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Reflections on Platemaker Dinner

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May 28, 2013 – The table ran through the warehouse like an avant-garde runway, juxtaposing high style with an urban backdrop of cement flooring and exposed-structure ceilings. Set with platinum-edged plates crafted on site, with glasses for wine and water, the tablescape glistened under stark lights high overhead, looking more like an art installation than a table that would gather guests for dinner.

From a “one point” perspective at the end of the table to its vanishing point in the distance, it seemed as if the expanse would seat at least 100 diners, but actually 50 guests took their seats the “Platemaker Dinner” on May 23. It was a market-fresh feast paired with wine and hosted by the plate-maker herself, Annie Morhauser, artist and owner of Annieglass in Watsonville.

Her signature glassware is recognizable in its clean, contemporary lines, its hand-hewn shapes and gold or platinum trim or rich, bold color. Her glass is designed with light, color, excitement and maybe a little magic in mind. Whether a single piece, displayed like collected art, or a full service of place settings, Annieglass is special, unique, treasured.

Celebrating 30 years of crafting her dramatic lines of functional art for the table, Morhauser collaborated with chef and artist Jim Denevan—founder of the Outstanding in the Field dinner series—to create a May 23 community convivium of food and wine in her production studio. The series will continue with two more Platemaker Dinners over the summer. Proceeds benefit the Annieglass scholarship fund for art students at Watsonville and Pajaro High Schools and the California College for the Arts.

Outstanding in the Field is what Denevan calls a “roving culinary adventure.” Since 1999, his “restaurant without walls” has pursued its mission to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it. On occasion, the table is set indoors; in a barn, a greenhouse, a museum, an art studio. On behalf of the Platemaker Dinners series, participants include various local farms, wineries, chefs and Annieglass.

“I was inspired by Jim,” says Morhauser, “when he started Outstanding in the Field many years ago as a pioneer in the ‘farm to table’ movement. For our event, the community contribution extended to the plates you eat off of. Our goal has been to share our creative process—a lot of people really enjoyed seeing how we make the plates—and to celebrate our 30th anniversary by contributing to scholarships for art students at local high schools, just like I once was.”

Annieglass_3The first Platemaker Dinner of the series began with a reception, featuring ricotta with Meyer lemon, sorrel and sea salt on crostini, plus El Salchichero sausage and crudités of fresh and pickled vegetables, provided by Lemonade Springs Farm, a certified organic farm in Watsonville. The hors d’oeuvres were paired with a 2011 Monterey White Riesling poured by Storrs Winery.

Lemonade Springs is a ‘scrappy, small-farm freehold deep in the belly of big-farm strawberry country on California’s central coast’ according to owners Seth Douglas and Kathleen Aston. The two young farmers run a diversified, fully integrated farm with chickens, ducks and pigs, one tractor and ‘a bunch of rusty hand tools.’

Lemonade Springs Farm also provided the grilled chicken that was accompanied by arugula, roasted cauliflower, beet greens and pine nuts for the evening’s entrée. This was paired with Storrs 2010 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay.

Before that, guests were served a salad of grilled little gem lettuce-and-asparagus with hard-boiled eggs, black pepper dressing and hollyhock; a raw, aged sheep cheese from Garden Variety Cheese in Watsonville—paired with Storrs 2010 Monterey Sauvignon Blanc.

Dense, crusty bread, served with fresh butter and olive oil, was baked by Companion Bakeshop in Santa Cruz.

The salad was followed by a chilled beet and strawberry soup, garnished with yogurt, arugula, mint and almonds, paired with Storrs 2007 Riverview Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Steve and Pamela Storrs, both graduates of the viticulture and enology department at UC Davis, and students of the grape through subsequent years of winemaking, started their eponymous winery 25 years ago, just five years behind Annieglass. In fact, their operation is located in Morhauser’s former Santa Cruz studio in the Old Sash Mill; Pamela’s office is in the old paint room, and wine barrels line the room that used to house kilns for shaping glass.

Annieglass_2“We definitely share an artisanal connection to Annieglass,” says Pamela. “We specialize in Santa Cruz Mountain-grown grapes and are passionate about the land and about farming organically, which is not done very much in the grape business. We felt, if we could viably do it organically, then others could, too. We are devoted to winemaking, but it is so much more than that; we are also devoted to the environment. We use native grasses and flowers for erosion control, and have brought in sheep for organic weed control. It is really quite rewarding.”

The meal was capped by a dessert of stone fruit and berries, topped with a mint, oat and honey crumble, and coffee or tea.

“It was a really lovely evening,” says Morhauser. “It was a pleasure to work with so many people who are passionate about what they do, and they brought that to the experience. I also was impressed by how many guests, who didn’t know each other, had such a good time. Everyone was so open and friendly and talkative; I think being in the warehouse really gave them a rich experience they couldn’t find elsewhere.”

Upcoming Platemaker Dinners take place on July 25 with Randall Grahm, author, winemaker and founder of Bonny Doon Vineyards; and on August 29 with Chef Wendy Brodie of The Art of Food and Dennis Hoey of Odonata Wines.

Photos by Lisa Crawford Watson

About the author

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A fifth-generation Northern Californian, Lisa Crawford Watson has enjoyed a diverse career in business, education and writing. She lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where her grandmother once lived and wrote. An adjunct writing instructor for CSU Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College, Lisa is also a free-lance writer, who specializes in the genres of art & architecture, health & lifestyle, food & wine. She has published various books and thousands of feature articles and columns in local and national newspapers and magazines.

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