For the last 10 years, Dallas chefs have been working Okrapalooza, bringing awareness to the power of local food and raising funds for Promise of Peace Community Gardens.
This year, the annual event went straight to the okra fields of the Reeves Family Farm in Princeton.
About 45 minutes away from East Dallas, it was the perfect setting for the events over Saturday and Sunday (even while temperatures reminded us September is not close to fall in Texas).
Chefs Anastacia Quinones-Pittman, Daniel Pittman, Alex Astranti, Mark Wootton, Josh Harmon and Adam West prepared the meal, all highlighting the vegetable of the weekend in their dishes.
Harmon, of the Belmont, toned down his usual style of fermented-forward flavors and put the ingredient to use by making an okra tortilla-like chip in his passed appetizer.
Wootton, of Garden Cafe, had the other first bites with a Cajun shrimp-okra cream cheese dip on crostini that was irresistibly greasy and an okra bamya on crostini that made you want to put it over rice in a bowl — not that it would be all that great in the 96 degrees we were in.
Pittman — most recently of LUCK in Trinity Groves — had a potato salad that was worth two servings (Quinones-Pittman raved about her husband’s recipe later in the evening).
The chef of Jose prepared a beautiful field pea salad with tomato, okra, red onion, cilantro and sherry pasilla vinaigrette.
Alex Astranti, of Uchi Dallas, had the main dish of pork from Chubby Dog Farm — pieces varied in moisture, which is why two helpings of potato salad were welcome.
Adam West, of Local Yocal in McKinney, might’ve had the most intriguing dish of the night in dessert: think of carrot cake, but with okra. It worked.
Before dinner started, guests went through a silent auction while sipping beer, wine and gin cocktails by Calamity Gin. Strangers headed to the long table surrounded by okra plants around 6:30 p.m. as the sun was thankfully looking like it might start to make its descent.
It was like a pop-up dinner, in that you toast your second glass of wine with strangers and finish dessert with somewhat-friends. (Sometimes they’ll be a best friend, other times you hope to never see them again. The average is somewhere in between.)
It was the perfect setting to have dinner, whether you were with friends or friends-to-be in the 90-person crowd. While the $125 ticket price could feel steep for the meal, the food was solid, executed by some of Dallas’ best chefs, set among a setting nothing short of picturesque.
The cook-off was Sunday, with multiple chefs from across Dallas making dishes out of okra. Patina Green Home and Market snagged the popular favorite with an okra churro. About 300 people made it out for the second day’s happenings.
“I feel like we had really genuine engagement from not only our guests but from our sponsors, chefs and musicians,” says Elizabeth Dry, executive director of Promise of Peace Community Gardens. “There were so many personal connections, then that connection to the farm, to the chefs, the okra was right there.
“It was just all-inclusive to the kind of festival I wanted it to look like and feel like.”