This stunning dessert is popcorn panna cotta prepared by Chef Robert Allen for the latest Trust Fall dinner.
Until a few Sundays ago, I had never been to a tilapia farm — much less eaten dinner in one. But now, thanks to the super creative and talented folks who host the Trust Fall dinners, I have done both.
The latest of these clandestine and fun gatherings was held at Eco-Rich Farms in Greenback, Tenn. Eco-Rich, owned by Jeff and Trish Dean, is an aquaponic farm that combines the raising of tilapia and vegetables. Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that produces foods grown with no chemicals, no pesticides, no herbicides and non-genetically modified organisms. It is a closed system housed in a greenhouse that produces fish and produce year-round without soil. It differs from a hydroponic operation, Jeff Dean explained, in that with hydroponics, you do have to use chemicals.
“The fish and their byproducts make the operation possible,” Dean said. “The fish could live without the plants, but the plants can’t live without the fish.” This is a new operation for the Deans, who moved to Tennessee from Michigan and New Jersey. He is a commercial airline pilot by profession. “I just want a clean planet. It’s a passion,” he said.
The Trust Fall dinners — this was the seventh one — are a series set up by a group of anonymous foodies. Each dinner features a local chef who prepares a special dinner in a secret (until the last minute) location. They sell out within minutes of going on sale. One interesting fact about the dinners: You have to trust the chef. No special diets or preferences are taken into consideration. That’s the “trust” part of Trust Fall.
For more information about upcoming Trust Fall dinners or to be notified when tickets go on sale, just go to the Trust Fall website (click here) and sign up.
A beautiful table setting greeted us in the huge greenhouse at Eco-Rich Farms.
My husband, Alan Carmichael, picked up our signature cocktails from the bar: elderflower gin fizzes. Light and refreshing.
Chef Allen’s cute wife, MacKenzie Allen, passed the first hors d’oeuvre: salami-wrapped arugula. The beautiful arugula was grown in the greenhouse.
Here’s a closer look.
Meanwhile, we took the opportunity to examine the tilapia tanks. Here’s Mickey Mallonee getting up close and personal with the fishies.
The tilapia are moved to different tanks as their growth progresses. These are some of the larger ones.
Here’s what benefits from the treated fish poop.
Eco-Rich sells mostly to restaurants such as nearby Citico’s.
This gives you an idea of how the system works. No soil.
Eco-Rich owners Jeff and Trish Dean generously opened the farm to us.
Sous-vide rabbit with pancetta and Taleggio cheese was another passed hors d’oeuvre. “Sous-vide” means it was sealed in plastic and immersed in hot water to cook.
Guests Scott Bird, left, and Michael Higdon.
Buffalo rabbit wings. (I didn’t know rabbits had wings! But I swear that’s what they said.)
Nathan Higdon enjoyed them.
So did Steve Hancock.
Mickey Mallonee, left, with Helen Harb
Tracy Tramel, left, and Marian Epps
Soon it was time to take our seats.
First course was watermelon two ways. In the spoon is a watermelon sphere served with feta and mint. Wine pairing was a non-vintage Gruet Blanc de Noirs.
A few feet away, the kitchen staff were busily plating our next course.
It featured red curry lamb prosciutto with homemade ricotta, deer tongue greens and honey comb with rice crackers. It was paired with a 2010 Melville Estate Viognier-Verna’s.
Chef Robert Allen described the food for us.
Nathan Osborne, former bar manager at Blackberry Farm, did a fantastic job with the beverage pairings.
Alyse Wieland and Tommy Smith
Terri and Eddie Jessup
Steve and Becky Hancock
Christine Collins and Nathan Higdon
Mole carnitas with fava beans and saffron split peas featured pork belly from nearby Century Harvest Farms. “Everything about this dish is perfect!” raved Helen Harb, who was seated next to me. I agreed.
I am not much of a beer drinker (except for an occasional Miller Lite), but the Gotta Get Up to Get Down Coffee Milk Stout was delicious with it.
The can was a hoot! I would never have guessed it contained beer.
Next was smoked tilapia with greens grown on site and Georgia olive oil. “That tilapia was in the tank two and a half hours ago,” noted Jeff Dean. Interestingly, the course was paired with a Rusty Nail made with Teeling Irish whiskey. It worked.
At this point, we were instructed to pick up our things and go outside to stretch our legs. When we came back, we were asked to change seats so we were sitting beside someone new. This was a great idea.
Here’s the view when we went outside.
Ryan and Caroline Levenson
When we returned, we were served pho — a Vietnamese noodle soup. But in this case, the noodles were made of shrimp paste! It was paired with a 2006 Maison Michael Shaps Nuits St. Georges.
My favorite part of pho is the dish of “add ins” that are passed around.
I was getting pretty full by this point, but the dishes kept coming!
Here’s veal rib with potato Dauphine and sweet peas. Over the veal is a morel and mushroom reduction. The wine was a 2008 Ca’ Bianca barolo. “Don’t drink young barolo,” Nathan Osborne cautioned. “They are mean and in your face!”
And then that delicious popcorn panna cotta, which was served with a 2007 Prager Aria white port.
It is customary to sign the back of the wooden chargers at Trust Fall dinners.