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By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Six of the Palmetto State’s top chefs and a handful of assisting culinarians will prepare and serve a four-course meal – with reception appetizers – for attending guests at the inaugural Operation Harvest Dinner 2017 at Columbia’s ‘City Roots,’ next Tuesday. Top chefs to be sure: They’re also all former and retired U.S. military veterans hoping to help fellow veterans who are either farming or considering farming.

“This is a way for veterans, who are directly tied to the farms that produce the foods they cook, to give back to the veterans who grow them,” says Kristian Niemi [see picture], a Farm-to-Table Event Company partner and longtime Columbia restaurateur. “The event will also help veterans who are interested in becoming farmers.”

A U.S. Army veteran, Niemi is today the owner and operator of Bourbon, a whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole restaurant located in the old Brennen Building at 1214 Main Street in downtown Columbia.

In addition to Niemi, Operation Harvest’s chefs include, Brandon Velie of Juniper in Ridge Spring, S.C. (Velie is a Marine veteran); Anthony DiBernardo of Swig and Swine in Charleston (DiBernardo is Navy); John Sheen, sous chef at The Citadel in Charleston (Sheen is Air Force); Jeff Bannister of Bovinoche in Greenville (Bannister is Army); and Garrett Barry of Il Giorgione in Columbia (Barry is a Marine).

Each course will be paired with wines represented by Crimson Wine Group’s Greg Gutierrez, an Army veteran. Guest chefs, also military veterans, will be assisting in the food prep. Even the event’s logo-designer, David Hunt, is a Navy veteran.

“Studies have shown farming is beneficial to soldiers suffering from PTSD as they assimilate back into civilian life,” says Niemi. “If the money we raise at this event can help just one soldier find solace in farming, we’ve exceeded our goal.”

The Operation Harvest dinner menu will feature wood-grilled shrimp and Adluh grits with wood-fired “Creole” sauté; a South Carolina Bounty Salad – mixed greens tossed in vinaigrette with vegetables from veteran farms –  wood-roasted and fired mixed grill with chipotle macaroni ’n cheese, grilled vegetables, and more. For dessert? Local strawberry “shortcake” bread pudding with goat cheese whipped cream.

Tickets for the dinner are $125 per person with all proceeds going directly to the Veteran Farmer Coalition. Free tickets for military veterans and their spouses are also available. Veterans desiring a pair of tickets should email info@bourboncolumbia.com with name (both veteran’s name and guest’s name) and branch of service.

“As veterans, this is simply a way for us to give back to fellow veterans using our specific set of skills – cooking,” says Niemi.

Operation Harvest Dinner 2017 will be held next Tuesday, May 2, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at City Roots, South Carolina’s first urban farm located at 1005 Airport Blvd. in the Rosewood neighborhood near Jim Hamilton–L.B. Owens Airport.

Founded in 2007, the Veteran Farmer Coalition is a California-based non-profit organization assisting military veterans in farming, nationwide, through various programs and initiatives. For information, please visit http://www.farmvetco.org/about-us/.

Sponsors of Operation Harvest Dinner 2017 include the S.C. Dept. of Agriculture, US Foods, Republic National Distributors, Dick Dyer Volvo, and Professional Printers. For additional information, visit http://www.farmtotableeventco.com/new-events/2017/5/2/operation-harvest-2017.

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