For an enchanting evening this summer, venture into the pine grove at Smolak Farms in North Andover for a fairy-tale, lantern-lit dinner that celebrates the bounty of the farm, while benefiting a local charity. From Wednesday, June 20 to August 29, top chefs from Boston and the North Shore will participate in the eighth annual Whim Dinner Series, held at the farm most Wednesday evenings throughout the summer.
“It’s the best food I’ve had anywhere,” says Michael Smolak, whose family farm grows vegetables and fruit, operates a bakery, raises animals, has a farmstand, holds educational programs, and offers bucolic spaces for events. “The chefs really knock themselves out for these three-course dinners, and often throw in an extra course or a take-away,” says Smolak.
Danny Levesque, Davios
“When I went to the farm and met Michael, I realized what a special place it was,” says Danny Levesque, regional executive chef at Davio’s in Lynnfield, who kicks off the series. “I have cooked at the farm for the past two years. This year will be my third.”
For each dinner, the chef supplies the protein. Smolak Farms provides the vegetables, fruit, some dairy, and eggs. Since Davio’s specializes in Northern Italian food, no doubt homemade pasta will be on the menu.
“I’m not sure what ingredients I’ll get, but I might do some sort of free-form lasagna,” says Levesque. “I’ll probably do a salad, and maybe something with lobster.” He pauses.
“Then again, it’s the first day of summer, which is pretty special. Maybe I’ll do a whole roasted lamb!”
For his charity, Levesque has chosen The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), the largest hunger relief organization in Massachusetts, which distributed nearly 60 million pounds of food to people in need last year.
Brian Kevorkian, Grill 23 & Bar
“Steve [DiFillippo, owner of Davio’s restaurants] is very involved with the GBFB,” says Levesque. “The charity does so much, for so many people in Boston and the suburbs, yet we still have hungry people, so it’s great to help out in that way.”
Guests buy Whim Dinner tickets online or at Smolak Farms. Cocktails and conversation begin around 6:00 p.m. and guests show up in everything from Levis to lamé.
“There will even be a paved roadway with flat cobbles so you can wear stilettos and not be drilling holes for seeds,” says Smolak, chuckling. “We’ll have lit torches, lights in the tents, and rows of tables with linens, silverware, and wine glasses. Each chef will be up on a stage with rows and rows of the dishes they’re serving.”
“Last year was my first year,” says Steven Morlino, chef de cuisine at Gaslight in Lynnfield. “I am very excited to be asked back and really looking forward to it.” Drawing from his love of Mediterranean flavors and the ingredients he received last year, Morlino thinks he’ll start with eggs.
Steven Morlino, Gaslight Lynnfield
“They’re so versatile. I’ll probably do a take on deviled eggs,” he says. “I’ll also do a beautiful salad, maybe a spin on a wedge with Great Hill Blue [cheese] dressing, Bibb lettuce, shaved green apple, fine herbs, and candied walnuts.” For his entrée, Morlino thinks he’ll serve local striped bass over ratatouille, with a dessert using the farm’s raspberries.
“They are so juicy and fragrant [this time of year] and taste so much more intense than what you can buy in the grocery store,” he says.
Morlino has selected Autism Speaks as his charity. The national organization helps individuals with autism and their families through education and support and advances research for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions.
“I have a four-and-a-half-year-old son who is on the spectrum and so this cause is very near and dear to me,” says Morlino. “Autism is something that affects a lot of people and we still don’t know a lot about it. This charity connects people to resources to help them emotionally, physically, and financially. My son barely spoke for the first three years of his life. But through early intervention, now he can’t stop talking.”
As the night progresses, the sun slips down over the horizon and the stars come out. Smolak sometimes lights a fire pit for guests who want to linger with a drink after the event.
“In summer, it’s always 10 to 15 degrees cooler in the grove,” he says. “And, we always treat for mosquitos.”
“This will be my first time to participate and I’m extremely excited,” he says. “I cherish farms and love to work with seasonal ingredients.” For his first course, Kevorkian is considering baby burrata balls with tomatoes and a basil vinaigrette. Given Grill 23’s reputation for standout steaks, he’s thinking of serving a New York strip steak accompanied by a summer squash and corn succotash.
“My style of cooking is classically French, but with modern twists,” he says. “I love tarte tatin (traditionally made with apples), so if they have peaches, I might make a peach tatin for dessert with brown butter vanilla ice cream.”
Kevorkian has picked the Alzheimer’s Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter, as his charity. It’s one of more than 70 Alzheimer’s Association chapters devoted to eliminating Alzheimer’s disease through research and providing support to all those affected.
“I have a family member who recently was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” says Kevorkian, “and I want to support research to help end the disease.”
“I cooked last year and it was super getting to know the people at Smolak Farms and the excellent quality of their ingredients,” he says. “I mean, there you are outdoors, by a lake, cooking for 150 people under a tent using produce literally picked that day.”
Woodson plans to offer a starter of ceviche or tartar, followed by local striped bass or halibut over garden ratatouille. He’s hoping to serve peaches for dessert, perhaps grilled to caramelize the sugars and accentuate their flavor.
Yale Woodson, Turner’s Seafood
For his charity, Woodson has chosen the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, which helps promote the Gloucester and New England fishing industries and supports active and retired fishermen and their families.
“Jim and Sharon Turner, live in Gloucester and have heavy ties to the community,” says Woodson, so the charity is a natural fit. “It’s tough being a local fisherman,” so this kind of donation really helps, he says.
At each dinner, Smolak introduces the chef and then offers remarks of his own. “One of the things I talk about is how important these kinds of events are for the economic health of farms,” he says. “You don’t make a living by milking cows or growing things. We [farmers] have all the problems of a small business, plus the weather—droughts and freezes.” Thus, not only do these exquisite dinners offer guests a magical night at the table, but they also support important charities and the future health of local enterprises like Smolak Farms. Learn more & buy tickets here.
2018 WHIM DINNER DATES
June 20: Grill 23 with Chef Brian Kevorkian
June 20: Optional wine pairing from O’Brien Estate Winery
June 27: Post 390 with Chef Nick Deutmeyer
July 11: Gaslight Lynnfield with Chef Steven Morlino
July 18: The Smoke Shop BBQ with Chef Andy Husbands
July 25: Harvest with Chef Tyler Kinnett
August 1: Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse – Lynnfield with Chef Danny Levesque
August 8: Bistro du Midi with Chef Robert Sisca
August 15: The Langham Boston with Chef Mark Sapienza
August 22: Andiamo Restaurant + Bar with Chef James Rogers
August 29: Turner’s Seafood with Chef Yale Woodson