That’s how at least one person described the decision by James Fennell, proprietor of the Green Barn restaurant at Burtown House, to arrange a dinner based around Burtown's fresh garden produce, for 100+ paying guests, and to do so, neither at the height of summer's abundance nor during autumn’s heaving harvests, but on the cusp of the hungry gap - that period in spring between the last of the overwintering crops and the promise of a new growing season, when little is expected of the vegetable garden.
Billed as a ‘Wood-fired Spring Feast’, the chef was Gill Meller of River Cottage, and the gardener Dermot Carey, who tends to the production of organic edibles for the Green Barn from an adjoining four acre field.
It was ballsy, too, not to have advertised the fact that the feasting would be accomplished without the aid of meat or fish. Vegetables would be front and centre, placed there by a chef who has, over time, come to embrace the positives - for us as eaters, and for the world around us - of giving plants more space on our plates.
As to feast itself, every vegetable used - with the exception of onions - was grown outdoors on-site, and pulled from the ground by Dermot just hours before service. They were, Gill said, some of the best ingredients he’s had the pleasure of cooking with and, under his deft direction, each got their opportunity to shine in a pitch-perfect parade of veg-centric plates.
Chunky roast carrots - densely textured, sweet and woodsy, served with yogurt and seaweed - were carrots taken to a glorious nth degree. A jerusalem artichoke purée with tahini was lick-the-plate good. A bright palate cleanser of citrus dressed kohlrabi with red cabbage preceeded a punchy salad of tender red Russian kale and Crozier Blue cheese. Leeks were presented both as a creamy, truffled slather on toast, and as whole, charred stalks served with white bean purée, roasted hazelnuts and St. Tola goats cheese.
From wood roast baby beetroot, served with capers and buckwheat, to charred purple sprouting broccoli with nettle aioli and soft-boiled egg, the Green Barn’s wood-fired oven was employed to great effect. The penultimate dish, a wedge of savoy cabbage, roasted and served with creamed turnip and fermented cabbage, was the ultimate in prosaic ingredients given poetic delivery. The evening ended with an airy-textured dark chocolate cake with beetroot, rosemary and orange - it also ended with a feeling of satiety, rather than of having eaten to excess.
And what of those who expected certain familiar sources of animal protein to grace their plates? Some, no doubt, will have felt the lack. Choosing not to flag this as a veg-only affair was a sin of omission in the name of getting people to appreciate plants on the plate, and probably succeeded to varying degrees, depending on the palates of the punters. There was certainly no mass exodus in protest. And at least one of the attendees, Eoin Sharkey of Maperath Farm - a rears-his-own-meat kind of guy who will tell you that he does not naturally incline to the vegetarian option on a menu, much less an entire meal’s-worth - said that he, for one, was blown away by the range of flavours.
As is true of a great many things, in the battle to persuade, one may lead by the carrot or beat with the stick. The carrot is almost always the better approach and, in this case, the effort to nudge people veg-wards was all carrot - a sweet, wood-charred, and very compelling carrot.