Fine dining for an excellent cause

“Food so good, you’ll want to grab a plate and find a corner where you can concentrate on the tastes and savor!”

That’s the prediction for the annual benefit dinner crowning Food Pantry Day in Rappahannock County on May 7. The Mediterranean feast set out at Jessamine Hill this Saturday could arguably be the county’s peak of culinary excellence for the evening. The flavors of Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Tunisia and France enliven a menu that features chicken tagine, salmon nicoise, torta, tabouli, dolmadakia, couscous, baba ganoush, orzo, humus, baklava and other exotic delectables. The array of food also comes with special local touches, like feta cheese made from milk from Rappahannock goats and asparagus harvested in the Blue Ridge foothills.

A scene from the last Food Pantry benefit dinner held at Jessamine Farm. in 2014.
A scene from the last Food Pantry benefit dinner held at Jessamine Farm. in 2014.

The conductor orchestrating the impressive spread is Lindsay Sonnett, chairperson for this year’s team effort. With help from veteran party planners Barabara Black, Mary Thompson, Gwen Bates and Emily Harris, she solicited contributors that include Tula’s, Foster Harris House, Headmaster’s Pub, Washington’s Country Café, Thornton River Grille and Griffin Tavern restaurants, Rappahannock Roasters, Rappahannock High School’s culinary arts program, Kava Foods, and Triple Oak, Creekside and Red Truck bakeries. For donations of potent potables, she tapped Rappahannock Cellars, Gray Ghost, Narmada, Sharp Rock, Gadino, Magnolia and Little Washington wineries, Wasmund’s Distillery and Pen Druid Brewery (recently featured on the cover of the national magazine, Beer Advocate).

“It’s been such a pleasure — and such fun! — working with an energetic, inventive, coordinated, organized, detail oriented young person who does everything with a big, big smile,” noted pantry director Mimi Forbes.

Terry Lehman, caterer and 15-year veteran of The Taste of Rappahannock, is the concert mistress in the kitchen, putting together the last-minute dishes, adding the final touches for perfect taste and perfect presentation, directing servers, bartenders and baristas, and ensuring that everything flows smoothly.

The glorious food is a compelling reason to be at Jessamine Hill on May 7. But it’s not the only reason.

The setting is an attraction unto itself. Built in 1841, the stately brick manor house has been restored in an 18-year labor of love by Rappahannock native John Anderson. The view is heart-stopping; the grounds, with rolling meadows, colorful flower beds and trim outbuildings, are beautifully maintained; and Jessamine Hill is furnished with antiques collected from around the world. Combined with the gracious hospitality of John and his partner, Kathleen Roberts, the result is a showcase, a museum with the charm of home.

But if glorious food and gorgeous settings aren’t enough to prompt purchase of a pantry benefit ticket, there’s the cause. Every bite is donated, every sip is contributed, every set of helping hands is volunteered, and every dollar raised goes to the Food Pantry. So guests at Jessamine Hill are reinforcing a critical safety net in a caring Rappahannock community where no one need go hungry. Families and individuals make more than 9,000 shopping circuits a year in the little pantry that is part resource center, where sustenance from hugs to job tips to children’s toys to clothing vouchers comes with the groceries. Some 200 boxes are distributed to make holidays happier, with turkey plus all the traditional fixings for Thanksgiving and ham plus sides for Christmas, and every Friday, more than 100 backpacks of food for the weekend go home with children from the elementary school.

“That’s what it’s all about — ending hunger in Rappahannock County,” said Forbes. “Here we have a classic win-win situation. You can celebrate Food Pantry Day with wonderful people, see an exquisitely decorated example of a grand country home, enjoy a masterpiece of a meal and support a deserving cause — all at once!”

Tickets the benefit dinner are $100. For reservations, call Bette Mahoney at 540-675-3446.

Food Pantry Day

Food Pantry Day in Rappahannock County begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday with the ever-popular Pet Parade next door to the pantry in the big front yard of the Old Washington School. Suggested entry fee is a donation of dog food or cat food, bagged or canned. The parade is co-sponsored by the Rappahannock Animal Welfare League and led by Dontez Harris, a stalwart pantry volunteer who doubles as the Pied Piper of Petdom. The majority of parade entries are dogs but all are welcome — the event has drawn draft horses, goats, sheep and even a cat or two in years past. Every entry earns a certificate attesting to the pet’s outstanding characteristic, and every pet wins a goody bag.

As always, donations of non-perishables are welcome at the pantry, which will be open as usual from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.