Dinner in the garden crowd at Waterwheel Gardens with chef Kris Ott

Dinner in the Garden

Local farmers, chefs and winemakers come together for a night of good food

Lex Nelson

On June 8, Culinary Collective Network’s Chef Kris Ott did what should have been the impossible: He crammed 60 New York strip steaks into a single home oven, then plated them up for a hungry crowd. Though the exercise sounds like part of a Food Network cooking show challenge, it was actually the lynchpin of the fourth course of Dinner in the Garden, Waterwheel Gardens’ annual farm-to-table dinner.

Every year, the five-course feast brings in locavores, foodies and farmers from across the state to clink glasses of Idaho-made wine, tour the Emmett family farm and eat for hours in the warm spring air, just feet from where the night’s fruit was picked. The June 8 dinner was no exception, and Ott’s steaks, served with foraged morels and a side of roasted carrots, potatoes, and turnips, were the standout. They came to the table lukewarm thanks to the oven’s limitations, but the irresistible sauce drizzled over them made up for it with a wallop of flavor.

Stepping into the tent, Ott told the diners that he’d spent four days on that sauce, composing its decadent flavor with wild mushrooms, pigs’ feet, oxtails and chicken livers. Those notes paired beautifully with a glass of 2016 Horned Beast GMS from Split Rail Wines.

Photos by Sara Slatz

Other courses included crostini topped with ricotta, peach marmalade and nasturtiums (the leaves taste a bit like cucumbers); a green salad with cured salmon, shaved root vegetables and a Greek-meets-green goddess dressing; duck pate paired with tart pickled cherries, smokey caramelized onion chutney and gluten-free bread made from teff flour; and a sweet play on cheese curds that featured angel food cake nuggets, strawberries and a mountain of chantilly cream.

The dinner was an ode to collaboration. Waterwheel Gardens provided the venue and much of the produce, while CCN contributed the chef, Split Rail offered the wine and Create Common Good, Simeroi Springs, Fiddler’s Green Farm, Kraay’s Market & Garden, Reel Foods, City Peanut Shop, Rice Family Farms, Gaston’s Bakery, and Porterhouse Market pitched in everything from proteins to space for preparation.

Walking a group of guests around his family’s farm before dinner, Matt Williams stopped in a row of blackberry bushes to explain how CCN’s mission to connect producers, farmers, restaurants and chefs doesn’t breed competition but instead helps all boats rise. An abundance of family farms, he said, will always bring in more people than a single fruit stand. The applause that met every course of the dinner confirmed he was right.