It’s still a couple weeks out, but already Howard Hanna is working with the first drop off of just-picked fruits and vegetables from the Heartland Harvest Garden, simmering them into chutneys and syrups and pounding out pestos, all in preparation for Under a Harvest Moon on Sept. 25.
Closer to the date he’ll be out to dig a large pit, lining it with rocks for a traditional whole heritage pig roast atop hot coals and wet banana leaves. There will be a variety of salads, platters of roasted vegetables and a trio of desserts made with apples, pears and elderberries.
“It won’t be a small, simple menu, because Powell Gardens offers a huge variety of amazing produce to work with,” Hanna says. He envisions a dinner that’s fun, soulful and delicious—much like the philosophy he follows at his Kansas City Crossroads restaurant, the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange.
Under a Harvest Moon is the Gardens’ major fall fund raiser, with proceeds benefiting educational programs, especially those that encourage an appreciation of nature and good nutrition. Hanna is proud that nearly all of his staff will support the event as volunteers. Guests will gather at 4 p.m. for a reception in the vineyard, where they will be offered sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres plus a special “Singing Moon” cocktail created by Valdez Campos, the Rieger bartender who won the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition last month.
The farm-to-table dinner will be served with wine pairings in the harvest garden’s open-air Missouri Barn. The meal will be both elegant and rustic. Long tables covered with white tablecloths will be topped with a burlap runner twisting along the length, decorated with fresh herbs, pumpkins, gourds, berries, sunflowers and dried grasses.
At the Rieger, Hanna brings an international influence to a passion for local food and Midwestern sensibility. “I want to work with the best ingredients, but nothing pretentious. ‘Let the food talk,’ is my motto.” He has traveled, worked and tasted his way through Italy, France and the South Pacific (he claims to have nearly100 relatives in Samoa, where his mother was born). But being raised in Kansas, he maintains a tight connection with local farmers, and makes a point to visit his suppliers throughout the year.
Under a Harvest Moon won’t be Hanna’s first time cooking in the Gardens. He took part in opening festivities for the harvest garden through Garden Fest in 2009, and later did a demonstration for the Garden Chef Series. He is excited about returning. “I’m always impressed by the array of things growing here,” he says. “Every time I come out, there’s something I didn’t expect to see or never heard of before.”
It’s the end of a long, busy summer for Hanna, whose restaurant has been the site of a string of special culinary events, from Pigs, Platters & Punches to the Crossroads Social Club (the first of a series of late night dinners) and an Italian wine dinner. A new book scheduled for publication on Sept. 13—the “Food Lovers’ Guide toKansas City”—describes the Rieger as the “it” place to eat, drink and be seen, and includes a recipe for his signature pork soup.
“It’s a really exciting time,” Hanna sums up. “We’re on our third menu change and are definitely hitting our stride. We want to be here a long time, and we want continue to have relationships with places that capture the spirit of the Midwest like PowellGardens. Food is so much more powerful if it’s part of a culture.”
Tickets for Under a Harvest Moon begin at $150. For reservations, call Karen Case at 816-697-2600 x208.