Fire. As an element, it’s just as dangerous as it is useful. As a concept, it evokes fear, symbolizes power, and reminds us of the fickle, ever-changing moods of Mother Nature.
All of those are notions Sam Pogue plays into in her Paper to Table’s bonfire, a chef’s cookout series. The series, which is an in-house production under her event planning firm Paper to Table, focuses on humanity’s natural attraction to fire, to food, and, ultimately, to each other.
“[Fire] is never something that people can get close to,” Pogue explains. “It’s not that untouchable. I want to take the mystery and inaccessibility out of it.”
To bring the flames to the masses, she connected with chefs, farmers, and innovators throughout New York and beyond. She found fire pit equipment and vintage cauldrons, which she sourced from Quebec. She met farm owners who were just as passionate as she is (and willing to let her use their land). She got in touch with chefs who weren’t afraid to escape the comfort of their kitchen and meet and greet with guests.
After planning successful dinners first in North Fork, Long Island and then in Greenville in Greene County, Pogue partnered with Crown Maple in Dover Plains to design three curated dining events this year. Dubbed “Paper to Table’s bonfire, a chef’s cookout,” the series brings guests together to do “the two things their mothers warned them not to: play with fire and play with their food.”
The first event, “From the Land,” took place in August and featured local produce that was entirely sourced from within 100 miles of the Hudson Valley. Guest chefs like Hillary Sterling of Vic’s New York, Jonah Miller of Huertas, and Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura of J&E Smallgoods convened to lead the experiential meal that embraced the edible bounty of the Hudson Valley.
“It was one of those spectacular things,” Pogue enthuses. “[Guests] were so happy with the entire experience.”
The half-day events, she admits, are novel for diners and chefs alike. That’s why Pogue and her team do extensive planning beforehand to determine which chefs are comfortable cooking outside of their four-walled comfort zones.
“There Is no back of house,” Pogue reminds. “There’s no kitchen. The guests are walking around the chefs as they’re cooking.”
The immersive atmosphere continues at the following two dinners in the series. Gift From the Sea, on September 22, brings chefs Chris Bradley of Phoenicia Diner, Emily Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds, Stephen Yen of Island Oyster, baywomen Gretchen and Brigitte Maxwell, and television personality Jaymee Sire to Crown Maple for an evening that focuses on seafood sourced from Hudson Valley rivers and off the coast of southern New Jersey and Montauk.
“It’s kind of a choose your own adventure afternoon,” Pogue jokes. “You can help a chef at a firepit or sit on a haybale with a glass of wine.”
Indeed, the hands-on mentality is part of what makes the evenings attractive to chefs and guests. At the August dinner, one culinary-trained attendee even helped a chef prepare ingredients for the open-flame cooking.
“It’s amazing. It’s fire and the outdoors,” Pogue says. “You never really know what you’re getting.”
In October, Bonfire embraces all things gamey at its Wild Game Roast Dinner on October 7. Although the event is still under wraps, guest chefs Andy Knudson and Alex Harris, boozy baker Allison Kave, and bar curator Jordan Hall will lead the fiery demonstrations. Pogue chose the theme to give diners a variety from the standard farm-to-table experience and to introduce them to ingredients that may have never before touched their plates.
“Why isn’t venison something we eat more often?” she asks. “What are the weird cuts?”
Although Pogue’s main focus is on the two upcoming shindigs, she’s already hard at work brainstorming potential dinners in winter and through 2019. The brainstorming happens in her off-hours, of course. As a full-time event coordinator in the food and experiential realms, she lends her talents to reputable events like the New York City Wine & Food Festival, Spoon University’s Brainfood Conference, and the New York Cake Show.
Next up, she’s working with Cherry Bombe on its new University weekend, which takes place October 26-28.
“It speaks to me in the way that Bonfire does in terms of connecting people and meeting the makers,” she says.
To learn more about Paper to Table’s Bonfire or to purchase tickets, visit www.bonfirecookout.com.