how the cool kids entertain in chicago
have you heard about THE dinner party series of the summer?
Published Aug 22, 2016 6:00 AM
produced by ALYSSA CLOUGH curators: SARAH CROWLEY AND CHRISTEN WHITEHOUSE OFBIG DELICIOUS PLANET
There’s something about gathering friends, family, and even strangers to share a meal that will always feel special. When we first heard about the summer dinner party series hosted by Big Delicious Planet, we knew it was extra special. The collaborative event between small businesses and creative individuals based in Chicago is one of those things you want to tell all your friends about and buy tickets to immediately. We caught up with the team at BDP to learn more about their mission and the inspiration behind their Summer Solstice-themed dinner party—their first event of the summer!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE BIG DELICIOUS PLANET? A RESTAURANT? FARM? EVENT SPACE? ALL OF THE ABOVE?
Big Delicious Planet is a catering company, cafe, urban farm and event space all rolled into one. We began as a backstage caterer for concerts in 1994 with Aerosmith being our first client. Over the years we’ve catered to thousands of bands, chefs, movie stars, and even Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama. Today we focus mainly on weddings and events, and have regular daily corporate gigs like catering at Facebook’s Chicago office. We have a small cafe, the Canteen, in front of our catering kitchen, which is a local hotspot for our neighborhood. The Canteen has a simple rotating menu, as well as prepared salads and sandwiches, and great pastries. And then we have an incredible urban farm on two city lots next to our building. We host events in both our Canteen and the farm.
CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT ABOUT THE FARM AND HOW IT WAS ESTABLISHED?
When BDP was founded almost twenty-two years ago, Heidi Coudal, BDP’s Owner & Culinary Director, never imagined that we would be growing vegetables or have a farmer on staff. In 2012 we had a few raised vegetable beds built in a small corner of our parking lot. After sprouts began coming up we saw potential for more raised beds and leased two adjacent undeveloped city lots. We now have 50 raised beds and 2 beehives on what is now our urban farm. We’re growing more than 105 different varieties of organic vegetables, herbs, fruits and edible flowers. We like to experiment and plant new crops each year, and each year it looks more beautiful. In 2015 we harvested close to 2,000 pounds of vegetables!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF BEING LOCATED IN WEST TOWN?
We’re located in an industrial part of West Town which has a lot of unmarked buildings and warehouses. It’s hard to tell by the outside that we’re in a thriving, creative community. We have some really cool neighbors that are regular Canteen customers—Goose Island Brewery,Intelligentsia Coffee, Rhine Hall Distillery, Unison Home, The Conservation Center, Flowers for Dreams, photo and film people and lots of emerging entrepreneurs. Our customers love eating outside at the farm table. It’s hidden from the street, so it’s fun to see people’s reaction when they see a lush urban farm right in the middle of this industrial area.
HOW MANY YEARS HAVE YOU BEEN HOSTING YOUR DINNER PARTY SERIES?
This is our third year hosting the farm dinner series, but it’s taken a while to catch on. This year, thanks to our marketing coordinator, Sarah Crowley, we’ve collaborated with some really cool partners to make each dinner a unique event.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER REGULARLY PROGRAMMED EVENTS?
Besides the farm dinner series, we have dinner and birthday parties, baby and bridal showers, rehearsal dinners and even small weddings. We host fundraisers for organizations and schools we support, such as Advocates for Urban Agriculture’s Summer Soiree, which showcases local farms and gardens in the city that are making a positive impact on the community.
BDP IS FOUR STAR CERTIFIED GREEN—WHAT DOES THAT MEAN EXACTLY?
Several years ago clients started asking about our “green mission,” so we decided to get third party certification through The Green Restaurant Association to be transparent about how we are running our operation. There’s a huge amount of waste in the food industry, and we wanted reduce our impact on the environment, and improve upon the positive practices we already had in place. We took a deeper look into what we were buying and doing, and made changes to become a more sustainable business. After we submitted our application to the GRA, we were very surprised that we had received the highest rating, 4 Stars, because there were only 19 others in the nation at the time. We were the first caterer in the country to become a 4-Star Certified Green Restaurant and were named “Greenest Caterer in America” a title we’re very proud to hold since 2013.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO KICK OFF YOUR SUMMER DINNER PARTY SERIES WITH A SWEDISH MIDSOMMAR-THEME?
