Last weekend more than 160 people packed into tents in the middle of a nature preserve outside of the Glen Helen Raptor Center in Yellow Springs on a beautiful evening to enjoy the Whoo Cooks for You benefit.
The event was born more than a decade ago with an intimate farm to table event that saw 40 people in attendance. As Ann Simonson, Project Manager at The Glen Helen Ecology Institute puts it, “fine dining in The Glen was born.”
This wonderful event has served as an important fundraiser for the Glen Helen Raptor Center which rehabilitates injured raptors with the goal of release back into the wild and educating the public on raptors and their role in Ohio ecosystems.
This year chefs, sous chefs, prep cooks, servers and bartenders from Dorothy Lane Market, Grist, Meadowlark, Speakeasy Ramen, Wheat Penny Oven and Bar and The Winds Cafe came together lending their time and talent to create a spectacular six-course feast, sourced from local farms and growers.
“Each year Ann (Simonson) and I so look forward to putting the WHOO dinner together. There are so many moving parts to executing a project like this, but we just stay focused on the prize at the end. Months of planning, and many phone calls and meetings that help us to adjust to any curve balls that come up. The weather can be a challenge, as well as the task of finding all the needed rentals and supplies. But it is a labor of love that both challenges us and feeds us in more ways than I can articulate. Ann has been the lead since 2011 and each year it gets bigger and better. The collection of chefs may change, but the excitement and collaboration never wanes,” said Liz Valenti, executive chef and partner at Wheat Penny Oven and Bar.
The evening began with a medley of seasonal hors d’oeuvres created by Chef Roland Eliason from the Winds Cafe accompanied by a cocktail called the Eagle Eye made with Rooibos Tea infused Tito’s vodka, homemade limoncello, rosemary, lemon, grapefruit and orange bitters.
The next course, a salmon carpaccio that knocked my socks off, came courtesy of Chef Clayton Horrighs from Speakeasy Ramen in Springfield. Beautiful pieces of fresh Faroe Island Salmon accompanied by heirloom tomatoes, scallions, kaiware sprouts, thinly shaved cucumber and a sprinkle of tobiko drizzled in a Shiragiku yuzu vinaigrette that I had to resist lapping up.
Next came an equally impressive and fabulous Burrata Agnolotti del Plin from Chefs Casey and Patrick Van Voorhis from Grist. The stuffed handmade pinched pasta skillfully prepared with a fantastic smoked butter dotted by blistered tomatoes and fino verde basil and Parmesan was finished with a wonderful reduction of Villa Manodori three-year balsamic that tied the dish together with flavors that could only be created with time on the stove and the TLC that comes with simmering, whisking and watching over the food chemistry that goes along with it.
Next was a simple and beautiful apple and fennel salad from Chef Carrie Walters of Dorothy Lane Market. This was a dish that can be easy to whip up and a winner no matter what the weather or the season and is a definite keeper.
“The salad was a fennel and apple salad inspired by Jose Andres. I love to make it because it is light, crisp and delicious. With a menu of several courses it helps freshen up the palate as you continue to eat. Thinly sliced tart apples, shaved fennel and a young manchego cheese all tossed in a sherry vinaigrette and garnished with toasted walnuts. Simple, high quality ingredients and not a lot of fuss,” said Walters
And the hits kept on coming. The next course, a melt-in-your-mouth slow-braised beef brisket with farro, eggplant, chick peas and Calabrian chile butter from Wheat Penny was another show stopper.
Chef Devin Conahan lovingly slow-braised his beef brisket with mirepoix, red wine, fresh herbs and housemade overnight roasted chicken stock. Low and slow baby! We paired it with Italian farro cooked with shallots, white onion and that same flavorful chicken stock, and Patchwork Gardens Dancer eggplants served with Calabrian chile butter and crispy chickpeas. The key to the farro is toasting the farro with the aromatics in olive oil before adding the stock. Laura from Patchwork chose that variety of eggplant for our WHOO preparation,” said Valenti.
