Imagine a dinner set beneath the canopy of stars, surrounded by views of an organic farm on a breezy South Florida winter evening. You've just imagined a Swank Table dinner, one of many hosted by Palm Beach County-based Swank Specialty Produce.
Now in its third year, the Swanks' seasonal farm-to-table dinner series has become one of the area's most popular dining events, says Jodi Swank, who founded Loxahatchee Groves-based Swank Speciality Produce with her husband, Darrin, in 1999. Today, the 20-acre farm stands as one of the original, non-family-owned farms to sell specialty organic produce to area chefs and restaurants.
"When we first started, we grew just three crops — lettuce, basil, and arugula," says Jodi. "Fifteen years later, and we've expanded that number to include more than 300 different types of produce, with multiple varieties of many of our most popular crops."
Swank Specialty Produce offers six different types of arugula, up to 20 types of heirloom carrots, and four different variations of cress. The farm is best-known for its lettuces, adds Jodi, which can be purchased fresh-picked every Saturday during the West Palm Beach Green Market. Many of these crops also make their way onto your plate during the Swank Table dinners, what has evolved over the years to become a unique dining experience meant to celebrate the local food movement and community, says Jodi.
The Swank Table dinners have a humble beginning: Jodi planned and hosted the first event as a way to thank the chefs who have bought her produce over the years, customers that include Daniel Boulud and Dean Max. The dinner was a huge success and prompted the planning of several more dinners the following season.
Today, each Swank Table dinner takes place on select Sundays from December through April at the Swanks' farm, set up beneath a custom-built, open-air barn the Swanks built in 2013. Here, some of the area's most-lauded restaurant industry professionals from Palm Beach to South Beach team up to offer guests an intimate dining experience unlike any other.
In the past several years, Jodi and Darrin have hosted many of South Florida's top chefs for their Swank Table dinners — typically a team of four chefs, as well as a mixologist, sommelier, and representative from a local brewery — who create a mulitcourse meal meant to highlight produce and ingredients sourced fresh from the Swanks' farm.
"These dinners are more than just a fancy meal," says Jodi. "This is a true celebration of eating local and those in the community that support the idea of eating locally grown produce."
Each Swank Table dinner can accommodate up to 140 people and includes a tour of the farm and hydroponic grow houses; beer, wine, and cocktails paired by some of the area's most talented mixologists, brewers, and sommeliers; live entertainment headlined by a local band; and the opportunity to mix and mingle with the (often-big-name) South Florida chefs preparing your meal that evening. The cost is $160 per person, and proceeds from each event are donated to a local charity.
From there, all that's left to do: plant yourself at one of the long, banquet-style tables for the feast to come. This year, the Swank Table dinner season kicked off on December 6, 2015, with respected South Florida chef Dean Max and many of his protégés, including his former chef de cuisine at 3030 Ocean, Paula DeSilva; Lauren DeShields from Market 17; Matador Room's Jeremy Ford; and the newly revamped 3030 Ocean's executive chef, Adrienne Grenier, and pastry chef, Huma Nagi.
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Although two dinners have already come and gone, there are still plenty of opportunities to get in on the action. A list of the remaining 2016 Swank Table dinners can be found online at the Swank Specialty Produce website, scheduled through April. Upcoming events include a special Chinese New Year tribute benefiting Slow Food Miami, an Argentine barbecue benefiting the Caridad Center, and a Parisian-style party — the annual Diner en Blanc — benefiting the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.
The next Swank Table dinner will take place Sunday, January 31, and will feature beer from Miami's Wynwood Brewing and food prepared by an all-star team of Miami chefs including Edge Steak & Bar executive chef Aaron Brooks, the Dutch executive chef Adonay Tafur, Vagabond Restaurant & Bar executive chef Alex Chang, the Salty Donut's executive pastry chef Max Santiago, West Palm Beach-based sommelier Melanie Robertson-Ober, and Edge Steak & Bar bar manager Lauren Shandelman.
Swank Table Dinners take place rain or shine at Swank Specialty Produce located at 14311 North Road in Loxahatchee Groves. Call 561-202-5648, or visit SwankSpecialtyProduce.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.