This past Wednesday, my wife and I had the unique pleasure of attending the SXSW Eco Welcome Dinner.
SXSW Eco, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is “a three-day conference addressing the need for a concerted, cross sector approach to solving the recognized challenges facing the economy, the environment and civil society.” Currently in its sophomore year, SXSW Eco seeks to bring together professionals from all walks of life in an attempt to move beyond academic dialogue to find practical solutions for the many ecological problems facing our species.
The dinner represented the beginning of the three-day festival, and let me tell you, it was a helluva kickoff.
SXSW Eco teamed up with Local Orbit and The Homegrown Revival to create a dinner comprised of wonderful Texas foods, amazing new friends, and exciting announcements for those of us invested in sustainable foods.
We dined underneath the stately old pecan trees at Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Austin’s premiere organic farm. Sitting on 20 acres just east of downtown, JBG is an Acadian paradise hiding just beyond the shadow of the urban jungle of downtown Austin. You can find their 100% organic produce at many of the farmer’s markets around town. Give’em a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Sonya Cote and Tink Pinkard of The Homegrown Revival, along with an army of helpers, prepared the multi-course meal. Texas Sake Company was on-hand to provide complimentary samples of their excellent Texas Sake, Medlock Ames brought the Sonoma Wines, and Lagunitas had all the craft beer we could drink.
The meal was mind-blowing. We started with a silver plate filled with pig cheek terrine and antelope tartare, accompanied by shaved vegetables from Johnson’s Backyard Garden like pickled pears, spicy bok choy, and red onions. The terrine was fantastic, but I couldn’t stop eating the antelope tartare. It was rich and earthy, and I couldn’t get enough.
Then we had a sweet pork stew that contained beets and boiled eggs. The pork stock was wonderfully meaty on the palate without being overwhelming, and the beets added the bright, veggie goodness that every stew needs. And the eggs. My, oh, my. The eggs were gooey and golden, cooked just to the point of custardy perfection and bobbing on the surface just screaming to be rescued and savored.
After the stew, Cote served us a marinated mound of salad made up of sprouts and argula, and topped with fried strips of sweet potatoes, all of which came directly from the farm where we dined. If I could go back in time, I’d replace the goofy bride and groom cake topper on our wedding cake with those sweet potato strips. They were that good.
And finally, the main course. Wild boar porchetta that had been brined in sake. Tink Pinkard had been onsite cooking the porchetta over an open flame since 7 A.M. During that time, the skin of the boars become as crispy as potato chips, and the meat had soaked up the smoky flavor of the wood fire, and both flavors came together in a symphony of flavor.
For dessert, members of the cook staff walked around and handed out honey butter rice cakes that had been pan fried and coated with strawberry jam. I ate three as quickly as I could, lest someone steal them away from me.
At the dinner, in a demeanor and tone can be best described Churchillian, Charles Barrow of The Homegrown Revival made a wonderful announcement. He told the audience that Homegrown Revival will be collaborating with Sustainable Food Center to help promote the importance of local, healthful foods in the Austin area.
Brenton Johnson, the owner of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, also announced the beginning of his new project, FarmShare Austin, a nonprofit organization dedicated to: “mak[ing] locally grown organic produce more accessible to low income individuals, establish[ing] an educational program to teach organic farming skills to aspiring farmers, conduct[ing] research that will help organic farmers move towards higher sustainability, [and] develop a farmland preservation program with the goal of securing an adequate and reliable food producing resource base for the community.”
My wife and I have been to nearly all of the The Homegrown Revival events, but this collaborative SXSW/HGR/Local Orbit event was a bit different than the previous dinners because SXSW Eco played the maestro in orchestrating a cross-demographic symphony of ecological consciousness. The people milling back and forth, laughing over cocktails, and sharing food from communal plates and ultimately from our own hands, had come from around the globe to not only discuss the problem of sustainable, healthful food, but to also look for economically practical solutions.
It comforts my soul to know that this issue is becoming more important. It provided even more comfort to my mind to see that real-world steps are being taken to solve it. But my stomach was the ultimate winner. A night of wild hog, excellent booze, and fresh produce? Yes, please.