A Magical Madison Dinner

Community GroundWorks' locally-sourced feast was a success

One of the most common ways in which we all support the nonprofit organizations we care about is by attending the annual dinner. These events are often important fundraisers and opportunities to raise awareness and energy around very worthy causes. But by necessity they are usually held in large venues, often a hotel ballroom, with no atmosphere and mediocre food. Very rarely would one refer to such an event as magical.

On an early September evening, the likes of which make many of us swear we would never live anywhere else, Community GroundWorks celebrated its tenth anniversary with a fundraising dinner. And it was magical. Given that much of the magic was the result of generous friends and supporters of Community GroundWorks, we felt it perfectly fit the theme of this month’s magazine. Community GroundWorks is the parent organization of Troy Gardens, including the Kids’ Garden, community gardens, CSA Farm and more. There’s housing, protected natural areas—it’s an amazing place. Executive director Jill Jacklitz took a big risk, and she knew it. She decided last spring the big party would be outside at Troy Gardens. And at that point, you cross your fingers and hope for the best.

It was the best. The weather was perfect. There was a wonderful, relaxed, welcoming feeling that was at once informal and gracious that resulted from purposeful and thoughtful planning. Guests walked through the gardens, farm, edible landscape and prairie restoration, stopping along the way at four tables with small starter dishes, Wollersheim wine and Great Dane beer. There were lovely conversations and delicious tastes: gougères with gruyère and sheep’s milk cheeses and shaved black truffle from Tami Lax at Harvest, eggplant deviled eggs from Leah Caplan at Metcalfe’s Market, tomato salad on toast from the Weary Traveler’s Joey Dunscombe, and addictive sweet corn and rock shrimp fritters from Phillip Hurley and Kristy Schwinn of Sardine and Marigold Kitchen.

After the moveable first course walk along the well-tended paths, we gathered on the great lawn at the northern edge of the gardens where dozens of tables were set end to end with white tablecloths and flowers, and as the full moon rose into dusky view we sat down to dinner. Some courses were served family style; some were plated. The food came together the way the guests did. We staked out four places with our friends Topf and Sally, but the sense of the four of us having dinner together was enhanced by the camaraderie with those sitting next to us.
There was a sense of sharing as we passed classic Mediterranean ratatouille prepared by Madison Club chef Dan Fox and Madison Sourdough’s rustic French miche. There were also courses from Tory Miller of L’Etoile, Andrew Lickel of Tornado Steakhouse and dessert from Nostrano’s Elizabeth Dahl. Most of the dishes included locally sourced ingredients, and most of those came from the gardens just beyond our communal table. It was a celebration of local abundance.

But it wouldn’t have happened without the generosity of the chefs, businesses and friends of Community GroundWorks who contributed. St. Mary’s Hospital, Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek law firm, Group Health Cooperative, MG&E and nearly two dozen more businesses, nonprofits and individuals contributed time, money, volunteers and resources, to say nothing of the forty-five contributions for the silent auction. In fact the only downer of the entire evening was Topf’s failure to win the axe on which he so determinedly bid. But this, like so much more you’ve read about in the magazine this month, is the spirit of philanthropy, of giving, that is one of this community’s great strengths. And as the evening changed from a sit-down dinner to a free community garden party for anyone who wanted to join, with unplanned fireworks from nearby Warner Park providing one of those unforgettable moments, we remembered again why we are such big fans of Community GroundWorks, and this community.

Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to genuinearticles@madisonmagazine.com.

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