On the surface, six bird species and a multicourse dinner might not seem to have anything in common. That is, unless you flock to one of the Forks, Knives, and Spoonbills dinners that the South Carolina Wildlife Federation is sponsoring across the state this spring.
Jay Keck, the habitat education manager for SCWF and an avid birder, hatched the idea for these dinners as a way to connect people with nature. Why birds? “Birds are so much more colorful than mammals,” he explains. “And you can find birds anywhere . . . whether you’re in a [store] parking lot, in a park, or deep in a forest.”
Since its founding in 1931, SCWF has devoted itself to preserving South Carolina’s natural resources—including wildlife—and to educate people about conservation. Migratory songbirds are declining at an alarming rate owing to loss of habitat, and this series of dinners shines a light on SCWF and its conservation efforts relating to birds.
Capturing the essence of a specific bird on a plate is not as far-fetched as you might think. “We want the dishes to be visually stunning and to represent the colors of each bird,” says Keck. Other than that, he encourages the chefs to go wild with the menu.
At the end of this month, SCWF will hold a dinner at Anchorage 1770 in Beaufort in conjunction with the inn’s Ribaut Social Club. Then, in March, the series will move to Greenville, where Chef Jenifer Rogers at Passerelle will accept the challenge to characterize six birds in as many courses: the red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole, Eastern towhee, scarlet tanager, bobolink, and roseate spoonbill. “It’s an opportunity to talk about the struggles of these six species, five of which are in steep decline,” notes Keck.
In creating her courses, Rogers will focus on the colors of the birds and their distinctive shapes. To match the pink feathers of the roseate spoonbill, the chef plans to do a beet dish, possibly incorporating beet emulsion and beet gel. In the dessert course, oranges and chocolate will stand in for the orange and black plumage of the Baltimore oriole. “We’re excited about doing this dinner,” the chef declares. “Overall, it’s a good opportunity for our state and our town and our restaurant here in Falls Park.” The park, coincidentally, is a great place for local bird-watching.
Between courses, Rogers or a member of her staff will come out to explain their take on each dish. Then Keck will talk about the birds, all of which can be spotted in South Carolina. He’ll tell folks where they can find these birds and what they can do in their own yards to help imperiled avian species.
“I’m hoping this dinner will get people to notice birds more, wherever they may be, and get people excited about nature,” Keck shares. “This will hopefully connect them to the planet on a deeper level. I believe that’s a recipe for a healthier planet and healthier people.
Forks, Knives, and Spoonbills at Passerelle Bistro, Saturday, March 28. Purchase tickets and get more information at scwf.org/events. Forty percent of the ticket price goes towards SCWF’s bird-conservation efforts.