It is a lovely summer evening in a backyard in Woodbridge. This is a farm dinner organized by the New Haven Arts + Ideas festival, but unlike a typical outdoor farm-to-table event, dinner guests don’t just follow along on the usual tour – we are asked help forage for the meal ahead.
Chef Bun Lai shares a brief explanation of the plants he is seeking and releases the guests to help him gather ingredients.
The images of guests surrounding the chef to hand over harvested greens reminded me of two scenes. One is the line of Buddhists waiting to offer alms to the monks, an early morning ritual you can still see in parts of Southeast Asia. The other is of young schoolchildren, eager to share their discoveries with the teacher. This second image is an apt comparison. Bun Lai is as much an educator, as he is a chef – constantly reminding diners there are conscious and responsible decisions to be made with every bite of food you eat.
When the foraging is complete, we sit down to dinner at a long communal table in the Chef’s backyard. If you’re into food, you’ll know Bun Lai’s a big deal in Connecticut. This James Beard nominated chef and presides over Miya’s Sushi in New Haven. Miya’s seems to be a polarizing place, either you love the wildly inventive and environmentally-focused efforts of this sushi restaurant – or you can’t seem to grasp what all the fuss is about.
Occasionally my love of tradition can get in the way of accepting the new and unfamiliar. I used to struggle with Miya’s long, tome-like menu (so I exaggerate, but if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean) and its atypical ingredients, but this farm dinner really deepened my understanding of the unique sushi I’ve eaten in past visits – from the traditions that inspire it, to the local, sustainable, and affordable sourcing that drives its ingredients and flavors. I may never quite get used to the rice, which is a mix of more healthful brown rice and other grains, but I cannot help but truly admire the positive impact this restaurant and its food values have had on both other chefs and the food community at large. This is precisely the reason why Bun Lai’s efforts are so important. If you’d like to read more about this innovative chef, I recommend The Invasivore’s Dilemma (with killer photos) in Outdoor Magazine: or go straight to the source and check out his blog: Call Me Bun.
If you’ve never been, but live in or near New Haven, this is a important restaurant to try.
My advice is to read the sample menu beforehand and keep an open mind when you sit down for your culinary adventure!
68 Howe Street
New Haven, CT