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Foodservice Forum: Sunday Supper Club unites community with fun, fare and education

by Christina DiMartino | January 17, 2011

"At the end of the day, buying and selling fresh produce is hard work, and whatever we can do to make eating fruits and vegetables better for consumers, the better it is for us," Nissa Pierson, owner and managing director of Ger-Nis International, headquartered in Brooklyn, NY, told The Produce News.

“As a supplier of a full line of organics, we're in a position to do this, and we feel it’s important for consumers in our community as well as for our business,” Ms. Pierson continued. “We opened the Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center in April 2010 to hold cooking classes and other events for the community, and it has been very successful. Now we are launching a new effort called Sunday Night at the Ger-Nis Supper Club, with the inaugural event being held on January 23.”

Promoting the events as a new way to spend Sunday nights, Ms. Pierson said that participants can adorn themselves in their most dashing attire and indulge in a sensuous evening of food, wine, music and art.

The Supper Club will be held once each season at the Culinary & Herb Center. Gatherings are limited to 35 guests and will feature a local chef, who will prepare a decadent multi-course menu. Live jazz will “pepper” the air, seasonal and worldly inspired libations will be produced in-house, an art raffle will be held and each event will highlight products from local, organic, sustainable and Fair Trade farmers, artisans and purveyors to show support for the community.

“I’m reading the recently published Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, and it brings me back to the days when people traded and fought over the things they needed, and the huge feasts they held to celebrate their victories,” said Ms. Pierson. “It reminded me of how important it is to stop at times in your life and share the bounty of the earth with others. My inspiration for the supper club comes from this need to share.”

The inaugural Sunday Night Supper Club menu will be prepared by Chef Jacques Gautier, owner of Palo Santo, a restaurant and wine bar in the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, that specializes in gourmet Latin American cuisine.

“Although I was trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, I learned even more from the several places that I worked in New York and in San Francisco,” said Chef Gautier. “But I draw my primary influence from my Caribbean family roots and extensive travels.”

His eclectic Latin cooking expresses a versatile understanding of culinary tradition. Dishes maintain their original essence, with a new take on ingredients and presentation.

For the inaugural Ger-Nis Sunday Night Supper Club, Chef Gautier will prepare some of the popular Latin dishes from his restaurant menu, giving them added flair with some Fair Trade and organic produce from Ger-Nis. The first course is traditional ceviche with handmade corn tortillas, avocado and pickled Jalapeños.

“Ceviche is a typical Peruvian dish that incorporates a sauce made with liquor,” said Chef Gautier. “We’re serving it with seaweed and fried plantains. The second course is seared tuna with peanuts and coconut milk. This, too, is a traditional dish, but from Ecuador.”

The third course of chimichurri is not as traditional and is one that Chef Gautier takes liberty in creating. It has Argentine influences in the sauce of chopped herbs, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, and is served over pork belly accompanied by swiss chard and gigante beans.

Dessert of dulce de leche is a traditional Latin American cake made with whipped cream, caramel and milk, filled with mango and served with ginger ice cream.

Wine pairings will be offered with every course.

“Ger-Nis Culinary Center’s cooking classes and panel discussions are a wonderful way to engage the community in learning about where their food is from and how it’s produced,” said Chef Gautier. “Produce wholesalers are usually not interested in opening their businesses to the community, but it’s a great way to teach people about today’s issues and trends like organics and Fair Trade. I’ve taught cooking classes and sat on panel discussions at the center, so I know how much the people who attend enjoy the events.”

The spacious kitchen at the Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center will allow guests to watch Chef Gautier as he prepares the meal, adding to the intimate and warm evening and fierce, dynamic foods.

Ingredients used in the dishes are sourced from Ger-Nis’ small subsistence organic Fair Trade growers in Latin America, including Fairtrasa organic and Fair Trade avocados from Uruapan, Mexico; organic ginger from the Peruvian Amazon rainforest in the Andes range; and organic and fair trade mangos from Chiclayo in Piura, Peru. The meal will also feature local and sustainably produced cheeses, meats and seafood.

“One reason we chose these products for the first event is because it’s winter, and there is little local product available,” said Ms. Pierson. “The fish and meats are local, and they pair perfectly with our organic and fair trade fruits. We are also reinventing traditional Latin cocktails like the Puta de Mayo of Mexico, using house-infused herbal mezcals, and mixing up drinks like the pisco sour of Peru and the Macuá of Nicaragua. Using fresh herbs and concocting artistic organic beverages takes on all of Latin America’s best cocktails. We’ll also be offering biodynamic, sustainable wines and beers from Latin America.”

Latin-inspired jazz with the Dan Aran Trio, Colombian-born Jack Glottman and classically trained Linda Oh will set the tone for the evening.

Ger-Nis loves to support local artists, and the Latin-themed art auction for the evening will be a raffle for an exceptionally large and beautiful canvas by Jennifer Pierson — Nissa Pierson’s sister-in-law and a noted artist — titled “Day of the Dead.”

“Hass avocados from Uruapan will run most of the year with a short gap in the summer,” said Ms. Pierson. “Our Kent mango program from Peru, which started in early January, is also Fair Trade organic. Our organic ginger, also from Peru, is organic. These come from a small subsistence in the Andes rainforest mountain range. We like to say that this ginger has the same effect in supporting people as producing cocaine does, but it gives them a healthy, safe and legal product to deal with as opposed to drugs.”

She added that the ginger is a little problematic because retailers often do not want to carry both organic and conventional product. But Ger-Nis is dedicated to the product.

In the spring, the company will be launching new ecofriendly packaging that will help in taking organic ginger to mainstream retailers.

“We’ll probably also have some blackberries for the cocktails at the supper club dinner in January,” Ms. Pierson continued. “We’ll be serving ginger blackberry Champaign cocktails. We’ll also feature cocktails made with our fresh herbs.”