The fifth course of the evening was a cheese course, also done by Walters, had a beautiful creamy Brie, a Westminster rustic red cheddar, figs, crackers and apples.
The final course was a beautifully plated vanilla panna cotta on an oatmeal lace cookie with corn custard, local blackberry jam, basil syrup, crushed meringue and edible flowers from Chef Dave Rawson of Meadowlark. It truly was a spectacular finish to a spectacular meal.
The reason I love events like these is seeing chefs out of their kitchens and elements experimenting and having fun with one another — you see a different side of them and their cooking and the experience, just like the food, is a very special treat.
“The strength of our Dayton area chefs and restaurants is on full display in the kitchen — creative, organized, team-centric and passionate. We work together cooking and plating more that 800 dishes in a fun, playful and organized way. No chaos, just timely communication and a desire to jump in and help wherever is needed,” said Valenti. “I know that I am not the only one of the chefs that feels this is the most fun event of the year. We get to work together, and bring all of our teams together to be a part of a dinner that is about much more than food and drink. We all feel excited and honored to be a part of this fundraiser for The Raptor Center… Each year we reflect how amazing the experience is for all the chefs and their incredible teams. I always whimsically wish out loud that we could do this on a regular basis; everyone agrees but acknowledges that our restaurants need us.”
Walters and the other Chefs I spoke to echo this feeling.
“I love working the Whoo. For me it is a place where I get to hang out with other chefs and their talented folks. We rarely get to work together as a team where we all work together to create a one of a kind event,” said Walters. “The cool thing is that they bring a couple of their talented young folks who all volunteer their time and get to work together with everyone. By the end of the night everyone gets to know each other and form a unique community. I run into people I’ve met there who have gone on to other things but fondly remember their night working and plating at the Whoo.”
This very special evening and meal may be over, but the chefs I have mentioned have food that can be enjoyed at restaurants across the region year-round.
I highly recommend a visit to any or all of these restaurants if you haven’t been lately, or even if you have.
Dorothy Lane Market, various locations, www.dorothylane.com
Grist, 46 W. 5th St., Dayton, (937) 802-4544 or https://eatgrist.com
Meadowlark, 5531 Far Hills Ave., Washington Twp., (937) 434-4750 or www.meadowlarkrestaurant.com
Speakeasy Ramen, 365 Ludlow Ave., Springfield, (937) 324-3722 or https://speakeasyramen.com
Wheat Penny, 515 Wayne Ave, Dayton, (937) 496-5268 or www.wheatpennydayton.com
The Winds Cafe and Bakery, 215 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs, (937) 767-1144 or www.windscafe.com
We are so fortunate to have chefs of this caliber in our town both for the generosity they show with the ways they give back to our community and for the talent they show every time they step into a kitchen. Anytime you can get the chance to see Chefs working their magic at an event like this one or next week’s upcoming Diced in Dayton Chef’s Challenge (https://miamivalleymeals.org/diced-in-dayton) it’s a fantastic treat that I can’t recommend enough.
DAYTON EATS runs Sundays in the Life & Arts section of the Dayton Daily News and features the latest on menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes, and food adventures. Contact Contributing Writer Alexis Larsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fennel and Apple Salad Recipe
3 T Spanish extra virgin olive oil
1 T sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bulb fennel, fronds reserved
2 Granny Smith apples
8 oz young Manchego cheese
¼ cup walnuts, toasted
Fennel fronds, for garnish
In a small bowl, combine oil and vinegar with a whisk. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Thinly slice the fennel bulb with a sharp knife or a mandolin. Cut around the core of the apple and thinly slice as well. Cut about ¾ of the manchego into thin 2 inch batons. Reserve the rest for garnish.
Toss the fennel, apples, and batons of Manchego with the dressing, seasoning to taste with the salt and pepper.
For serving, shave with a vegetable peeler the remaining cheese on top of the salad.
Garnish the salad with the toasted walnuts and a couple of small sprigs of fennel fronds.