The first dinner fell close to the summer solstice, and we liked the idea of kicking off our farm dinner series with a celebration of the new season. The solstice is the transition of day being longer than the night, and our creative partners (Nimble Well, Tuan B, Foxglove, Emily Campanale) also liked the idea of an homage to the Scandinavian holiday. Our style of catering at BDP is very rustic elegant with a focus on quality ingredients, very reminiscent of Nordic simplicity and we had fun putting our twist on Swedish staples like a vegetarian “green meatball” with lentils and a creamy BDP herb pesto.
WHAT AESTHETIC WERE YOU GOING FOR WITH THIS PARTICULAR DINNER PARTY?
Words that came to mind during the conception of the dinner’s feel were ethereal and dreamy, bright, and natural. Caitlin from the Foxglove Studiocreated a mood board that focused on a mix of pale pink and bright summery yellow hues to break up the dense green of the farm surrounding the table. Nimble Well has great colored vintage goblets and printed napkins that tied in the main colors. Everything came together beautifully. The showpiece of the dinner was a macrame art installation suspended above the table by artistEmily Campanale. Guests were seated to a salad course paired with a mini smorgasbord of meats and cheeses that also served as a centerpiece and tied into the theme.
HOW DID YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH EMILY CAMPANALE COME ABOUT?
Emily Campanale and our Director of Weddings and Events Christen Whitehouse had known of each other personally. When gauging interest in people to work together with, Emily was very excited about the idea of doing an installation piece, and she was a great fit for the dinner’s dreamy theme. Emily had been living in NYC working for Nanette Lepore and doing high end freelance storefront displays, and she was interested in exploring custom decor in the Chicago market, having recently relocated here.
WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE TABLESCAPE?
We work very closely with Kelly Connolly from Nimble Well on a variety of weddings and events as she has a great inventory of rentals and props to draw from. Kelly had been wanting to to take on fun projects this summer, and in addition to providing tabletop decor she was an integral part of creative planning. We also worked with her on our July 27th color block themed farm dinner.
WHAT INSPIRED THE MENU FOR THIS EVENT?
After we chose the theme and color palette for the farm dinner, we created a menu inspired by a twist of Scandinavian cuisine and what we would be harvesting from the farm that day. We wanted the dishes to be beautiful in color and presentation, and they were intended to be a big part of the table’s look and feel during the dinner. Heidi creates the majority of our menus but it is ultimately a creative collaboration with office and kitchen staff. For this menu we put our twist on traditional sweet and savory Scandinavian elements like elderberry, lingonberry, house cured gravlax, pickled vegetables, house baked limpa bread, with lots of BDP grown fresh dill throughout.
The most magical part of the night is when the sun sets, the light is perfect, our guests have made new friends, and they’re full and happy from a meal that is largely sourced from the farm that surrounds them. What’s more rewarding than that?
WERE ALL THE INGREDIENTS SOURCED FROM THE FARM?
We were slowly beginning our summer harvest at the time of this dinner, so we used about fifteen vegetables, herbs, fruit and edible flowers from our farm in the menu. Other items were sourced from local farms we work with regularly.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE (OR MOST MEMORABLE!) PART OF THE EXPERIENCE OF HOSTING A DINNER PARTY SERIES SO FAR?
Each dinner is a unique and memorable experience. Choosing a theme and a new group of partners to collaborate with makes for a really satisfying end result. Seeing the evening come together with everyone’s contributions and hard work, as well as the reactions of the guests when they walk into the farm and then to the table is really special. We also can’t forget our guests! We get quite a mix of lovely people—couples celebrating anniversaries, groups of friends, and families. The most magical part of the night is when the sun sets, the light is perfect, our guests have made new friends, and they’re full and happy from a meal that is largely sourced from the farm that surrounds them. What’s more rewarding than that?
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS TRYING TO RECREATE SOMETHING LIKE THIS IN THEIR BACKYARD OR PATIO?
