Monday, May 4, 2015

Ramp Lollapalooza: Ramps 30 Ways ~ This Ain’t Your Grandmas Ramp Dinner

Ramp dinner

Chef Ohlinger, the former chef/owner of Richwood Grill, hosted his second dinner in the 2015 Appalachian Global Dinner Series on Saturday. The goal of the Appalachian Global Dinner Series is to highlight the role of Appalachian cuisine in global culture, and to bring West Virginia recognition as a culinary destination, as per the website. Chef Ohlinger would combine dishes he's learned through his travels with an Appalachian twist during the inventive dinners at Richwood Grill and while he's searching for his next permanent location, he is completing this year's dinner series in a host of guest kitchens in the area.

Ramp Lollapalooza: Ramps 30 Ways ~ This Ain't Your Grandma's Ramp Dinner was hosted at Atomic Grill at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 2. It was $40 and by reservation only. Unlike the previous dinner, everyone was eating at the same time. And most of us were set up along a line table on the side of the restaurant. If you're ever been to a ramp feed, it's often similar - long rows of tables of people eating the pungent oniony-garlicky ramp in various forms.

Ramps are the traditional harbinger of Spring in Appalachia, and the Ramp Dinner is familiar to all. In many other temperate mountain regions around the world, wild spring onions are welcomed in the same way, according to the event Facebook page. The multi-course dinner featured traditional spring onion dishes and some very untraditional dishes from locally foraged ramps. It's funny, almost, to think that these usually very cheap dinners are used as fundraisers, but this dinner took the humble ramp and created global dishes from it - in a very cool way. I think we ended up getting to about 23 different ramp dishes, which is still a ton. I think time + not have your own kitchen + trying brand new dishes sometimes throws a wrench in plans. But, hell, I'm not complaining.

Ramp dinner

First Course: Ramp ricotta bruschetta + chilled ramp and pea soup
Delicious. It's not a crazy concept, right? A nice velvety soup with a crunchy bread. It combine cheesy, garlicky spread with a chilled soup. Really tasty. I haven't loved most pea soups I've had. This totally changed my mind.

Ramp dinner

Second Course (left upper corner clockwise): Ramp and roasted corn lemonade + ramp jalea + ramp kimchi + ramp and peach chutney + ramp sabzi khordan + ramp salsa naranja + ramp kachumbali + ramp hummus + ramp spearmint jelly + ramp cullen skink with ramp buerre blanc
This was served on a giant tile, and I was super excited just seeing the platters coming through the door. It's so impressive and overwhelming, in the best possible way. Ramp-onade was quite good. Sounds weird, but it was heavy on the lemonade flavor. The ramp jalea is literally a log of ramp gelatin, so meh. It's an odd texture with a strong flavor, but it's different. Ramp kimchi was not bad, and the ramp/peach chutney was sweet, so I took bite after bite. Ramp sabzi khordan (never had heard of this before), but it seems like it's essentially just a side of mixed herbs. I wanted to think this was a slaw, but after rolling the flavors around, it was definitely radish. Tasty. The ramp salsa naranja is essentially an orange salsa with cilantro, but this version was chunky and reminded me of a ceviche -- sans the seafood, of course. The kachumbali (I'm learning so many new words!), was a familiar flavor in the feta cheese - almost like a tzatziki sauce. Ramp hummus! That was a fairly familiar flavor - but this was about 1,000 times better than what's being sold in stores. I wish I could bottle that and buy it. The spearmint jelly had me all kinds of confused. It was mint - but stinky ramps - and it was a jelly texture. And my absolute favorite was the ramp cullen skink with ramp buerre blanc. My best guess was this was a sort of salmon, potato cake with a cream sauce. Delicious. I loved trying so many things my taste buds have never tried before.

Ramp dinner

Third Course (top clockwise): Ramp grits and ramp kaeng + ramp turkey biriani + ramp, beef and banana ndizi and ramp allioli + ramp ravioli and ramp pumpkinseed pesto + ramp rhubarb ragout
Talk about a mix of cultures! The grits were good and familiar. The ramp turkey biriani tasted just like a turkey gravy. The ramp, beef and banana ndizi with ramp aioli was the most different dish of the night for me. I'm not even sure how to explain it, but I was thinking it was bean curd? It's a little sweet. Just a real nice surprise for the palate. The raviolis were delicious, as was the pesto. And the ramp rhubarb ragout was also different, but I loved it.

Ramp dinner

Forgotten Course: Ramp spring roll
This was a nice fresh flavor after some heavy samplings previously, but it was pretty strong. The raw onion plus the ramps were a bit much for me. Or it could've been the 20 or so ramp dishes I've had at this point. I wish I had my previous plate so I could dip the roll in some of the previous sauce. 

Ramp dinner

Final Course: Ramp meyer lemon sorbet
You wouldn't think this would be delicious and refreshing, but it was. The icey cold dish was sweet with just a hint of the ramp flavor. I really dug it. Different.

And while we were actually supposed to have menus (printer complications), it was almost more fun to really, really focus on the flavors of the food to try to figure out what you've had before that it's similar to or what flavors are really there. We were constantly guessing what the next dish was. Was that a chickpea flavor? Cumin? Radish? It kept us guessing, and I've learned so many new dishes -- and had ramps more ways than I ever thought was possible.

I apologize to anyone who has to deal with me for the next day or so; I don't WANT to smell like ramps, promise.

Trusting your chef to produce something incredibly tasty or weird or new or just pushing you outside your boundaries is big. It's almost a sense of vulnerability to have no idea what you're getting yourself into, but being excited for an adventure. And MK consistently delivers.

The next dinner is the beer and cheese dinner at Iron Horse Tavern. I already made reservations before even knowing the menu or price. I know MK won't disappoint. And if you see me there, come say hi! :)