Ben Bebenroth’s Plated Landscape Dinners give earth-to-table dining new meaning.
An idea struck Ben Bebenroth as he was hacking through bushes in Australia with aboriginal caterers.
“We picked wild passion fruits and cooked kangaroo tail in a fire bed out in the wild,” he recalls. “Then it hit me: What if we could do this at an Ohio farm?”
By “this” he meant taking a handful of hungry guests out into the fields to pick fresh produce that Bebenroth later turns into an elegant, five-course meal with wine pairings — a sort of intensive farm-to-table dining experience. With the local-food movement gaining steam, he figured there had to be a market.
So, six years ago, the chef and owner of Spice of Life Catering Co. launched Plated Landscape Dinners. What started as a small gathering of curious diners has grown into seating for 40 and the need to reserve your $125 spot far in advance.
“City folks who usually take a walk in the Metroparks are now stomping around the woods looking for mushrooms,” Bebenroth says. “We’re taking people out of their comfort zone.”
Themed dinners rotate locations between rural farms, such as Killbuck Valley Mushroom Farm and Heritage Lane Bison Farm, to city environments where guests explore urban gardens. On July 3, diners will venture to the urban Kentucky Gardens in Ohio City and enjoy a rooftop dinner above the former YMCA. Although Bebenroth doesn’t set his menu until the day of the dinner, he says strawberries, chili peppers, blueberries, yellow summer squash and goat cheese are likely to be part of the mix.
Bebenroth says he is also excited for the Sept. 30 dinner at the Elyria home of Maurice Small of City Fresh.
“Every square inch of his yard is food,” he says. “You’ll see the model for what American urban gardening could be.” And for every person who pays to attend the dinner, a student from Small’s urban gardening program will attend for free. “There’s such a vibrant gardening community in Cleveland,” Bebenroth says. “Why not show it off?” // Beth Stallings