The Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner is the highlight of the year for many of us! In appreciation for the hog farmers who raise hogs humanely and sustainably for Niman Ranch, a group of highly acclaimed chefs from across the country take time off to travel to Iowa to cook this special dinner for our farmers.
This year we were honored to have the most distinctive line-up yet, with:
- JBF Award Winners, Anne Quatrano & Clifford Harrison- from Bacchanalia in Atlanta;
- JBF Award Finalist; Jack Riebel– who brought his Butcher, Peter Botcher, with him from The Butcher & the Boar in Minneapolis;
- Top Chef Season 7 Winner-Kevin Sbraga who brought his sous chef, Colin Cook, from Sbraga in Philadelphia;
- Food & Wine’s Best New Chef 2003, David Bull– of Congress in Austin;
- Australian Salon Culinare Gold Medal Champion, Jodie Rogers of Deer Valley Ski Resort & executive chef, Clark Norris, of Mariposa- number one restaurant in Salt Lake City area;
- JBF Award Winner, Andy Ricker’s right hand- Alex Yellan of POK POK NYC.
The dinner is not just a culinary experience, but a true collaborative celebration of the connection between the farmers who raise our food and the chefs honoring it through their restaurants and menus. Each chef created an appetizer for the cocktail hour and one course for the dinner- both spotlighting Niman Ranch Pork as the key ingredient.
Farmers and guests mingled during the cocktail hour, catching up with one another while pausing to feast and visit with the Featured Chefs who were cooking and serving appetizers like Strammer Max, Muu Sawan, & Star Provisions. Video screens throughout the hotel played a slideshow of the featured chefs including a quote from each of them about why the farming methods used by Niman Ranch farmers matter to them as a chef.
Farming is often seen as a thankless job, but it doesn’t feel like it at Niman Ranch. During the dinner, we presented awards to our farmers, recognizing those who have consistently provided the highest quality of pork to Niman Ranch throughout the year. The top award went to farmer, Chris Scheer. Farmer of the Year award was presented to The Crowe Family and a video short of their family farm by Graham Meriwether was shown. Later, special recognition was paid to those farmers who have been supplying Niman Ranch for 10 years.
As this year marked the 15th anniversary it seemed very fitting to bring back a featured chef from the past as our keynote speaker- Michael Leviton chef and chariman of Chefs Collaborative. He spoke about how his experience visiting the Willis Family Farm and cooking as a featured chef so many years ago impacted him and his career.
Scholarships were awarded to the Next Generation through the generous support of many of our customers and friends. The scholarship was founded to support the tradition of the family farmers who supply the Niman Ranch Network which was started by the late Davidand Diane Serfling.
Let’s talk food; seriously, this menu was exquisite. We had several firsts at the dinner this year. The first time for tofu with chef David Bull’s marvelous Amuse-Bouche of Pork Belly & Tofu Terrine. It was also the first time, and about time if you ask me, for a butcher to come to the Farmer Appreciation Dinner. Jack Riebel of the notable Butcher and the Boar brought along Peter Botcher to impress us all with his Trotter Ring Sausage, Crispy Pigs’ Ear, Heirloom Tomato, Green Chile for the Second Course.
The crowd favorite was the entrée of Oak Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Niman Ranch Pork Tenderloin Iowa sweet corn and Frisian Farmstead mature gouda faro, pontack sauce, with elderberry glaze by Chefs Jodie Rogers and Clark Norris. A perfect ending to a great meal with Chocolate, Chicharonnes, Chile by Chef Anne Quatrano and her husband/partner Chef Clifford Harrison.
Who could pick a favorite? Every dish was fantastic and notable!
Niman Ranch is supported in honoring these farmers at this event by; Beringer Vineyards, E & J Gallo Winery, The Korleski Family, Mike & Laura Draper of Raygun T-shirts, Herb & Kathy Eckhouse of La Quercia, Neil & Khanh Hamilton- Sunstead Farm, C.J. & Kari Bienert- The Cheese Shop, Slow Food DSM, George Formaro, Paul Rottenberg and all at the Gateway Market, Joyce Lock– Foodie Fight, Marczyk Fine Foods for ground support, Embassy Suites executive chef Jeff Deets, Niman Ranch executive chef Andrew Hunter, Chef Nickolas Illingworth- The Cheese Shop, Chef Chris Stelzer- Green Hills Retirement Community, Chef Derek Dennison- Centro, Chef Johan Larsson- Django & special thanks to The Brown Family of Alderland Farm, John and Beverly Gilbert, Chef Donna Prizgintas- Dream Farm Food, My Mom- Phyllis Willis for your famous Apple Pies, & my daughter, Sophia Willis.
Most of all, thanks to all of the farmers who supply Niman Ranch humanely, sustainably raised pork. It was great to see you at the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner. We appreciate all that you do.