Those who have experienced a dinner at Swank Speciality Produce know just how special of an experience it is. Those who have not, will probably make the same faux pas that I did, and wear heels (or am I just the only jerk who chooses heels for a farm?! – don’t answer that.) I guess I managed to ignore the “Farm” part and just went with Swank. Luckily my friend Destiny was on hand to loan me a pair of flats so that I could focus on the food and the experience versus trying not to fall in the mud (which given how awkward I am could still happen anytime, anywhere, and in any type of shoes).
Located in Loxahatchee, FL, the farm that started as a small lettuce operation by husband/wife duo Darrin and Jody Swank quickly turned into an operation with 350 varieties of specialty produce. They provide vegetables, edible flowers and microgreens for South Florida’s top restaurants and their products can be found at local farmers markets in season. The barn is the site of many weddings and special occasions, as well as their series of family-style dinners that feature some of the most badass chefs in Florida. Tickets sell out months in advance for the events (even Lady Gaga can’t say that) that each have a unique theme, such as “Throwback to the 70’s” and “Coastal Seafood.” The dinner that I was so graciously invited to was titled “Vegetable Love” – and each of the 4 chefs featured certainly put a ton of love into the delicacies they prepared using produce straight from the farm!
Upon arrival to the gorgeous farm, guests are greeted with a welcome cocktail (which was much needed after a looooooong drive). The drink was incredibly fresh and tasted like a spiked carrot juice, so you’re basically healthy AF. Musicians play and small bites are passed around while diners wait to proceed to the welcome bite station (oh yeah, there are pre-welcome bites, welcome bites, a pre-dinner appetizer, dinner, and dessert. Prepare to clear you schedule for a good 4-5 hours for this one!)
On to the welcome bites. The in-house chef for Swank Table, Simon Stojanovic, prepared for us a Swank Eggplant Caponata on a Baguette. Chef Michael Beltran of Ariete in Coconut Grove whipped up a Chilled English Pea Soup with strachiatella and edible flowers from the farm. Chef Ken Blue of the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, which is completely raw vegan, dazzled us with a Sunny Canapé with Caviart (not a spelling error – that’s the term for vegan caviar alternative) on Vietnamese Butter Lettuce Cups with Mango and Green Curry Sauce. But my absolute favorite bite came from Chef Pushkar Marathe of Ghee Indian Kitchen in Miami’s Design District. He crafted a “Pani Puri” made with Swank Farm Beets, served in a Semolina Puff with Green Juice and Tamarind. It was quite a feat eating one of these, as Chef insisted we put it in to our mouths whole, the reason for that being that as you swallow, your palette goes on a journey of flavors, one after the other. My palette was dying to go on that journey over and over and over again, but I needed to save room for MUCH more to come!
As Sommelier Michael Dixon made his way around the barn to pour us our fill of wine, the musicians took then stage and provided us with beautiful background music the whole night long. Waiting for as at the table was a plate of pickled veggies, each one fresher than the next. I believe I was experiencing veggie nirvana, and the night wasn’t even close to over.
First on deck to once again wow us with his talents was Chef Pushkar of Ghee, who’s first dish was a Swank Farm Vegetable Pachadi Salad: Shaved Veggies, Tomatoes and Black Mustard Vinaigrette. Beautiful to look at, and even more tasty to eat!
But it was Chef Pushkar’s second dish that I couldn’t stop myself from completely devouring. Swank Cauliflower and Pea Pulao, served with Basmati Rice, Fenugreek Leaves and Raita. The Indian flavors infused in to the cauliflower, which was expertly charged for a bit of crispiness, truly fed my soul, and the rice was also bursting with a ton of flavor.
It was time for Chef Ken from Hippocrates Health Institute’s turn to wow us. He had the one dish that I was most looking forward to in anticipation of the night: Pad Thai Turnip Noodle with Spicy Almond Butter Sauce, Bean Sprouts, Crunchy Almonds and Micro Cilantro. I loved the genius twist of using almond butter versus the traditional peanut sauce. The turnip noodles has a great crunch to them plus the added bonus of being far healthier than a gluten-based noodle. More points for being healthy!
I may have given my heart to the Pad Thai, but this next dish from Chef Ken took my whole soul (and don’t ask about my liver – that was given up long, long ago). Cheezy Tahini Zucchini Pasta: Meaty Mushrooms, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Swank micro herbs, and Nasturtums. I typically try to impress people with how long I can go without washing my hair (3 weeks – don’t ask), but impress your friends by knowing the word of the day – “nasturtums” – it’s an edible flower with a distinct peppery taste. Jeopardy, I’m ready. But I digress. This dish was hearty while still being vegan and healthy – it will make you question why you ever exposed your body to EZ-Mac. This was a clear highlight of the night, and it did the impossible – dare I say it?!?! – made me not miss carbs. Not missing carbs – I haven’t felt a sensation so new and unexplainable since losing my virginity.
At this point it’s probably making sense why I recommend stretchy pants. Swank dinners are no joke, as another Chef stepped up to plate and I simultaneously wondered how much Adderall I was gonna have to take to finish this whole blog, because writing about SO MUCH FOOD has been taking me ten million years (but to be fair I also take no less than 7 reality TV show breaks per day. God I love being out of the corporate world). ANYWAYS. Chef Michael Beltran of Ariete in Coconut Grove prepared for us a feast of Grilled Fish accompanied by a Lobster Tomato Nage and Swank Shelling Beans. In South Florida, seafood is as common as fake boobs, but as anyone who has spent a day on South Beach can tell you, not all of them are good (and that’s putting it lightly). But this fish? So delectably smooth and perfectly paired with the beans to make every bite so fulfilling. Emphasis on the FULL, because dinner was over, and there was only one more thing we needed to take care of business…
INSTAGRAM PICTURES!!!!! Just kidding. We would never wait until the end of the night to get this shot. This was one of the first things we checked off our checklist. Duh. This isn’t amateur hour. (Photo credit: PAPPHOTO)
(Photo credit: PAPPHOTO)
The ACTUAL last point of business was dessert, which was crafted by Cindy Bearman of Oceano Kitchen in Lantana. A Whipped Quark Cheesecake with Chocolate Beet “Soil” and Roasted Strawberries. Anyone who knows me knows I’m lazy AF, and so I’m gonna let that picture and the description speak for itself. And if it’s not whispering “HEAVEN” to you, then you’re probably Satan. IT WAS HEAVEN.
People come from all over the world to enjoy the weather and the sights of South Florida. But whether you’re a tourist, a snowbird, or a full time resident – if you’ve ever stepped foot in to this state then you need to make sure that you are experiencing the best that we have to offer. Swank dinners are certainly it. Fresh food, friendly atmosphere, expertly paired wine. Get your palette ready and leave your heels at the door.
***I received complimentary noms in exchange for this post, however, you cannot bribe me with food, so all opinions are my own.