Garden Party Print

The Hunt Magazine
Fall 2013

As a teenager Michael DiBianca developed a passion for seasonal ingredients working at a produce and fish market in his hometown of Flemington, New Jersey.
Today, he is the chef and owner of Moro, one of Wilmington’s most ambitious fine-dining destinations. DiBianca’s secret? Let seasonal ingredients do the showboating. He tweaks those bold ingredients just enough to send the flavor combinations off in unexpected directions in brilliantly balanced dishes. Garden 1 

Much of the chef’s bounty arrives from Coverdale Farm Preserve, located on the outskirts of Greenville.

“When I first visited the farm I was blown away,” DiBianca recalls. “The huge diversity of the crops they grow and the livestock they raise is good not only for the taste buds, but the soil as well.  It’s all about investing in the health of our communities and the future of our food supply.  Farmers are extraordinary and committed individuals. They are not responding to my menu requests. They’re leading the dance.”

Farm to Fork is Coverdale’s annual foodie bash that mixes epicurean indulgence with stunning pastoral views.  DiBianca and his crew of chefs prepare a feast of five seasonal tasting dishes crafted from organic meats and fresh from the field flavors of produce grown and raised at the farm. "Spirits" partners compliment the sumptuous dishes with a variety of craft beers and select wines during the two-day Farm to Fork event.  

Eighty guests snagged seats for Saturday afternoon.  Groups peel off to visit with the farm animals and listen to the gardeners and farm staff share tales both inspirational and entertaining about life on the land before wandering uphill past an iconic stone bank barn. We enter the open dining tent that overlooks stunning rolling hills, old-growth woodlands and open fields spilling down to Burrows Run, a pristine tributary of Red Clay Creek.

Seated eight to a table we gather around centerpieces of cleverly arranged fall foliage in flower pots amid simple but tasteful tableware with vintage white china that provide the perfect background for Chef DiBianca’s creations. White-coated students from Del Tech’s Culinary Arts Program are unerringly pleasant and professional at the farm feast.  

Garden 4“The farm sent over baskets of fresh ingredients that would be available for the dinner and I sat in my kitchen one Sunday afternoon and put it all together,” recounts DiBianca, 35, with a wry smile. “It’s important to monitor the progress of each ingredient as it cooks. In other words-- taste as you go.”

DiBianca and several aproned cooks hover over propane burners in their outdoor kitchen.  Guests mill about the dining tent swapping stories with the afternoon’s emcee, Sam Hobbs, owner of Twin Lakes Brewery. Food lovers become fast friends.

First up, it’s an appetizer of sweet potato custard with crispy bacon and kale drizzled with hot pepper fennel honey. Each ingredient pleases in different ways. Next, Chef plates a house-made gnocchi of sausage, roasted heirloom tomatoes and toasted pine nuts draped with a slice of fried basil that delivers harmony in flavors.

The good-time chatter quiets as Hobbs speaks of our good fortune to live in a region of such agricultural bounty.

“It’s all about building connections,” Hobbs says emphatically, “connections to the food on our plates, to the earth, to our clean water, to our community, to our farmers, brew-masters, winemakers and chefs.”

The third course is a pan seared pork Milanese with a mosaic of arugula, lemon roasted shallots and a sweet onion-cilantro fondue. Then it’s on to a delightful slow braised lamb shoulder with butternut squash pie with a basil slaw, fried garlic and a natural jus.  Intensely flavored, the dish is a triumph. Our spirited seatmates beam when DiBianca caps off the meal with a prickly pear crème brulee with a burst of pear syrup and dried cranberry biscotti.

The dishes are complimented by Twin Lakes Brewery’s super-fresh Pale Ale, Harvest Ale, Oktoberfest and Stout.

“The open air dining is delightful,” says guest Lorraine Fleming of Centerville. “Chef DiBianca is a true artisan. It’s a masterful skill being able to finish off these wonderful dishes in that satellite tent. The dinner also gets folks acquainted with the farm and the CSA. They take away a real sense of where their food comes from.”

Farm to Fork isn’t a marketing gimmick, but rather a way of life, a reconnection of the region to its agrarian roots. Coverdale Farm sits on about half of the 352 acres that make up the Burrows Run Preserve. It was a gift to the Delaware Nature Society from Margaretta and Crawford Greenewalt, CEO of the Du Pont Co. from 1948 to 1967, and whose family had developed a deep and abiding connection to the land.Garden 5

One of the most iconic images of Coverdale is the gable-roofed, fieldstone bank barn that dates back to 1735. Today, it still shelters heritage-breed pigs, chickens, cows and other farm animals from inclement weather. The Coverdale property had a working farm on it as far back as the early 1900s.

When farm manager Michele Wales turned up at Coverdale in 2000 there was no vegetable garden or livestock. Her first task as farm manager was to integrate the site into the model of a nature center. Wales is one of a new generation of farmers who live on the land and work it themselves as conscientious stewards.

Wales spearheaded Coverdale’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) to meet the region’s growing demand of consumers in search of more diversity, flavor and nutritional value in their food choices. One hundred eighty-seven people were involved in the CSA in 2012, receiving a wide selection of 40 vegetables, both hybrid and heirlooms, that are grown from June through November.

Touring the garden is a road best traveled slowly.  Aromas of cilantro, basil, sage and chives overwhelm the senses. While not certified as organic, Coverdale’s practices do include no use of synthetic fertilizer, herbicide or insecticide and no till farming practices on their seven acres of gardens. In addition,

Coverdale emphasizes education by offering cooking, food preparation and nutritional programs.  Ton of Tomatoes, a September workshop, serves up creative recipes to make the most of your tomato crop. School students and participants in seasonal programs learn about the farm cycle of life and our dependence upon soil, water, plants and animals for survival. Students will help feed livestock, try their hand at harvesting and see hatching chicks.

“Coverdale’s mission is one of education,” says Wales, “and a CSA gets us closer to a real farm, clarifying for the community the complete food cycle from farm to fork.”

Garden 2Wales looks forward to the Farm to Fork dining events, but says her relationship with chefs is year round.

“These relationships with chefs and other farmers are what keep us ‘in community’ with our friends,” she observes. “That’s what Farm to Fork guests get to be part of, our community.”

Launched in 2008 the two-day events spotlight some of the top chefs in the Brandywine Valley food scene. Dan Butler’s Piccolina Toscana prepared Sunday’s feast accompanied by locally grown wines from Paradocx Winery last October. The event has been expanded to both spring and autumn dates. Grab a seat  as soon as you can.

As the sun dips in the October sky Hobbs climbs aboard his one-horse wagon hitched to the Twin Lakes’ mascot Delicious.  Hobbs tips his Aussie Outback hat to the guests who break into applause. He shakes the reins and off they go trotting down the twisty trail.  It’s a perfect ending to a truly inspiring afternoon.