Last summer, as Mario Batali—sporting his signature orange Crocs—stepped from his blue Chevy onto the sand and grass drive at Cherry Basket Farms, the herbs, edible flowers and heirloom tomatoes in the garden may well have quivered at the prospect of a storm. From his pale orange hair down to his footwear, Batali—James Beard hall of famer, star-bedecked (Michelin and otherwise) restaurateur, Food Network phenom and all-around celeb chef—is a tempest of electric energy.
But the flavor-bearing plants of this naturally food-rich peninsula need not have feared. Batali was here to help protect the land and water that allow them to flourish. The century-old fieldstone and white-clapboard buildings that now house Epicure Catering in the heart of Leelanau Peninsula’s orchard country was the venue for the celebrity chef’s contribution to the Leelanau Conservancy: a meal for 12 gone to the highest bidder at the conservancy’s annual silent auction.
The August fête was the second time that Batali, who summers on the peninsula, cooked and presided over a meal to benefit the conservancy’s protection work. (Batali plans to donate a meal again this summer.) Batali titled this meal a Roman Lunch Feast, most of the elements for which were prepped and neatly bundled into a fishing charter-sized cooler he brought with him. Flavors included Lonza—medallions of pork tenderloin cured at Batali’s father’s Seattle restaurant, Salumi—homemade pasta, lamb chops trimmed and ready for the grill, and pastry dough.
The kitchen at Cherry Basket Farms, usually commandeered by Epicure Catering owners Cammie Buehler and Andy Schudlich, in what was once the farm’s tractor barn, has been renovated into a chef’s dream. Cement floors, 16-foot-long maple butcher block counter stocked with dozens of spice-filled Ball jars, an arsenal of pots and pans, 10-burner stove, convection oven, views of the ancient, lush beech and maples outside the windows, and orange walls—as fitting for the Batali-inspired occasion as they were a coincidence.