Harry & David has long sought after revenue streams to augment its primary holiday sales season.
The Fruit of the Month Club was founded to that end 80 years ago, and other initiatives have launched from time to time to varying degrees of success.
Now Medford’s gourmet food and gift giant is thinking outside the basket by offering hosted dinners around the country.
Such dinners are the brainchild of 1-800-Flowers Chairman Jim McCann, who envisions using products from a variety of his companies brands throughout the country.
Harry & David President Steve Lightman said the dinner of the month puts people together with local restaurants and the company’s products.
“It gives them an opportunity to taste the quality, to see different ways to prepare the food, to meet other people, to socialize,” Lightman said. “We think it’s a great way for us to get a new customer or a new demographic and find ways to be out in the marketplace other than just selling.”
Chef de Cuisine Charles Mahle attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York followed by stops in Austin, Texas, and Seattle prior to moving to the Rogue Valley. He introduced the menu to two dozen diners at Saturday night’s dinner.
The amuse bouche was a bite-sized morsal of Medjool dates, toasted cashews, and pickled shallots on oat crostini.
“It’s kind of play on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — reimagined,” Mahle said. “If you can’t play with food, what can you do with it?”
The appetizer was a Harry & David’s Vanilla Poached Royal Vernao Pear with celery, spiced pecans, Rogue Creamery Oregonzola Blue Cheese Mousse.
“I didn’t want to waste any of the pear, it was so good,” Mahle said. “I turned it into a puree.”
The entre of Duck Leg Confit a l’Orange, featured Harry & David Cara Cara oranges, baby carrots, Harry & David marmalade, Duchess potatoes, and Haricot verts.
“Some of the great things about working with Harry & David is the wide array of different products, more than just the fruit,” Mahle said. “It makes it easy to come up with some great pairings.
Farm-fresh chefs get creative as seasons change.
“Some of the difficulty is that you’re limited by the seasonality,” the chef said. “Sometimes there is plenty and winter comes and you have a lot less to work with. But Harry & David does a great job of making sure the stuff they have is great quality.”
Crumbled honey crème fortune cookies surrounded the lemon plum ginger ice cream on a chocolate ganache cube topped with a cherry caramel sauce.
“The pastry chef saw the lemon plums and was astounded,” Mahle said. “She had never heard of it, but it sounded wonderful and tasted wonderful and she wanted to make ice cream out of it.”
After a pilot event at Lark’s in Medford in February, Harry & David scheduled two this month — in Ashland and a Plano, Texas, at a pizzeria — followed by a dinner in Chicago and one yet to be scheduled in New York.
“We’re looking to really expand it. We didn’t know where it was going to go, but we were excited to get it started,” Lightman said. “Our goal is to have them all over the country, and to have multiple events per night where people can really experience what Harry & David does, as well as what’s in the local communities.”
Stormi Peterson of Talent, who brought her son and daughter with her, said she appreciated the farm-to-table approach.
“Getting to try different foods and different menus at different locations is a really nice concept,” Peterson said. “I think it might catch on outside the Harry & David venue, and maybe some other places will pick it up and hopefully give us different events in our area to dress up, have fun, and try to new things.”
Jim Adams of Central Point liked the pear pairings, and even stretched himself a bit.
“I’m not a duck fan, but even the duck was good,” Adams said. “It’s a good way to get products out there and give people the opportunity to try things.”
Reservations for coming dinners at the Dough Pizzeria Napoletana on March 27, Farmhouse Chicago on April 11, or Lark’s on April 27, can be made on the Harry & David website.
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.