With one of our favorite aspects being the collaborative, if you have a group of friends with special skills, seek them out. Sit down for coffee and just bounce some ideas off each other. If a theme arrives naturally, run with it and see where you land. Make a mood board—there’s plenty of inspiration in cookbooks, Pinterest, and nature in general. For decor, we would suggest looking at what you do have, and making a list of what you don’t. You can get creative with what you don’t have. For our dinner, we needed a linen for the bar area, and we ended up using a paint splattered fabric that Kelly had in her studio that was intended to cover a window. It’s all about improvising and thinking about different applications of everyday things you have around. When Emily was hanging her piece before the dinner, and trimming it as she went, we realized that the odds and ends of the rope would be really cool along the center of the table to tie everything together. We also love using foraged floral for the private events we host in the farm. There’s so much green beauty in the summer, and pulling natural leafy limbs into your arrangements can really work with the farm dinner theme.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS MOST SPECIAL ABOUT DINNER PARTIES LIKE THIS? I KNOW SO MUCH WORK GOES INTO DETERMINING THE MENU, PREPPING AND STYLING THE DECOR, ETC. HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES AN EVENT LIKE THIS TAKE TO PULL OFF?
We love the collaborative aspect of creating a memorable event. Our team has a diverse set of skills, and most of our hands touch at least some part of each dinner. There are six of us in the office, and we all contribute with menu ideas, themes, and the way the evenings should look. Sarah planned the series and does most of our in-house design. Christen has a great eye for design and curates the day-of look of the dinners and handlettering or calligraphy elements. Heidi curates the menus based upon what we are harvesting and often walks outside to get inspired by colors and textures that fit the theme. For each dinner we partner with a rental company, stylist, florist, photographer, and musician. We meet with our wonderful partners and discuss the concept and come up with a mood board, but we like to let them run with it and do what they do best.
- There are 24 tickets available for each dinner.
- Each ticket costs $125 per person, which includes a 4-course meal, beverages, and tax.
- Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
WHAT ARE THE FUTURE DATES // HOW MANY DINNERS ARE LEFT? WHAT ARE THE THEMES!! (IF YOU KNOW!) We have two dinners left of the series:August 24th and September 14th. August 24th we’ll be working with Flowers for Dreams on a bohemian themed dinner. September 14th we’re collaborating with members of The Green Wedding Alliance, a wonderful green organization which Heidi is on the board. The theme for September 14th is still TBD. Stay tuned!
A PORTION OF THE TICKET SALES GO TO A CHARITY, CORRECT?
We support a variety of charities throughout the year, but 10% of the sales of our farm dinner series is focused on supporting local urban agriculture and gardening programs. The first dinner we selected to support The Gardeneers, a really neat organization which implements weekly school garden programs on the West and South sides of Chicago. Other dinners we’ll be supporting Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship, Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Growing Home, as well as small community urban farms.
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1⁄2 yellow onionfinely diced
- 2 cups greens (kale, swiss chard and/or spinach) chopped
- 2 cups black lentils cooked
- 2⁄3 cups ricotta
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
- 6 leaves fresh basil chiffonade
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
- 1⁄4 cup parmesan, grated
- 1⁄2 cup panko or whole wheat bread crumb
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
METHOD Sauteé onions, chopped greens and garlic in a pan thinly coated with about a tablespoon or more of olive oil. Let cool, then put into a mixing bowl. In a food processor, pulse the cooked lentils until finely chopped. Add lentils to bowl of sauteéd onions and greens, except remaining olive oil. Mix ingredients well into bowl very well. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and let the mixture rest for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, form the mixture into 1 1/2″ balls or whatever size you prefer. Should make about 12 balls. Put the balls onto baking sheet with parchment paper and brush very lightly with olive oil. Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning once during that time.
While baking, prepare the Herb Tahini Sauce with these ingredients:
In a food processor add 3 cloves of garlic 1 cup of fresh basil (or whatever combination of herb you prefer) 1/2 cup of fresh parsley 1/2 cup Tahini 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 1/4 cup water, more to thin if needed A pinch of salt Pour a mirror of tahini sauce on plate and place the warm green “meatballs” on the sauce. Garnish with chopped herbs or edible flowers.
SOURCE Big Delicious Planet SERVINGS/YIELD 12 servings 12