Food Issue 2016: What's for dinner?

How one local chef prepares for a big-deal, farm-to-table meal.

He’s tasted hundreds of wines. He’s scoped out farms and farmers’ markets from here to Orlando. He’s had to distinguish the legit from the pretenders (Del Monte boxes at a farmers’ market booth usually tip you off). And with next week creeping up, he’s still got a menu to write.

Chris Artrip, the executive chef for The Black Pearl, has been working on his latest multicourse wine-pairing dinner for months. Expectations for the 12-seat meal, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 22, are high, he says; it follows a nearly 20-course chef’s table dinner that the downtown Dunedin restaurant hosted back in December.

But what goes into planning one of these big-deal dinners, anyway?

Artrip said he starts by selecting the wine. Every two courses will be paired with a glass of vino, and wines made through organic practices are planned this time around. Then, it’s research, research, research, especially since the upcoming sit-down has a farm-to-table theme.

Chatting with CL among Temple Terrace Farmers Market booths filled with local goods last weekend, the chef said scrutiny of the farm-to-table, farm-to-fork, whatever-you-want-to-call-it dining trend — including a recent “farm-to-fable” investigation from the Tampa Bay Times — doesn’t bother him. He knows what he’s sourcing.

“We’ve never claimed to be farm-to-table. That’s why I’m not intimidated going into a farm-to-table dinner after the Times article,” he says. “We try to be honest about our food.

“I’ve been doing a lot of online research, just trying to make connections. I learned a lot from this guy (TrailBale Farm manager Dave Rcade) and found out about this farmers’ market, how they’re all real-deal farmers.”

In a parking lot off North 56th Street between an Outback Steakhouse and City Hall, Artrip peruses the small market, which runs from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday, during our interview, talking with purveyors and sampling their wares.

The Temple Terrace Farmers Market, started in mid-April, is the brainchild of TrailBale Farm owner Travis Malloy, whose farm isn’t too far away; its vendors and farmers highlight a range of products — from organic produce to baked goods to heirloom seeds. The chef, who said he hit a bunch of dead ends while looking for farms until he visited TrailBale for a tour (some places he came across are no longer selling to the public, for instance), is set to purchase organic-fed eggs, rabbit and chicken from Malloy.

He’s checked out a few other markets, including one in Lakeland where there were “quite a few resellers,” and also plans to stop by Brooksville’s Hammock Farms, which offers seasonal produce and humanely raised pork, among other items.

“I haven’t written any of the menu yet. I’m out here looking for ingredients, and then taking notes — lots of notes, multiple pages of notes — and then compiling those notes,” Artrip says.

It’s better to go through this scope-out phase before penning a bill of fare based on what’s available. Plus, he doesn’t want to purchase certain ingredients too far in advance. The chef is set to start picking up everything he needs this weekend, and in addition to the menu, a supplemental list of what he ends up sourcing from where will be featured.

Priced at $300 per person ($225 without alcohol), the dinner will showcase fewer courses than the chef’s table did: 12 printed courses, with a few extras thrown in. For The Black Pearl, and most likely for those who attend (many of them are regulars, according to Artrip), though, it ain’t about the cost.

“We barely even break even on this, if that, and for some reason, I have expensive taste in wine,” he says, adding that the restaurant’s prices would shoot up even further if they sourced locally, exclusively, for every dinner. “But it’s just mainly about having fun.

“It’s something different from what we do every day. Every day we serve entrees; we don’t do a lot of small plates. People come here for a meal — their appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. This is a lot more fun because you get to plate tiny.”

According to The Black Pearl owner Zach Feinstein, these meals are meant to spotlight what Artrip can do, as well as show BP patrons and people in Tampa what a 12-course experience, something you’d find in, say, New York, is like.

“The more demand there is, the more we’ll do them,” Feinstein says.

Organizing a meal like this is, understandably, a little stressful, but Artrip said he’s excited.

He’s looking forward to learning new things and really just meeting farmers and establishing relationships. While it’s sort of bad timing for a farm-to-table dinner (summertime in Florida is difficult for crops and all), he’s game.

“Now I’m looking around here and seeing a lot that I can use,” the chef says. “I was a little worried before because there’s not too much that grows during the summer. But I look forward to the challenge. I have to make it happen.”

Reservations for The Black Pearl farm-to-table dinner can be made by calling 727-734-3463. There were six seats left as of Monday.

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