Once upon a time, only romantic, far-flung ingredients signaled luxury on a restaurant menu: Russian caviar, Northern Italian truffles, French sparkling wine. But dining has evolved and in recent years, more menus tout the farmers, makers, and purveyors who grow and craft ingredients locally. In some restaurants, chefs are taking it a step further, rethinking the definition of fine dining and pushing creative boundaries.
The 100-mile dinner, in which each ingredient of the meal is sourced from within a 100-mile radius, boosts local farms, promotes a more environmentally sustainable food system, and inspires strictly seasonal eating. The dinners have made an appearance in kitchens from Washington state to Tennessee, and this month, seasonal restaurant The Love in Philadelphia is hosting its first 100-mile dinner.
The Love is a partnership between James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr and Aimee Olexy, who owns Talula’s Table. When it opened in 2007, the Kennett Square-based Talula’s was at the forefront of the locavore movement, serving seasonal dinners sourced heavily from nearby Chester County farms and dairies. Over a decade later, the restaurant is still one of the toughest reservations to score in the country—with a single, 12-seat table often booking out a year in advance.
Olexy extends the same ethos to her other Philadelphia restaurants, including The Love. And while the Rittenhouse Square eatery uses plenty of locally-sourced foods, the 100-mile dinner is a chance to show off not only the food, but some world-class wine made right outside the city limits. Propelled by Pennsylvania wine month, Olexy and Alexandra Cherniavsky, the Love’s sommelier and general manager, are showcasing the region’s offerings.
“We’ve done a lot of wine dinners over the time we’ve first opened, and everyone was from really far away—South Africa, Sonoma—and we haven’t yet dived into doing something local, which is weird for us, because we do so many other local things,” says Cherniavsky.
Olexy agrees, noting the stigma associated with local wines if you’re located anywhere outside of well-known wine regions like Napa Valley or Burgundy, France. “You see locavore shoppers and eaters, but you don’t see people bridging that into their beverage life as often,” she says. “I’ve spent my career trying to get people to eat more local and seasonal, and if we can add beverages there, that’s our focus. We wanted to say it loud: ‘You’re sitting down somewhere in Pennsylvania, and everything you’re eating and drinking is from here.’”
The dinner will feature wines from Lehigh Valley-based Galen Glen Winery, which is run by winemaker Sarah Troxell and grows the oldest Grüner Veltliner vines east of the Rocky Mountains. “I really love the wines, not just because they’re from Pennsylvania, but because they’re extraordinary,” Cherniavsky says.
The six-course dinner kicks off with a savory and fall-spiced pumpkin soup paired with the winery’s bubbly rose. Chester County-based Doe Run Farm, which crafts award-winning farmstead cheeses, is making an appearance with Galen Glen’s acclaimed Riesling, as well as a salad of melt-in-your-mouth duck confit—the organic duck from Bucks County Bounty farm—with poached pears and white ginger vinaigrette, paired with Gewürztraminer.
With meats, cheeses, produce, and wine sourced from Philadelphia’s bountiful region, a single dinner can be both entertaining and educational. And, when described by Olexy, it sounds just as romantic as those Transatlantic dishes.
“We’ll pick up apples that day from the orchard by my house,” Olexy says. “and we’ll cook in the moment and drink wine that the winemaker brings to us.”
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