Chef Norma Buchholz chats with Brooks Winery guests after serving one of the courses at the annual harvest dinner. Photo by Rusty Rae
...a movable feast
At Brooks Winery, viniculture is a way of life. Harvest dinners at the Amity winery are therefore full of meaning beyond the normal taste-and-eat celebration. This year Chef Norma Buchholz and the Brooks’ staff developed a menu celebrating Northwest Native American cuisine, with each of the four courses paired with a specific vintage of Brooks’ finest. Buchholz, acting much like a conductor of an orchestra, perfectly staged each course, giving guests the opportunity to savor the food and wine of each course as well as have time to socialize, making for a delightful evening of connecting – about food, wine, family – and everything in-between. The assignment for the four-course meal came on somewhat short notice, but Buchholz, a veteran of many such events, adroitly crossed every T and dotted every I on the menu – giving the 40-plus attending the dinner at the Brooks Winery a memorable evening. Guests, bathed in rays of the setting sun, witnessed a Renoir-like painting of the vineyard during the pre-meal social time. Buchholz says she continuously challenges herself with meal preparation, regularly trying new meals and cooking techniques. Like any conductor, she realizes that success is determined by meticulous preparation and her meal certainly hit a high note with guests. Buchholz, who has been cooking since she was eight years old (with an easy-bake oven), smiles, adding, "Like most things in life, the more complex a meal, the more people I am serving, the more I have to focus on the details. “This dinner was a bit unusual in that I only had five days prior for prep. Normally for an affair like this I like to have two weeks so I can ensure I can source all the ingredients required,” she said.
Probably the other key to the success of the harvest dinner, and others that she produces through her catering business, is the fact that she cooks everything she serves at least once prior to the actual event.
That gives her an immediate familiarity with the menu for a given night, and helps her to manage the timing of each course. Each of the menu items were prepared at least once by Buchholz prior to the harvest dinner. “I experiment with each recipe, cooking it a couple of times – probably tweaking it after the first run. I really love savory foods and that is where my taste generally takes me,” she said. Fastidious planning helps anyone cooking, but it’s a necessity for cooking for large groups and Buchholz notes for those of you getting ready to cook for a large holiday group, “It’s nice when you can cook with someone whose company you enjoy. Be creative, make mistakes, and have fun. Open a bottle of wine (from Brooks, of course) -- that always helps.” Buchholz devoted a day or two going over the pairings, focused on ensuring each course of the dinner would give guests a delectable sensory experience. “I spent time with the Brooks team going through each of the pourings for the harvest dinner. I needed to taste through each selection. Hopefully, the combination of the food and wine leave guests with a memory.” The ultimate test of success -- the food and wine pairings leave the guests with an enduring memory of the meal and of course Brooks Winery. On this night, to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, if you were lucky enough to have tasted the food and wine of the harvest dinner at Brooks Winery, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for it was a movable feast.