Monday, August 29, 2016

The Tephra pop up at WolfOak

When the Charlotte-based Chef Shawn Harrison Tephra Vegan pop-up dinner at WolfOak was announced, the event quickly earned a spot in our calendar. Just having returned from an extended trip to Michigan, four courses under the enormous oak tree that gives the Piedmont estate its name was just the event to close out an epic summer.

The 7:00pm seating had a set four-course menu at $40 per head that was simply a steal for the 100% plant-based and gluten-free dinner, with drinks provided courtesy of WolfOak. Having arrived at the urban farm we were greeted by the 5 year old son of the owners and Cielito Lindo, a chestnut English thoroughbred from the Netherlands that is the newest addition to the WolfOak family. The Chef was already hard at work in the kitchen, an amazing aroma emanating through the house and making my mouth water when I went in for a glass of wine.

After the rest of the guests had arrived, Shawn and his fiancée set about serving the first course. The Bradford Watermelon agua fresca was topped with Barbee Farms canary melon foam, cantaloupe, coconut yogurt, chili threads and orange mint. The result was a light, refreshing soup, perfect on a hot summer’s night. The chili provided an interesting contrast to the sweetness of the melons, the tang of the yogurt mingling with just a hint of citrus from the mint.

Bradford Watermelon agua fresca

Next came a butterbean, heirloom corn and tomato succotash. Accompanied by sautéed spinach, purple basil and cast iron seared squash, the dish was topped with Brazil nut 'parmesan' and lemon oil. The outcome was complex and savory, a variety of textures and not overpowered by a single ingredient.

butterbean, heirloom corn and tomato succotash

cilantro pesto

My favorite was the third course, the braised carrot and chile roasted cauliflower with cilantro pesto. The avocado 'creme fraiche’ was so good I could (and did!) eat it with a spoon, and the cumin dusted beet chips and Makrut lime salt added more subtle flavors and beautiful color to what was an addictive dish.

creme brulee

The fourth course was vanilla crème brûlée, the unassuming dessert spiced up with cast iron roasted peaches, raspberry coulis and pistachio crumble. Usually not a pistachio fan as it can dominate milder flavors (especially in a dessert), I was distracted by the beautiful crust on the brûlée and its contrast with the peaches and coulis. A beautifully done finale, and thanks to Roberts I got a second helping… By this time a bonfire was lit, and we gathered around to digest and rest our palates under the night sky.

Harrison has worked in many restaurants over his 11-year career, and I am excited to have gotten the chance to experience the results of this evolution. Through this vegan pop-up dining series, Chef Shawn is trying to ‘elevate both plant-based and southern cuisines’; the WolfOak dinner was successful at both in my book. Hats off to the Chef and his lovely fiancée/team, and thanks for bringing the dinner to the Upstate! Meanwhile WolfOak was a great site for an event of this type, the laid-back, rural ambiance offering an unpretentious context for a genuinely unique dining experience. If you would like the opportunity to try some delicious vegan eats, you’ll find Tephra Vegan at the Chik'n & Waffles Pop-up at Trade and Lore in Asheville this weekend, and later in September at the 14 course pop up in Charlotte. To keep up with Tephra, visit the new website and follow them on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), while WolfOak can be found on Facebook and Instagram

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