Home-grown is theme of benefit

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- In his daily job as regional executive chef for Morrison Healthcare Food Services, Levi Anderson travels to several health care and senior living facilities in South Georgia and North Florida.

And while he spends most of his time planning patient, staff and associated meals at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany -- usually between 4,000 and 5,000 a day -- Anderson admits that he's most often busy doing "desk and computer work" or "putting out administrative fires."

But on May 12, the Western Culinary Institute-trained chef will have an opportunity to do what he loves best. He'll be in the kitchen of the former Ordinary Coyote restaurant at 2807 Meredyth Drive, preparing some 150 meals for the second Farm to Fork benefit dinner, a fundraiser for the Lily Pad SANE Center.

"That kitchen and that building are just amazing," Anderson said of the facility that had sat unused for the better part of five years before last year's successful F2F event. "I'm stoked about preparing some of my signature dishes for this great event."

The Lily Pad's Farm to Fork fundraiser grew from the national Farm to Table movement that emphasizes the use of locally grown food and produce. With event sponsors like United Distributors, Stripling's and White Oak Pastures, as well as a number of local farmers providing food for F2F, the home-grown concept has become the defining element of the event.

"We wanted to tie the bounty of our region into a fundraiser," Lily Pad board member and event organizer Kirk Rouse said. "It's a concept of using the rich South Georgia soil to help nourish the hundreds of abuse victims who become Lily Pad clients each year.

"There are a lot of small local farmers who help feed our region, and through Farm to Fork they will help feed the lives of the population we serve."

In keeping with the local theme of Farm to Fork, bringing Anderson and sous chefs Will Eason and Edward Tedder on board to plan and prepare the menu for the fundraiser was a match made in ... Albany. All three chefs are natives of the metro area.

Eason, a Byne Memorial High School, Darton College and Albany Technical College graduate, earned culinary arts and food services management degrees at Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, S.C. Tedder, who graduated from Lee County High and Darton, earned health and business management degrees at Georgia Southern University.

All three of the chefs now work at Phoebe.

For the Farm to Fork fundraiser, the kitchen magicians have planned a menu that will delight lovers of unique Southern cuisine. They'll start with shrimp and grits appetizers and a spring pea mint soup, and a strawberry and bacon spinach salad will be topped with a honey/balsamic vinegar dressing.

The main course will feature beef fillets with red onion marmalade and potatoes au gratin cake with haricot verts (French green beans) in a bourdelaise sauce. Dessert will be individual peach and cream pies, while featured signature drinks include blackberry bourbon mint juleps and wild apple martinis.

Organic beef for the meal will be supplied by White Oak Pastures of Bluffton; drink for the potables will come from United Distributors, whose Smyrna-based operation includes an Albany distributorship; and stone-ground grits and sausages used in the meal will come from Stripling's of Cordele and Moultrie.

"Stripling's products are a perfect fit for this event, which is emphasizing locally grown," said Lisa Lassiter of Langstaff Marketing, speaking on behalf of the family sausage-maker. "The long-time, family-owned business has strong ties to this region, and they were eager to support an organization like the Lily Pad that does so many good things in the community."

Phoebe Community Visions purchased the Ordinary Coyote building shortly after last year's Farm to Fork fundraiser, which will no doubt alleviate some of the challenges that event organizers had to overcome to put on a benefit that many have said was the best of its kind ever held in this area.

"You could have taken a camera into the Ordinary Coyote last year and filmed a show for the Food Network during the week (prior to F2F) we were in there," Rouse said. "We went into an operation that had essentially not been used for five years, and there were plenty of challenges. We had probably 100 volunteers doing everything from peeling peaches to cutting watermelons to getting the restaurant in shape.

"Two days before the event the air conditioning went out, and the folks at Honeybaked Ham loaned us one of their refrigerated trucks. I've been guilty -- and I know others in this community do the same thing -- of knocking Albany at times, but every time we called someone here with an emergency, they not only responded immediately, they usually provided their services for free."

With Phoebe Community Visions, Morrison, The Veranda, Doherty, Duggan & Rouse Insurers, Welforce, United Distributors, Stripling's and White Oak Pastures serving as primary sponsors, Farm to Fork is set to kick off with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m. Dinner, for which tickets are $100, will start at 7:30 p.m. A live auction will also be held.

All proceeds will benefit Lily Pad's work with primary and secondary victims of violence.

"Now covering more than 30 counties in Southwest Georgia, Lily Pad is pleased to partner with the best producers in Georgia to create a one-of-a-kind dining experience at the Ordinary Coyote," Lily Pad Education and Advocacy Director Caitlyn Cooper said. "Farm to Fork provides us an exciting opportunity to promote the best of Georgia cooking and agriculture while at the same time helping us work toward our goal of preventing child abuse and sexual assault in South Georgia."

Tickets may be purchased at Lily Pad by calling (229) 435-0074 or emailing caitlyn@lilypadcenter.com.

"It's going to be an awesome night," Anderson said. "There will be great food, great drink, great atmosphere and it will all be for a great cause. What else do you need?"