Andy and Marcy Nettel enjoy a Summer Garden Dinner in the grape tunnel, also known as the Tunnel of Love. (Courtesy Youth Garden Project)

The Youth Garden Project serves a challenge to local chefs three times a year. The non-profit organization invites one at a time to make a multi-course meal made with seasonal vegetables and local foods to be served in the garden itself. The Spring, Summer and Fall Garden Dinners are fundraisers to support children’s programming.

“It can be a challenge for the chefs to break out of their mold and cook with seasonal vegetables,” said Ariel Atkins, associate director of the Youth Garden Project

Zachary Davidson, executive chef of Cabo Grill, is taking that challenge for the Summer Garden Dinner to be held Thursday, Aug. 23 in the Youth Garden Project’s garden.

“We don’t know what is available until the week before,” he said.

Davidson has toured the garden a few times. He knows he has onions, garlic and peppers and will be able to make a pico de gallo. He knows there will be melons, but he’s not exactly sure what kind he will use to make a chilled melon soup. And he’s planning on serving five courses.

Davidson studied at the Le Cordon Bleu in London and is the chairman of the state’s Beehive Chef Association. He has been actively involved in combining food with children’s charities, such as Chef and Child. He organized one event that featured 17 restaurants from Cedar City to Park City. All time and food was donated. The charity was able to raise $78,000 in one day.

“We like to partner nutrition with children,” he said.

Given his previous charity work, Davidson is very excited to work with the Youth Garden Project.

The Youth Garden Project hosts three garden dinners each year.

“We try to showcase not only what is in our garden, but other farmers as well,” Atkins said. The menu will feature seasonal fruits and vegetables that are grown onsite, or that are supplied by local farmers at Creekside Organics and Castle Valley Farms.

Davidson is also planning on serving cheese made by the Castle Valley Creamery and locally grown beef.

The fundraiser supports children programming, such as summer camp, afterschool programming, and garden classroom field trips.

“It is one of those events you can go with your sweetheart, or a double date, or with a girlfriend. My favorite is to go with a bunch of girls,” said Rikki Epperson. “It can be an intimate thing for two, or for a fun garden party.”

Epperson has attended each garden dinner since the fundraiser was organized in 2006.

“The garden is beautiful. The garden is lit up with lights. It is very enchanting,” Epperson said. “And they use as many local ingredients as possible, which is something I’m into.”

Epperson goes to the dinners for than just the food and ambience.

“It is for such a good cause,” Epperson said. “I think it is just a super fun way to support our community.”

Inviting the town to eat in the garden to fund children’s programming exemplifies the non-profit’s mission statement.

“This event sums up what we do: ‘Grow food, kids and community,’” Atkins said.