When a group of elite chefs met last fall at Black Oak Holler Farm in the Appalachian forest of Fraziers Bottom, W.Va., they couldn’t possibly imagine that their weekend of eating, drinking and forging new friendships would culminate in a pork-themed group dinner (dubbed The Heritage Pork Feast) just 11 months later, on Aug. 8, at the legendary James Beard Foundation in New York City. Two of Cincinnati’s local chefs, Steven Geddes of Local 127 and Ian Kapitan of Jeff Ruby’s Precinct, will be participating in the epicurean extravaganza.
Situated inside a non-descript brick brownstone in New York City’s Greenwich Village lays the James Beard Foundation — and decades of gastronomic history. Drive by too quickly and you’re liable to pass it with absolutely no idea of the culinary treasure you’ve left behind. After American chef and food writer James Beard’s death in 1985, The James Beard Foundation was founded as a way “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation and, of course, enjoyment,” according to a press release issued at the time.
“The house isn’t set up to be a museum,” says Izabela Wojcik, director of house programming at the foundation. “When Mr. Beard was alive, the home was always full of chefs, authors and other food professionals, and the foundation continues that tradition.” There are 200-250 events per year at the foundation, and it’s Wojcik’s job to select the chefs. The August dinner marks the first time an event was planned around a product as opposed to a chef or group of chefs.
As a pig farmer seeking to produce hams rivaling the best prosciuttos and jamóns found in Italy and Spain, Nicholas Heckett, co-owner of Woodlands Pork, welcomed Geddes, Kapitan and a few other chefs, based on their interest in using his artisan-produced meat, for a weekend dedicated to education as well as enjoyment.
For him, having his hams featured as the basis for a Beard Foundation dinner is a huge honor.
“We’re breaking new ground,” Heckett says. “It’s raising food producers to the level of the chefs. We’re being given the recognition that we’re trying to create something unique and long lasting for the American food world. I hope that this leads to the recognition of food being produced in ways other than in a kitchen. The flavor of the best food in the world begins on the farm.”
The Heritage Pork Feast consists of 11 pork-centric courses, to be served with a selection of fine wines and bourbons. In addition to Geddes and Kapitan, the other chefs on the roster include Woodlands’ own Jay Denham; Ben Del Coro of Fossil Farms in Boonton, N.J.; Chris Leahy of Lexington Brass in New York; and Adam Sobel of RN74 in San Francisco. Each chef will prepare a course using both fresh and cured cuts of meat.
For Chef Geddes, participating in the Woodlands Dinner was a no-brainer. “Woodlands is the first supplier that I started working with when I arrived in Cincinnati,” he says. “And when I tasted the Mountain Ham, I was blown away by the quality. I could not believe that something of this caliber was being made in the United States and we [at Local 127] immediately became huge supporters.”
So why a supplier-driven Beard dinner instead of chef-driven? Geddes says it’s because artisanal industries deserve the spotlight and support of places like the Beard house.
Although Chef Kapitan has cooked at the Beard Foundation before, (as the head chef at New York’s Alobar, he prepared a brunch in January 2013) he’s looking forward to cooking with a group of like-minded chefs.
“I’m excited to return to the Beard House,” Kapitan says. “This time, a little less stressed because of the collaboration effort of all the chefs.”
As for the notoriously snug kitchen quarters the Beard House offers its chefs, veteran Kapitan has some words of advice. “It’s going to be a squeeze but it will be fun. Prep as much ahead as you can. Space is tight, and time can be limited. Have a game plan going in for your personal organization. Also, have fun. It’s a rare opportunity.”
For more information, or to attend the Heritage Pork Feast on Aug. 8, visit jamesbeard.org/events/heritage-pork-feast.