Fatou Ouattara of Akadi is serving a vegan West African dinner for the fundraiser.

The Growing Gardens Chef In My Garden fundraiser series, which normally takes place at one of the Portland metro area’s many scenic gardens, is now a pick-up and delivery dinner fundraiser called Chef In Your Garden. The series, which started on September 23 and continues through October 23, features a lineup of some of Portland’s most exciting chefs serving exclusive menus. Each dinner comes with an expert wine pairing by certified sommelier and one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers of 2020 Chevonne Ball, owner of Portland-based wine travel company Dirty Radish.

The dinner, which runs $175 for two people, is the annual fundraiser for Growing Gardens, a food justice nonprofit founded in 1996 that brings gardening into schools, correctional facilities, and low-income home backyards, balconies, and porches. During the pandemic, the nonprofit has adapted by ramping up its home gardening program for food-insecure families, offering home gardening kits for kids, and providing personalized virtual garden consultations. Each dinner comes with a bottle of wine, and on the day of the dinner, participants will receive a video of the chef explaining their menus and the stories behind them.

The next dinner on October 4 featuring Vince Nguyen of Berlu is sold out, but the following engagement, on October 5 with Fatou Outtara of Akadi, promises to be a memorable one. Outtara was born and raised in the Ivory Coast, where everyone around her grew their own food in a garden. 

“People are so disconnected from food that we don’t understand the impact we have on the planet at all,” Outtara says. “That’s why I like Growing Gardens, because they’re teaching that original culture back to people again—and that’s the way we live back home anyway, so I think it’s good that they’re teaching families in the US to do the same.”

Outtara’s vegan dinner, created especially for Growing Gardens, was inspired by the growing vegan movement in West Africa, which she believes is caused in part by an influx of lower-quality meat and seafood. 

“The quality of the food is reducing with the imports and exports. We’re receiving way more meat export now, and fish exports from other countries,” Outtara explains. “Growing up we had our own farm; we tended to the animals. It was a whole ritual, giving respect to the food you’re eating. ...Now, with globalization, it’s changing. ...It’s creating a lot of health issues now because people are not raising their own animals; they’re outsourcing it.”

Some highlights of the six-course dinner include habanero bean fritters with spicy sauce; plantain cakes with African eggplant sauce; jollof rice with African eggplant kimchi made by another Growing Gardens dinner participant, Mama Dut Foods, thus creating an African-Asian fusion dish; and for dessert, millet porridge with mini puff-puff. In what she says is an unconventional pairing, Ball chose to match these dishes, full of fragrant and hot spices, with a Quaintrelle 2015 Pinot Noir.

Chevonne Ball of Dirty Radish chose the wine pairings for the at-home dinner series.

“People would think, ‘Spicy food, I’ve gotta have something extremely fruit-forward or sweet’ … [but] actually, if you take the time to pair the right thing with the right balance of acidity and fruit, you can actually bring out even more of not the heat part of the spices, but the actual taste of the spices,” says Ball.

The dinner series will continue on October 14 with a gluten-free and vegan dinner from Mama Dut Foods, October 17 with Creole Me Up, and October 23 with Tierra del Sol. Grab tickets at Growing Gardens' website.

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