Haute cuisine for a cold night; Dining extravaganza will be held at Buffalo Run Winery

Haute cuisine for a cold night; Dining extravaganza will be held at Buffalo Run Winery by David Lias Local people have a chance to shake the winter blues by waking up their taste buds Feb. 24.

Local gourmet chef Virginia "Emma" Koster of Pheasant Knoll Farm will be hosting a dining extravaganza beginning at 7 p.m. that evening.

The public is invited to make reservations for what is planned to be the first in a series of several multi-course dinners created and prepared by Koster at the Buffalo Run Winery on the western edge of Vermillion.

The Feb. 24 dinner includes:

* Basque braised lamb and tomato stew with salsa and feta garnish.

* Andouille sausage and clam bruschetta.

* Roasted chipotle-lime pork tenderloin served with corn pudding and cubanelle pepper chutney salad.

* Mexican chocolate bombarde with cinnamon-coffee whipped cream.

Reservations must be made by Monday, Feb. 19, by calling 605-263-3246. The cost of the five-course meal and coffee is $35 per person, with additional charges for beverages, sales tax and 15 percent gratuity.

Koster, the founder of Emma's Kitchen in Vermillion, now runs Pheasant Knoll Farm, a dining club, in rural Irene.

"I pretty much will prepare all the food myself (for the Feb. 24 meal) but I will have help serving," she said, "and people will help in the kitchen plating the food."

Koster needs reservations made by Feb. 19 so she knows how much food to prepare.

"Not all of the cooking, but a lot of the preparation gets done four days ahead of time," she said. "A dinner like this will take me a good three or four days to prepare."

The event gives Eldon Nygaard, owner of the Buffalo Run Winery, a chance to show off his new facilities. It also gives Koster the opportunity to do something she truly loves � prepare delicious, memorable meals.

"I love cooking," she said. "I've been doing it for 10 years now."

Koster is self-taught chef, who worked for a time at a restaurant in Providence, RI, and also assisted a cookbook author in recipe development and testing.

"I make it a point to either travel to the East Coast or other places at least once a year, so that I can pick up new ideas and be inspired," she said. "You have to do that in order to stay current and interested in what you are doing."

Koster said Nygaard's offer of his facility as the venue for this series of gourmet meals gives her an opportunity to cook in Vermillion once more.

People who choose to take part in Feb. 24's dining event may experience new foods and new tastes.

"This menu has a real international flavor to it," Koster said. "There is a recipe that is influenced by the Basque country, and that's a small part of France. The andouille sausage and clam is Spanish, and the roasted chipotle pork is Mexican.

"There's kind of southwestern or Mexican or Spanish flavor to this menu," she added, "but I also bring in my own take on these things."

None of the items served Feb. 24 will be spicy. "They will be tasty," Koster said. "But I also really believe that just because you live in the Midwest, everything doesn't have to taste the same."

She also doesn't believe in toning down a dish's flavor in an attempt to suit the palates of diners. That, Koster said, would severely limit people's dining experiences.

"I think it is kind of insulting to people to think that they can't appreciate something different," she said, "and if you tone down something to make it more American, then you are missing the point of giving people the experience of having international cuisine. I think there is enough variety for me not to make compromises."

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