Whether you live on the Island or you’re a visitor, one of the sweetest things to receive is an invitation. An invitation beyond a gated, keyed beach, to a friend’s home, or a stranger’s studio to soak in the magic that is Martha's Vineyard. Come step inside Makers Table.
What happens when you throw down experiences on Martha's Vineyard for 88 people who have never met in locations like a historic whaling captain’s home, open fields, Island farms, a fantastically martian-like hydroponic greenhouse or the deck of a pirate ship at sea in Vineyard Sound?
How do things unfold when you serve a collection of guests the best of Island bounty harvested and foraged earlier that day from the sea, and the Island’s rich fields and hydroponic nurseries bursting with summer-time freshness?
Imagine musicians with impressive liner note credits (Grateful Dead, James Taylor, The Smithereens etc!) as they share their melodic magic, historians telling tall tales of Vineyard sailors and the high seas, artists creating live works of fine art and performance artists dance as guests mill, munch, and sip.
This is the Makers Table. We shared boards of expertly cooked native foods at long tables lighted by candles under the moon to islanders and summertime visitors; food writers, fisherman, shop owners, publishers, lawyers, actors, clowns, sailors, and billionaires gathered at each romantic, no rules apply, joints beneath-the-stars. Shellfish biologists, native fish experts and farmers --knit together their knowledge of aquaculture, sea and soil remediation, and sustainable eating-culture to help us discover new ways of doing old things responsibly, in ways that taste great. When a visitor from LA asked how she could snag a ticket, we were thrilled to say...YOU ARE INVITED, everyone is invited!
The Makers Table dinner series began with a passion for connecting people to the story of the food we eat--how it is planted, fished, farmed and prepared to serve a host of pallets; then turned back into the soil and sea to nourish and sustain delicate ecosystems for years to come. In the end, the mix of adventure and unparalleled food yielded camaraderie mixing the best ingredients for a perfect party--food, friends and dreamy settings. Engaging people from a zillion different mailing addresses at one long, boisterous table where everyone shared an interest in digging into the stories about food--how it is farmed and fished, and how it can be turned out in myriad delectable styles.
Katama Bay and Cottage City Oysters were a menu mainstay. Salty sea beans, miniature fairytale eggplant from Milkweed Farm, amaranth and red Shishu from Morning Glory Farm, North Tabor Farm tomatoes and Beetlebung Farms carrots and leeks….and sea candy, sea scallops landed directly in Menemsha after a 20-year sidetrack to mainland distributors were shucked and delivered directly to our table.
Meanwhile, the folks from Frog’s Leap Vineyard poured 500 bottles of wine--roughly 48 bottles of Rose, 200 bottles of white and the balance poured in reds. And, there is not a drop left from Bad Martha’s 275 growlers of beer.
And the "plancha. Stoked with hardwood by a brilliant team of cooks from Jamaica, Brazil, and Croatia. The boys' minced fresh herbs to turn out nasturtium vinaigrette while minding toast points on the grill. They chopped firewood, prepared delicate vegetables and filleted and flipped strippers, bluefish and black bass under the direction of the chief, Chef Spring Sheldon whose special touch and grace with meals for a crowd wowed guests all along.
Each Maker's Table was underscored by nuance and surprise. Locations included space abutting the lagoon on a thick pea stone expanse at the MV Shipyard. We visited the Blue Barque in Chilmark, one of six tea houses on the island in the 1920's, where Emily Post and friends gathered for tea, cards, and likely, to sip sherry and champagne during Prohibition. At the Whiting Farm, animals and art flourished on the heels of the release of the film featuring Whiting and his wife Lynne in “A Farmer who Paints." (Look for Whiting's work on the set of Larry David's “Curb your Enthusiasm,” there's a huge oil in Larry's living room that will bring you back to the island.) At the Island Grown Initiative's Farm Hub, we snacked on hydroponically grown sweet cherry tomatoes and learned about creating resilient food systems. And a few guests stowed away inside the walk-in cooler to beat the heat.
At Beetlebung Farm, eight island women celebrated a milestone birthday with a surprise party at the chef's table. The plant-based menu was rooted, raw, and ridiculously delicious. Naysayers wrapped up the evening asking, "what was that incredible cheese?" Almond, cashew chive creama, prepared by guest chef Ky---from Not Your Sugar Mamas. Others were knocked over by the meaty goodness of island-grown mushrooms served in a truffled risotto, on toast points and digestive broths. MVM shiitake mushrooms were served at all of our feasts validating their street-rep as powerful brain food rich in vitamin B, D, anti-inflammatory and weight loss properties (peer-reviewed by Handayani: Food & Nutrition Sciences, 2012). In fact, a producer from NY left the table that night with an oak log cultivated with the savory spores--the fruit of the fungus made the coolest souvenir of the summer season.
Behind the scenes, staff murmured about a love connection between a Croatian sous chef and server. We gossiped for weeks then discovered the pair has been engaged for six years. We dug into trays of leftovers, cheered to our success finishing off bottles of Frogs Leap and spent some late night swimming with the phosphorescents, celebrating being a great team and resting our weary legs.
The sign of a great party is captured by the intensifying volume of the guests, deep connections made by strangers, the unexpected burst of fireworks, clear serving trays and sometimes, what’s left behind. A cell phone, a fine cashmere sweater, a mascara wand the size of a Scout’s flashlight, and a dubious publication that was likely wrapped in brown craft paper and sold behind the counter of a newsstand.
While the initial draw of the Makers Tables was Martha’s Vineyard cultural immersion, what happened was magic, education, and some crazy dancing. It was super satisfying to follow Instagram threads from guests and hosts who met at one event making plans to sit together at the next island makers table. Guests were invited to eat with ease, put down their cameras, learn a little and talk a lot, and that is what the Vineyard is all about.
-JenWool for Farm.Field.Sea.