a "champion" coffee drinker because I can slug down a cup like it's going out of style. So when Green Mountain Coffee (which I just visited in Vermont) got in touch with me about a series of Fair Trade events in Boston, I just had to find out more.
October is Fair Trade Month, and Green Mountain is calling attention to it through a new website, Eat, Drink, and Be Fair, and by hosting events in Boston, which will be declared a Fair Trade city in 2010. They have challenged a few local chefs to a Top Chef Masters-type event to cook with Fair Trade ingredients, which I'll write about next week.
I got the chance to attend something of a test run for one of the competitors, Chef Richard Garcia of Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro in Foxboro. Chef Garcia uses local or Fair Trade ingredients as much as possible in the restaurant, so he seems like a perfect choice to create a Fair Trade dinner. In fact, he took the coffee theme all the way and included coffee in each of the courses, and not in typical ways like crusting a steak in coffee. The dishes were interesting and adventurous and absolutely delicious.
To be honest, when I sat down and saw our menu for the evening, I was not excited. There was nothing (not one thing) that I would ever order. But I figured I could at least enjoy the wine and coffee and then find something to eat when I got home. But then something miraculous happened - I loved almost every single thing presented to me. If the regular menu at Tastings is anything like this, I wouldn't hesitate to go back.
We started with a sea urchin cappuccino, served in the sea urchin shell. In reality, it was a creamy parsnip soup, blended with local sea urchin and coffee used instead of stock, and topped with a vanilla froth. The sea urchin lent a bit of umami to the puree, and the sweetness and creaminess of the parsnip combined with the coffee was definitely reminiscent of a cappuccino. I would have licked the bowl clean if it hadn't have been for the sharp spikes.
Next up was coffee cured Hamachi, topped with a grapefruit vanilla citrette, heirloom red peppers, Marcona almonds, and fennel fronds. The fish was sweet and tender, and the almonds on top served as a crunchy foil to the rest of the dish.
The main entree was duck two ways, highlighting a delicious heirloom breed of duck. Lola ducks are deep red in color and taste more like pork or beef (at least to me) than duck. Chef Garcia describes them here on his blog. The coffee-smoked duck breast was like a nice steak - juicy and meaty and satisfying. The real star of the dish, though, was the confit leg with French roast duck jus. It was so tender and perfectly salty - it reminded me a bit of corned beef or pot roast.
Dessert was the weakest part of the meal, but it still had its strong points. The highlight was coffee- and cardamom-infused dates. Cardamom is often added to coffee in the Middle East (in the Boston area, I know Karoun in Newton serves their coffee this way), and the dates were a great vehicle for these flavors. I could have eaten a whole plate of just the dates. They were served with a coffee gel which was perhaps a little too solid - I was hoping for something more like Durgin Park's coffee jello. But did I mention those dates?
During the meal, we were accompanied by Sandy Yusen, director of PR for Green Mountain Coffee. We spent the whole evening discussing fair trade and local foods (and, well, food in general). After dinner, Sandy walked us through a cupping, or tasting, of two different types of Green Mountain Fair Trade coffee. I enjoyed tasting the Kenyan and the Sumatran side-by-side because I got a much better sense of how they compared to each other. Sandy explained that coffee has about twice the flavor compounds of wine, so using wine tasting techniques can help with identifying flavors. The Kenyan was bright and acidic and earthy, and Sandy compared it to a sourdough bread, while the Sumatran was more full-bodied with a warm and round flavor, more like a Russian rye bread. I'm so used to doctoring up my coffee that actually tasting the profile of the coffee was a nice change - I might have to do cuppings more often!
I'll write more about Fair Trade next week after the Eat, Drink, and Be Fair event. To learn more about Fair Trade, visit the Eat, Drink, and Be Fair website and take the pledge.