Friday, December 5, 2014

Proper’s Monthly Community Dinner Offers a Peek into the Mind of a Chef

Posted By on Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Chef Kris Vrolijk impressed with pierogis two ways and sausage. - HEATHER HOCH
  • Heather Hoch
  • Chef Kris Vrolijk impressed with pierogis two ways and sausage.

Sometimes it might seem like chefs can be rigid with their menu, not allowing for substitutions or subtractions that would compromise the integrity of their dish. Regardless of how you feel about that aspect of dining, you at least have options if you’re looking for a little more creativity and you’re willing to leave everything in the hands of the folks cooking your meal.

It all starts on the first Sunday of the month at Heirloom Farmers Market. Chef Kris Vrolijk peruses the vendors for local and seasonal inspiration. Once he has his ingredients picked out, he plans his menu for Proper’s Monday night community dinners.

The $35 prix fixe meal typically comes with three courses, but Vrolijk explained to the nine diners that he was particularly inspired by the farmers market and, instead, made six smaller than usual courses. Here’s what he made:

Handmade tortellini and butternut squash paired nicely with sweet, rich date syrup. - HEATHER HOCH
  • Heather Hoch
  • Handmade tortellini and butternut squash paired nicely with sweet, rich date syrup.

Course 1: Market Chowder with chicken, turnip, and turkey stock
Course 2: Housemade Fettuccine with sage and Grana Padano
Course 3 Ricotta and Squash Tortellini with butternut squash, hazelnut, and date syrup
Course 4: Brown Butter Basted Heirloom Carrots with cranberry sauce
Course 5: Pierogis Two Ways with housemade sausage pairing
Course 6: Brown Butter Panna Cotta with pecan shortbread, sliced Granny Smith apples, cajeta, and butternut squash puree

While that menu might seem like a lot in more than one way, Vrolijk assures that each community dinner is completely different from the ones before it—some being lighter and more vegetable focused and others showcasing hearty handmade pastas and more. This time he chose to showcase the pasta, as he plans on producing it in higher volume soon for retail sale at the neighboring Proper butcher shop that will be opening soon.
According to Vrolijk, he basted these carrots like they were the last he'd ever make. - HEATHER HOCH
  • Heather Hoch
  • According to Vrolijk, he basted these carrots like they were the last he'd ever make.

While the fettuccine and tortellini were both expertly executed and al dente, the best dish of the night was definitely the pierogis. Served alongside two different housemade sausages, the butternut squash pierogi and garlic potato pierogi came to the table without sauce. The two Polish style dumplings didn’t really need it though because of the creamy texture and flavor of the filling from the goats milk kefir and the fatty coating from the sausage and crunchy guanciale.

Even the basted carrots were prepared with care. Stepping out to explain the sourcing and idea of each dish, Vrolijk said he enjoys cooking vegetables like they’re the last he’ll ever cook—taking extra time and attention to make sure they’re as good as they possibly can be, while still letting the freshness shine.

To finish, the brown butter panna cotta was fittingly decadent. - HEATHER HOCH
  • Heather Hoch
  • To finish, the brown butter panna cotta was fittingly decadent.

Overall, the event is a great way for you to connect with a chef, sourcing, local purveyors, and the process of creating a dish. Plus, out of the prix fixe dinners I've attended in the past, Vrolijk is definitely skilled at putting plates out hot en masse, which is quite a feat when you consider the time to plate ten dishes individually. If that sounds like your kind of event, Proper, located at 300 East Congress Street, hosts community dinner on the first Monday of the month beginning at 7 p.m. The (usually) three-course dinner is $35 plus tax and gratuity with additional suggested drink pairings. You can make a reservation by calling 520-850-9594.

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