Kitchen witches: The Women on Fire weave culinary magic

On Monday, Sept. 26, Pullman Bar & Diner hosted Women on Fire, touted as a “farm-to-table dining experience designed and executed by local female chefs, growers, organizers and mixologists.” The event featured five courses of locally-sourced food, with beverage pairings, exclusively prepared by female artists and artisans from Pullman and Clinton Street Social Club. Also, with the exception of a random onion and perhaps a radish or two, the produce was grown and harvested by local female farmers. If Women on Fire is any indication, Iowa City’s male chefs and cocktail-makers had better watch out: These women are poised for greatness.

The menu featured courses created by Pullman’s sous chef, Emily Agnew-Seiler, and Clinton Street’s head chef, Hannah White. Each course was accompanied by a carefully crafted cocktail, also created by female staff from Pullman and the Social Club. The menu perfectly showcased local produce and the arc of late summer into fall, starting with bright, spicy flavors and ending with the epitome of autumnal comfort food: apple pie.

Chef Hannah White works her magic with deft hands in the Pullman kitchen. -- photo by Frankie Schneckloth
Chef Hannah White works her magic with deft hands in the Pullman kitchen. — photo by Frankie Schneckloth

Though the chefs collaborated (and were assisted by an all-female staff), Pullman’s Agnew-Seiler created the first and fourth courses, expertly showing off the breadth of her skill set and palate. She began the meal with a single charred sea scallop decorated with a technicolor Latin-influenced confetti of watermelon radish, various peppers, roasted baby carrot, avocado and microgreens, doused in a cooling cucumber-cilantro essence. The dish was sexy, lush and balanced, full of contrasting textures and flavors and a perfect homage to the soft brightness of late summer. The Wild Culture kombucha margarita served with the scallop was evocative of a Mexican beach, salty and sun-kissed.

Agnew-Seiler’s entree course, the fourth course of the evening, was its predecessor’s polar opposite; roasted chicken roulade with pork sausage and squash three ways embodied a fall farm dinner, with rich meat and sweet squash garnished in cherry gastrique, thyme and sage. Served with a cherry thyme rye — a boozy snifter of herbed Rittenhouse rye — the course warmed the hearts and bellies of the room.

Clinton Street’s White rounded out the savory portion of the evening with the second and third courses. Her steamed clams with corn and gold beet cream and crispy prosciutto, had only one flaw: that there wasn’t more of the luscious cream and crispy prosciutto for me to slurp up. The cocktail pairing with this course had my table mystified by its deliciousness; featuring coconut oil-washed Bayou rum, ginger liqueur, and sweet corn and cilantro syrup, it complemented the clams in both unctuous sweetness and bracing astringency. I woke up craving that cocktail today.

Round three: EAT! -- photo by Frankie Schneckloth
Round three: EAT! Hannah White’s pork belly is a beautiful sight. — photo by Frankie Schneckloth

White’s following course, a Pavelka’s Point pork belly with heirloom tomatoes, fennel, candy onion and aioli, was rich in all the ways pork belly should be, offset perfectly by the acid and sweetness of the tomato and onion. The accompanying cocktail, of infused gin with sun gold tomato water and cucumber-lemon juice, was the perfect astringent foil for the richness of the meat.

Pullman’s pastry chef, Ashley Briggs, composed the dessert course, which featured apples in cheddar pastry with brown sugar ice cream. By the time dessert was served, the full house was clearly spellbound and woozy from the witchy ways of the talented women.

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