The Magic from the Field to the Table

Text and Photos from Chef Fr. Jack Lau, OMI, CIA-1979

On Sunday the 7th of June there was the energy and anticipation of a great event taking place. We all know the feeling just prior to the guests arriving for a wedding or a major family gathering. For weeks we were preparing for this event. Let me take you back in time first. Crystal and Eric Stevens, the farmers at La Vista, CSA for the past six years have been meeting with local chefs and movers and shakers in the food industry. Coming from the business, to break into this close circle of Artist / Chef is not easy for they are very busy and chefs are particular about what they want. Over the years, the Chefs have seen and met with Crystal and Eric at numerous cultural and civic events and realized that they are passionate about what they do. They know their garden and they know their food! Crystal is also a columnist for “Feast Magazine” which is free at upscale markets and restaurants in the St. Louis area. With these networks in place the organizers of “Slow Food St. Louis” visited La Vista to see if it would be a suitable venue for their annual farm dinner. We asked all the pertinent questions regarding insurance and liability and then the “how will this happen and what do we need to do?” A few weeks later, La Vista Gardens was chosen as this year’s venue!

We were told that the event would be for 100 people along with about 15 chefs and the students of the Culinary Institute of St. Louis at Hickey College. While the sponsoring group did all the work regarding rental of tables, chairs, glasses and plates etc., and set up, it was up to us to have the place looking inviting and welcoming. This was done with much sweat and lots of creativity. Eric’s father painted the barn while the farm crew planted, weeded, tilled, mowed, mulched and trellised. Even the small reflecting pond on the terraces of the house was flowing.

Chef Father Jack prepares incrediants for the salad

Early in the morning we had volunteers and the novices in the garden doing last minute weeding. Then the culinary students arrived and were directed by Chef Chris to go into the garden and start picking the strawberries for the dessert. For some, this was the first time they ever were in a field. (This being the case, they have much more to learn before they receive the title “Chef”). Yet their passion for food and the business was most evident throughout the day. The students with the care of a sacristan set up 12 tables serving 100 people down the centre of the field between the beans that were beginning to flower and the peas that were obediently tied to the trellises. The garden was like a movie scene.

The people arrived in a shuttle bus at the main house where they gathered on the terraces to sample Alton’s new organic brew, enjoy appetizers and listen to music. The scene was that of the “Great Gatsby”. As I milled about as an Oblate and a Chef, I was able to share our Oblate History and our concern for the integrity of our environment and how we try to integrate that into our daily lives. People didn’t want to leave the bluff, but the supper bell was rung and so they headed to the fields.

The splendid salads are ready!

Every one took their place and the meal began. With each of the nine courses, the chef that prepared the plate went to each table to explain the service, the ingredients, where it came from and the manor of preparations. Crystal, Eric and I were honored by being invited to prepare the first course/salad! We served a Swiss Chard Roll, Stuffed Squash Blossom and Grilled Radish Crostini with the trinity of; Mustard Oil, Seeds and Flower. The meal was exquisite and the communion at table was so very evident. The sharing lasted into the early evening and when the shadows lengthened people slowly began to head to the shuttle bus, but not without first thanking me, the Oblates and La Vista Gardens for hosting this once in a lifetime event; and before they got on the shuttle bus, classic French chocolates awaited them along with a cup of coffee.

Being a Chef and loving the gardens of La Vista CSA, I can truly say that this event has showcased our long standing concern and care for our property, our respect for the land and soil, our desire to live consciously and healthy and our willingness to be with the people where ever they are on their journey. Crystal, Eric and their many workers and volunteers were able to make this gathering happen and it is one way in which many more will come to know about the benefits of La Vista Gardens and how as Oblates, we affirm how “the integrity of creation is intimately linked with our justice and peace efforts.”

Dining room designed by God