Throughout Minnesota’s snowless seasons, Upton 43 chef Erick Harcey can often be found out in the fields at his five-acre farm in Cambridge, picking produce in the wee hours before the sun comes up.
The beets, turnips, tomatoes, sun chokes, onions, garlic and potatoes – to name a few specimens – that are garnered here by the chef himself, ultimately are transformed into dishes he churns out in the restaurant’s kitchen. But at one of the most literal interpretations of the farm-to-table movement locally, there’s a good chance that none of the patrons walking through the Linden Hills eatery’s door have any idea.
“We don’t make it a big part of the message just because I don’t want to be on a soap box with anything,” Harcey said. “At the end of the day, it’s just got to be good food.”
But this month, Harcey and Co. are kicking off a trio of special, coursed “Chef’s Table” dinners with a fall wine and harvest dinner spotlighting his seasonal bounty on Saturday (Oct. 15).
The meal -- which will seat 12 inside the modern Swedish restaurant’s bustling kitchen -- will feature Domace Vino Austrian wines paired with the 10 to 12 courses, all built around fall fruits and vegetables harvested from the farm. Harcey hasn’t set his menu yet because he wants to remain flexible and intuitive to what produce looks best as he selects it and what inspiration arises. It's a good bet that diners will experience some unique produce forms such as blossoms or garlic bulbils (seed pods) -- one of the reasons Harcey loves farming is that he has access to other stages of the vegetables -- along with some of the inspiration for his labor of love as he talks about the food with the guests.
“There’s just something, to me, that’s really thrilling about having your hands in the dirt and growing your own stuff,” he said. “Really understanding how things grow and different processes of what you can do with it.”
Two later dinners will incorporate two other chefs – Jack Riebel (The yet-to-open Lexington, Nov. 5) and Michael Coury (OTG Management, Nov. 11) in the cooking process and conversation.
For the Nov. 5 dinner, Harcey plans to let Riebel set the tone and the theme. On Nov. 11, Harcey and Coury will play with truffles – an ode to the latter’s time spent cooking under Mario Batali. Tickets for the dinners, which include gratuity, range from $125 to $140.
“While it’s kind of a throwback to the 90’s, it’s still a fun, beautiful luxury ingredient and now, as food has progressed, I think you can do so much more with it instead of just shaving it or making truffle oil,” Harcey said. “You can really impart it in different ways.”
But above all, Harcey wants to keep the dinners creative and surprising. During, recent Chef’s Table dinner with chef Sameh Wadi of Saffron and World Street Kitchen, the pair essentially changed every course from their original plan on whims or because the fire’s heat changed.
“We basically prepare it in front of the guests and it’s fairly interactive,” Harcey said. “The guest don’t know what they’re eating until they’re eating it.”
For Harcey, it’s those moments that justify the time spent on his farm, picking produce by the pound as mosquitos swarm.
“You taste it and it’s like ‘OK, this is why we’re doing this,” he said.
(Photo above: Harcey at his Cambridge farm; photo credit: Colin Michael Simmons, Creative Direction: Bodega LTD)