During the month of November we often take time to reflect on the things we are thankful for, which is why this is the perfect time for Part III of my reflections on the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner. This event is our opportunity to show appreciation for the farmers’ hard work and integrity.
Upon checking into the hotel, it was exciting and fun bumping into other Niman Ranch farmers. This is one of the few opportunities we have to reconnect with one another. It’s like one big family reunion.
The chefs were busy at work in the kitchen when I arrived at the hotel. So many things still had to be coordinated to ensure the evening was a success.
We had worked with Raygun to create special t-shirts for the farmers and attendees at the event. But we still needed to pick them up from their store in East Village and set up the T-Shirt Tent in the foyer. Des Moines’ East Village and SoHo are as hip as the ones in New York City only a small town version and just walking distance from the hotel.
Many friends and businesses come out to show their support for the Niman Ranch farmers at the dinner and this year was no different. My friend, Brianne Cummins volunteered to help hand out the t-shirts during cocktail hour, along with my daughter, Sophia, and Ernesto Barajas who works for Niman Ranch out of the California office.
This year we decided to change venues and held the festivities at the Embassy Suites on the River Downtown Des Moines because the interest in the dinner had grown so much we needed a larger venue. The chef at the Embassy Suites, Jeff Russell, was so hospitable and excited about hosting our celebration of the Niman Ranch farmers.
The dinner itself was more interactive this year with Food Action Stations set up all around the atrium where the farmers and guests could interact with the chefs, watch them cook and experience the appetizers fresh, hot off the grill. It was awesome.
This year, inside the ballroom, we set-up food action stations where each course was plated by the guest chefs, kitchen staff and the Iowa Culinary Institute culinary students. Our guests got the see all the activity as each featured chef took turns directing their course as it was served during the dinner.
You might begin to think this dinner was all about the food but every good chef knows that great food begins at the farm and that’s what this dinner was all about. Through out the evening you could see a slide show in every corner with photos of the farmers and their farms.
With the support of our loyal customers and friends we were able to raise $35,000 for the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund. Many promising sons and daughters of Niman Ranch farmers were the recipients of the scholarship and checks were handed out during the dinner.
Niman Ranch is the only company that I know of that recognizes and awards farmers for their meat quality. The top ten farmers were recognized and the Farmer of the Year received a bonus check from Niman Ranch. Suspense is built around who Niman Ranch will recognize as the Honorary Farmer of the Year, someone who does not raise animals but whose work supports them. This year the award went to Kenny Shaw who runs the buying station in Meservey, Iowa.
It was heartwarming to receive such a tremendous outpouring of support from our local community, as we could not have pulled off such a successful dinner without their help. I’ve recognized just a few of them below:
Many local Iowa chefs volunteered their time in the kitchen helping the featured chefs.
Raygun, an Iowa based clothing company, worked with us to provide special Niman Ranch T-shirts for the farmers that were handed out during the cocktail reception.
The Cheese Shop of Des Moines shared their expertise and helped us put together an outstanding local farmhouse platter.
La Quercia donated their charcuterie products featuring Niman Ranch pork.
Mike Schmitt from Grill’n Out of Iowa provided a massive trailer smoker that featured chef, Frederic Morineau used to prepare the entree.
Khanh Hamilton of Sunstead Farm pitched in by hand selecting much of the produce used by the chefs.
Beringer Vineyards, Newman’s Own and Embassy Suites generously provided the wine for the evening.
Gateway Market’s entire staff helped source and organize the ingredients for each chefs menu item.
We forged a new relationship with DMACC’s, Iowa Culinary Institute lead by Executive Chef and Program Chair Robert Anderson.
It was a wonderful collaboration and celebration of the best of us, chefs, farmers, business owners and friends. Thanks for all of your support; we couldn’t be here without each other.