Chef and caterer Ben Bebenroth doesn't just make food for his guests; he takes them to where it grows. He also brings servers, a sous chef, a wood-burning grill he built himself, a couple of propane-fueled burners, cases of good wine, crisp white linens and his grandmother's silver.
Before sitting down at a long table set up in the middle of a meadow for an elegant seven- or eight-course meal, diners trek out to the forest or into the fields to gather the wild parsnips, chanterelles, pokeberry greens, asparagus and heirloom tomatoes that are on the evening's menu. Then they sip cocktails while Bebenroth, a lifelong camper and self-described woods stomper from Strongsville, puts finishing touches on dishes such as rustic flatbreads, hazelnut-crusted perch, stuffed squash blossoms, braised short ribs and apple dumplings.
The intrepid cook calls these outings Plated Landscape Dinners. This is his third season doing them, and there are ten scheduled this year between MayJune and October. The reservation-only events bring growers, producers and eaters together on farms around the region. Participants go home with a new, very personal understanding of what fresh, seasonal and local really mean.
For atmosphere, Bebenroth supplies music and Mother Nature contributes glorious sunsets, balmy breezes, birds singing and plants in bloom. If the weather doesn't cooperate, a barn becomes an ad hoc kitchen and dining room, complete with chickens and hay bales.
"These are magical experiences," says the chef, "and I like the idea that this is one meal people will never forget." (216) 432-9090440) 623-9990, www.spiceoflifecatersers.com