The Cornell Underground is a group of students (hotel, architecture, design) not technically affiliated with the university that host once-a-semester dining events. Previous dinners have included a seven course meal served in a space literally created from the ground up by architecture students and a whimsical evening of 'flavor tripping' in a venue that looked like it came straight from the Willy Wonka set. The group is veiled in mystery, and to participate one truly has to "know somebody." Luckily, I knew somebody.
This semesters event, labeled as a Garden Party, took place yesterday evening in the Cornell Plantations. My sole responsibility for the dinner was to help prepare food, but I'll try and explain what the guests experienced from the bits and pieces I overheard.
100 guests were selected from throughout the Cornell community (students, parents, professors, etc) and given an elaborate invitation--a small wooden box, inside of which was growing wheat grass, and etched into the lid was a message informing guests to meet in front of the Cornell Dairy Bar around 3:45 pm. The 100 guests were led on a walk through the plantations, where they toured the herb gardens (all herbs used for the meal came from the herb gardens) and snacked on herb tea popsicles (made by yours truly).
The guests continued through the plantations, eventually arriving at a large gazebo, inside of which was a bar and jazz trio. Guests had their choice of horchata (see previous post) or a mojito-like cocktail using mint, lavender, and lemon-verbena. Guests could snack on popcorn, some flavored with truffle butter, some with cayenne pepper and chili powder. After a bit of mingling, a gong was rung and guests were led to dining table.
In the middle of the plantations, on a small slip of land separating two ponds, was a 100 foot long table, made of a single piece of wood, four inches thick, and supported by saw-horses. Excuse the language, but the table was fucking magnificent. The pictures below really doesn't do it justice. Some hotelie knew of a lumberman in a nearby town who just happens to own the largest mill in the U.S., and voila, a 100 foot table was born.
50 guests sat on each side, and dinner was served.
The first course was a collection of spring vegetables, served on a large slate, family style (one slate for two people). The vegetables included grilled asparagus with a pistachio sauce, pickled zucchini, pickled daikon, picked carrots, pickled green beans, marinated beets, pickled ramps, almonds, and a salad of arugula, manchego, and cucumber. The picture below is mid-plating.
The main course was Kobe beef (with a sauce made from pan drippings, truffle butter, onions, garlic, red wine, and piment d'espelette) and caponata (an Italian dish that includes eggplant, raisins, red onions, and various spices).
Dessert was again served on the slate and was a baba au rhum cake (a yeast cake soaked in rum syrup) served with whipped cream, a rum sauce, crystallized flowers, freshly picked flowers, chocolate powder, and praline. Again, the picture is mid-plating.
After dinner, guests could enjoy a fire pit, fire dancers, a hookah, and a guitarist/singer performing.
The entire event was put together on a $5000 budget (100 guests who each payed $50).
All the food was prepped in a frat kitchen and driven to the plantations.
I wasn't in many pictures, but I can say with certainty that once I got to the plantations, saw the event space, and wound up in front of an eight foot charcoal grill tending to $700 worth of kobe beef, I was grinning from ear to ear. Definitely a better way to spend my Monday than studying for finals.
*All photo credits go to Crystal Calabrese