ABOVE LEFT At the Nov. 9 Moveable Feast, lengthy tables are nestled among the certified organic blueberry bushes at Weeks Bay Plantation in Fairhope. Guests enjoyed five courses, wine pairings for each and live music from popular local musicians, Sugarcane Jane.
ABOVE RIGHT Cassie Franklin, a server from The Noble South, brings out the vegetable course — corn custard (made with fall corn from northwest Florida), marinated kale, grilled oyster mushrooms from North Alabama and fried garlic.
Twice a year, local food lovers gather on a beautiful piece of farmland in Baldwin County to enjoy unique fare, superb wine and rich conversation. This unforgettable meal is called “Moveable Feast” and is hosted by Fairhope’s Windmill Market. Throughout the evening, strangers become friends as they taste exotic flavors crafted by local chefs using only the best homegrown ingredients. Between each of the five courses, farmers, chefs and wine experts share information about the dishes, their trades and how attendees can support the local food movement.
“There are five courses with wine pairings, the sunset, a breeze blowing, but we also want it to be educational, ” says Maggie Lacey, the event’s coordinator. “We serve amazing food, but the meal also has a purpose at the same time.”
Since 2010, Windmill Market has hosted five Moveable Feasts. Each dinner has accommodated nearly 100 guests, and many patrons have attended all five. Chris Rainosek, chef and owner of The Noble South on Dauphin Street, served as chef for the most recent feast held this past November at Weeks Bay Plantation in Fairhope. Rainosek says it melded perfectly with his cooking philosophy: “What we do at The Noble South really fits with a Moveable Feast. We support a lot of the same farmers.”
Creating a loyal customer base for the region’s farms and the chefs who are committed to using homegrown meats and produce is the goal of each Moveable Feast. Even if you cannot attend the event, there are other ways to aid the cause.
ABOVE Mobile Oyster Co.’s Isle Dauphine Oysters on the half shell, with soy pearls and slivers of radish, greet guests. The Noble South, along with Chef Donald Link’s Peche Seafood Grill in New Orleans, are the only restaurants that serve these oysters, which are raised on the west end of Dauphin Island.
5 Ways to Support the Local Food Initiative
1. Dine at restaurants that emphasize regional favoritism, such as The Noble South and NoJa in Mobile. On the Eastern Shore: Locals, Sunset Pointe, Sweet Olive and Thyme By the Bay. It also promotes indigenous entrepreneurs when you ask at any eatery, “What’s local?”
2. Purchase produce from roadside stands, farmers markets and stores that sell items grown in Alabama soil. In Mobile, try Market on the Square or Satsuma Farmers Market. In Baldwin County: Chasing Fresh in Windmill Market, Allegri Farm Market or Hazel’s Market in Daphne, Burris Farm Market in Roberstsdale and Gulf Coast Farmers and Fishermen Market in Foley. These merchants also often supply goat cheese and milk, grass-fed beef, lamb, sausage, free-range chicken, yard eggs and quail eggs.
3. Hook into native seafood. Swai? Say, “no way, ” unless you’re from somewhere without fresh-gigged flounder, fresh-off-the-boat snapper, grouper, bass, drum, sheepshead, mullet. Shall we go on? If you don’t ask the restaurant, though, your fish of the day may have traveled, frozen and refrozen, all the way from Thailand. Ask the provenance of shellfish, too. Questions create demand for Gulf-supplied seafood.
4. Eat in season. If you want the best, least travel-weary food, plan meals around availability: juiciest tomatoes in the spring and summer, prime collards and kale in fall and winter. (MB’s Almanac, page 34, can be your guide.) “At times of year when the fields may be between seasons, ” Lacey says, “Still check with purveyors of local goods for what you need. They’ll expand the reach beyond just our counties to other parts of our state or region when necessary, but still fit with the mission of supporting small farmers.”
5. Understand distinctions, such as “local” and “organic.” “Organic is a buzzword, ” Lacey says. “There are so many layers to that definition.” A lot of our county farmers grow their crops without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation simply “because they are passionate about the quality of their product and the health of their fields, ” Lacey says. But they might not be “certified organic” because of the intense certification process.
Want to participate in an upcoming Moveable Feast? Visit moveablefeastfairhope.com.
text by Jill Clair Gentry • photos by ashley rowe