What SPAC's Fall Flavor Fusion dinner was really like. (Spoiler: it was awesome.)
The first thing I heard when I slipped, slightly frazzled and definitely late, into SPAC’s Fall Flavor Fusion five-course plant-based dinner party, was “Hi, I’m Jeff. I stole your wine.” I looked from my wine-less place setting, which was already adorned with a wasabi-infused Zero-Waste Papadum, to my smiling, wine glass–wielding table-mate. “As you should have,” I responded. I knew then that it was going to be a good night.
The dinner, the latest installment in SPAC’s CulinaryArts@SPAC series, featured dishes by celebrated NYC chef Jehangir Mehta, who’s known for his sustainable cooking practices and inventive use of spices from his native India. Small in stature and self-deprecating in humor, Chef Mehta was a delightful host, addressing the room of about 100 (whom he thanked for paying $100 to eat plants) several times throughout the evening to explain the dishes guests were tasting. Formerly a pastry chef, Mehta waited until after attendees had had their fair share of wine to ask what everyone thought of the food; diners are much more likely to give a positive review after a few glasses, he explained. When the fourth course—a mushroom curry served over rice—came around, he made sure to mention that anyone who didn’t like it shouldn’t blame India, but rather Thailand, where he sourced the spices from. His periodic commentary got plenty of laughs, and at least one “Is he single?”
Back at our table, conversation ping-ponged between the implications of the father of the bride attending the groom’s bachelor party; how local bars should start airing Saratoga City Council meetings; the role Clancy’s Tavern plays in society (apparently, “important people who do important work all day long go there”); and most intriguingly, Blaze a.k.a. Blake a.k.a. Blade, the mysterious fellow who’s been known to bring pizza and sandwiches to the patrons of Bailey’s late on Thursday nights. “Saratoga was an eccentric, rundown old town with these characters who infiltrated our lives,” Jeff told me of the Spa City of the ’90s. Blade, apparently, is one of the last-remaining of those characters. (Bailey’s co-owner Matt Beecher corroborated the story, telling me via two separate text messages that “Blade” “Is a character.”)
While the high-quality conversation may have overshadowed the cuisine at any regular old dinner party, Chef Mehta’s creations were not to be outshined. The standout dish was the Harvest Jewels soup, a Brussels sprouts–topped puree of Saratoga squash, yellow mung lentils and peppers that packed a punch. (Apparently, the woman who sourced the ingredients for chef Mehta swapped out the super-spicy peppers he had on the grocery list for some a little milder. He forgave her, and we, the diners who can’t handle the heat, thanked her.)
The only complaint I heard was that people weren’t quite stuffed to the brim afterwards, and were thinking about going out for a bite after. Jeff lamented that the Spa City Diner was closed and that Saratoga needs a Greek diner. A couple others dug through our table’s real fruit–filled centerpiece, snacking on grapes and pocketing a pomegranate and artichoke (though that may have been a function of there being too much wine, not too little food).
Before dessert—steamed coffee and chocolate pudding served with Bailey’s and ice cream—SPAC CEO and President Elizabeth joined Chef Mehta at the mic, thanking everyone for coming and commenting on the electric energy that permeated the room. Indeed, by that point many guests had swapped seats or crouched at neighboring tables, reveling in the still-novel concept of being out. Because there’s at least one thing that hasn’t changed in Saratoga since the ’90s: Being out is very, very in.