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From Rock & Roll Catering to Sustainable, Urban Farm Dinners

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By Sophie Brochu

Heidi Moorman Coudal is a pioneer in Chicago’s sustainable dining scene. Her company, Big Delicious Planet, evolved from backstage rock & roll catering, founded in 1994, to a certified green urban farm-to-table operation. In 2012, Coudal transformed three adjacent vacant lots into a lush farm in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. This summer, she’s back with her weekly 4-course urban farm dinner series, taking place in one of the city’s most unique locations—surrounded by edible flowers, greenery, wine barrels, and beehives. Each dinner is entirely unique, in menu and in style.

How the Big Delicious Planet Urban Farm Started:

“In 2012, I asked my landlord if I could just build a small garden next to the building because it was just a junkyard full of broken ladders. There was a car over there. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah. Sure. If you want to clean it up, do whatever you want over there.’ I found a woman through Windy City Harvest, which is a great urban agricultural program here in Chicago. She helped me build the first eight beds and planted the vegetables that I wanted to grow, and the herbs. I mean, it started out pretty small. A couple weeks later, when there were little sprouts coming out of the ground, I just thought, ‘This could actually be something much bigger.’”

Photo by Sarah Crowley.

From a Pop-Up to a Weekly Series:

“We started doing these dinners in 2015, mainly because I have an urban farm here right next to our catering kitchen. I built a patio in the middle of all the garden beds, so we could host events out there. We did a couple pop-up dinners and then just decided to do a series every Wednesday night.”

“There were little sprouts coming out of the ground, I just thought, ‘This could actually be something much bigger.'”

The Big Picture: 

“What we’re really trying to do is showcase all the vegetables that we’re growing here on our farm. Over the years, we’ve expanded the size of the farm. We’re on three city lots, we have 77 raised beds, and we’re just trying to highlight what we’re growing each week. It’s a total surprise what the dinner’s going to be because sometimes, we don’t really know exactly what we’re harvesting until the week before, or a few days before.”

Photo by Tuan B & Co.

Guests From Near & Far:

“We hosted a group of women from Indianapolis because they read about us in Driftless. We’re always pleased to meet guests who have traveled in from way outside of Chicago. It’s funny, we’ve had guests from rural farm areas but they can’t find an experience like this where they live.”

On Inspiration:

“We catered for Rick Bayless’s television show for about ten years. Several times, I was in his back garden behind his house. So, he was an inspiration. And obviously, Alice Waters, I think, is amazing, and what she’s done with the edible school garden. We also did backstage catering for the band Phish many times over the years. They were one of the first bands that we ever worked with that really wanted to know where their food was coming from. They wanted you to try to get it as close to the venue as possible. They really inspired me and challenged me.”

Summer tomatoes. Photo by Madi Ellis.

Setting the Scene:

“It’s a magical space and a truly unique dining experience. Everyone has been surprised at what a beautiful little oasis we have over here because you can’t see it from the street. Somebody called it a hidden gem once, so that’s what I’ve continued to call it. Just be prepared to grab your plate and run inside if it rains.”

Photo by Hadassah B Photography.
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