As the sun begins to settle over a still lake in southwestern Michigan, Gale Gand garnishes roasted rhubard-topped Pavlova with purple pansies picked earlier that morning at a farm just down the road. Her elegant dessert capped a day that started nearly 12 hours earlier as Gand, along with her Spritz Burger partners Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, set off with host Pete Evans and the crew of PBS' "Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking" to harvest ingredients and create a seasonal supper.
When the episode airs this fall during the Emmy-nominated show's second season, distilled to roughly 26 minutes will be hours and hours of digital recording that followed the quartet from a small farm in Buchanan, Mich., to the town's historic mill and a favorite local produce market, back to the kitchen at Smith and McDonagh's vacation home and finally to the lakeside dinner for 12.
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Planning for the show, produced by WGBH-Boston and Fine Cooking magazine, started weeks before Gand and her family set out from their suburban Riverwoods home to their favorite spot in the Midwest. Gand says her recent work with the magazine likely put her on their radar for the show. Earlier this year she created a Chocolate Irish Coffee Cake that landed on the cover of the January issue and her kitchen was featured in the April issue.
"Moveable Feast" follows Australia's hottest celebrity chef Pete Evans as he crisscrosses the United States visiting with chefs and food artisans. When asked to be part of an episode, Gand immediately thought of Smith and McDonagh and hoped the guys would be on board and invite everyone to their place just around the tip of Lake Michigan.
"It was sort of selfish on my part," admits Gand, who cherishes the weekends her family spends with Smith and McDonagh and their son, Nate. "I wanted an excuse to get to their place in Michigan. This way we'll all get together at least once this summer."
When the episode airs in the fall (a date has not been set) it will undoubtedly look like meal ideas popped into mind as they wandered around the farm. In reality, Gand spent hours via email and phone checking what crops would likely be available in early June and vetting recipes with show staff so there's not too much ingredient overlap with other episodes.
Producers then scheduled trips to Blue Star Farm, Pear's Mill and a local winery, only to have things change the day of taping that threw the schedule out the window. They never did make it to the winery.
"It really was a Ping-Pong game," Gand said. Recipes featuring local honey, for instance, were scrapped when it turned out the hives had no bees and a trip to the Sawyer Garden Center was added at the last minute so Gand could grab the rhubarb she needed for dessert and McDonagh could pick up herbs for the evening's cocktails.
Unsuspecting Sunday shoppers scooted around the cameras and seemed nonplused when Evans started teaching 9-year-old Ruby, one of Gand's twin daughters, how to juggle using baby potatoes. Smith shared a pack of goldfish cracker snack mix with the crew while they plotted their next move.
Once back at the house, the cooking began. Camera men turned the couple's cozy kitchen into a television set with lights set up where end tables had been. Prep cooks shuffled around and you'd hear things like "are we still having a Dijon problem?"
Smith stuffed top sirloin with wild ramps and then set it out to cook over a fire fed with grapevines, while Gand roasted rhubarb and showed Evans how to make spaetzle. McDonagh pulled vintage enamelware from the cupboards and headed down to the lake to set the tables and mix the cocktails. After standing over a hot grill making his herbed vegetables, Evans escaped the cameras for a dip in the cool water.
Gathered around the table, the chefs, friends and neighbors clinked glasses of Wyncroft wine and Greenbush beer and heartily dug into the meal, saving room, of course, for Gand's dessert.