'Farm to Fork' to benefit Lily Pad

ALBANY, Ga. -- For Lily Pad SANE Center Board Member Kirk Rouse, the marriage of Southwest Georgia's rich agricultural heritage with the area's love for its unmatched cuisine was a perfect pairing.

So Rouse, Lily Pad Chief Development Officer Caitlyn Cooper and three of the South's finest chefs were the principle architects of the first "Farm to Fork" fundraiser, a celebration of the bounty of Southwest Georgia's farms.

The $200-a-plate event, which will benefit the Lily Pad Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Center, will allow food lovers the rare opportunity to enjoy unique gourmet meals prepared by renowned chefs utilizing food grown exclusively in the region.

"We based this on the 'Food to Table' movement started by Alice Waters in the Berkely region of California in the 1970s," Rouse said. "So much of our life revolves around food, yet we lose sight of the importance of agriculture ... especially in this region where agriculture is the No. 1 industry.

"Atlanta is a major urban area, yet when I'm there visiting my sons, I can buy fresh produce at a number of locations or at farmers markets. But not in Albany. Where are our farmers taking their crops?"

Local growers will supply the food for the six-course Farm to Fork dining experience, which will be held July 15 at the former Ordinary Coyote restaurant. Among the items on the one-of-a-kind event menu are pork belly on ho cake with pickled fig, roasted Georgia trout with southern succotash and mustard buerre blanc, grilled quail with watermelon and watercress, and Jack Daniel's- and Coca-Cola-braised beef cheeks.

Dessert will be a Georgia Peach Bomb, while special drinks created for the meal include a Georgia Peach Belini, a Blackberry Bramble, a watermelon margarita and a Lynchburg Lemonade.

Recruited to handle the kitchen chores for Farm to Fork are Atlanta Chefs Bradley Rouse (Kirk Rouse's son) and Kimberly Jackson, who work for Bradley Rouse's All Star Chefs LLC, and Savannah Marriott Executive Chef Todd White. Rouse and White are Albany natives.

"Todd and I had cooked for other charity organizations in Albany and we really enjoyed it," said Bradley Rouse, who with Jackson serves as private chef for the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. "When the Lily Pad folks contacted us about the event, we loved the idea. This is the time of year that we have time off, so it worked well with our schedule.

"We decided we wanted to keep the menu pretty much local, but we wanted to create dishes especially for this event. We wanted to do traditional Southern cooking, but not in the traditional style. We can't beat that good old home cooking down there."

Wines, some made locally at the Still Pond Vineyard, have been paired with each course of the meal.

The fundraiser comes at a key time for the Lily Pad, which will announce soon expansion plans to include satellite campuses in Thomasville and Cairo.

"The Lily Pad covers the largest geographic location in the state: 40 counties from the Alabama state line to the Florida state line to Marion and Schley counties," Cooper, who also conducts forensic interviews at the center, said. "When victims of child and sexual abuse are forced to drive all the way to Albany from throughout the region for an exam or interview after an assault, they are revictimized.

"It becomes a full-day event for them. We are expanding to a more regional approach."

Utilization of the former Ordinary Coyote building is an appealing aspect of the evening for Bradley Rouse.

"We came down and did a walk-through at the restaurant Tuesday, and that is an excellent building," he said. "The place already has buzz surrounding it, so maybe some investor will see what a good location it is and open it back up."

The night of "good food, good music and good friends" will feature plenty of all three ingredients and will also include a special taping by Atlanta radio personalities the Chef and the Fatman for rebroadcast Saturday on the capital city's AM1160. There will also be a live auction.

The event kicks off with cocktails at 6:30 p.m. with dinner to follow at 7:30. A limited number of tickets are available and may be reserved by calling (229) 435-0074.