It's rare that I am speechless, probably more rare than some would prefer. I always have something to say about everything.
I rise this chilly September morning, the leaves yet to adorn themselves in coats of red and gold and am finding it hard to articulate the effect my Thursday night dinner had on my soul as well as my stomach. The Forge City Works tasting that I attended has me in a place that defies conventional communication. I'm gonna attempt to suspend reality and take you on a journey through my memories of this transcendent event. Walk with me for a bit.
If you've ever heard "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", remember how that song made you feel and get into that mindset:
🎶 Picture yourself with a plate and a cocktail, where inspired people cook food and change lives. 🎶
That's it. That was the Farm to Forge event.
Imagine starting the evening's meal at a high end crudité table- you know what I'm talking about. The raw veggie selections that absolutely do NOT come in that plastic tub with the sketchy dill gloop in the middle. I'm talking about the kind where the carrots look like a rainbow taking a nap. Purple, orange, white, yellow all cascading in a perfectly imperfect pile. Your eyes then see the good cheese- the kind with the thick rind that some people (spoiler: I am some people af).) secretly like to chew on: the sharpest cheddar, funky Stilton and smoky gouda and crackers with everything seasoning sprinkled on them (in case you wondered, they're called New York Flatbread Crackers and they are a charcuterie board CHEAT CODE. Buy some.)
You then take a few steps and find impossible burgers and empanadas, and you make it possible to shovel three of each in rapid succession down your very thankful mouth, along with perfectly crispy fried Brussels Sprouts.
You then see these little cans with amazing art on them... they look like Ready to Drink cocktails.. and you find out they're ready to drink cocktails made by one of the state's leading mixology minds with craft ingredients and careful balance. Drink Mechanics is providing the beverages. Your palate is winning.
As you traverse through a building that's a perfect blend of industrial and farm inspired design, you just keep seeing wonderful things- steak crostini with fig and balsamic spread, pork belly and watermelon skewers, tuna poke that's perfectly chilled resting under a bed of delectable seaweed, and shrimp with grits that passed the Alabama Test (my mama is from Alabama. My soul lives in Alabama. The best grits are from Alabama. I harshly judge and grade grits with zero chill and no remorse. These got a 90+ rating for me, losing points only because nobody picked up a shovel full of them and ran at breakneck speed towards my face.)
Finally, imagine all of this is taking place in the building of a restaurant that changed your life, that made you start chasing flavors and rare ingredients, that made you start measuring your cocktail ingredients by the quarter ounce, and connected you with lifelong friends that are just as willing as you are to nerd out on food and drink that matters made by people who care. Everything that you see, hear, touch and taste has been engineered to be a catalyst for lasting change of individual lives and the social fabric as a whole. You're doing a good deed with each bite you take.
Firebox changed me permanently. From the moment I entered in 2012, I knew that the business of thoughtful food and beverage preparation could be about more than rave reviews and awards, more than a swanky and stylish crowd, and more than a way to simply earn a living.
An outgrowth of an initiative to provide economic development and fight hunger and homelessness, the Box simply overdelivered at every step of the way. They changed local food culture forever.
Sadly, the restaurant was the casualty of the pandemic and a city center that was all but empty due to quarantine.
Like a culinary phoenix, Firebox is rising as Fire by Forge, a part of the Forge City Works program with a vision and mission of changing lives through food. Job training, food access and all levels of holistic support are provided to students with the goal of launching their careers in the hospitality industry and building the foundation of a well balanced and stable life and livelihood.
Chef Ben Dubow, who I am proud to call a business partner, a spiritual guide and a true friend is the executive director. If you know this man, you understand his gentle strength and spirit of searching for good in the darkest corners of the industry and the world. I can tell you that same passion and empathy is alive in every single member of the staff, and went viral with the crowd. Strangers were stopping strangers just to exchange goodwill and bonds were formed over the food, the drinks and the mission. He fills the shoes of the late Cary Wheaton, the beloved luminary, advocate and original founder of the entire concept.
There is so much more that I want to tell you about Forge City Works, but I am having trouble elaborating on the joy I feel in a succinct manner. I will find another Beatles song to assist me. Until then, follow them digitally for information on future events and food initiatives, because something wonderful is happening right in our Capital City, and it is providing sustenance for the body as well as the soul.