By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Between the end of the holidays and Winter Fest, Bowling Green needs something. That’s part of the reason that Scottish enthusiast and bon vivant Elliot MacFarlane and chef Boby Mitov of Naslada Bistro in downtown have teamed up for the last few years to stage Robert Burns Night.
The fourth Burns Night at Naslada will be presented Saturday, Jan. 19, starting at 6 p.m. Reservations are required. Call 419-373-6050. The event has sold out in past years. The charge is $110, which includes a four-course meal and four flights of top shelf whisky.
The dinner is a more intimate affair than other downtown events. A few dozen revelers will gather in the eatery’s cozy confines for a night of poetry, song, traditional Scottish fare prepared with a contemporary International touch, whisky, and the humor, often rude, that the consumption of rounds of liquor often prompts.
Dinners in honor of Burns, around the time of his Jan. 25 birthday, have been celebrated since the poet’s death in 1796, MacFarlane, a member of the St. Andrews Society, said.
While Burns is the national poet of Scotland, MacFarlane said, his appeal is universal. South African liberationist Nelson Mandela had two books with him when he was imprisoned on Robben Island — a volume of Burns poetry and “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
And Abraham Lincoln loved the poet. He recited the Scotsman’s verse as he traveled the circuit from court to court during his days as a lawyer in Illinois. And the night he was shot at Ford’s Theater, he had a book of Burns poetry in his pocket.
MacFarlane (aka David Donley) said that Burns’ focus on the lives of common people is the key to his appeal.
“I’m surprised at how many people know Robert Burns,” he said. And even those who don’t are aware of the poet’s phrases that have woven themselves into the language.
Whether it’s “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men” or “man’s inhumanity to man.” The former comes from the poem “To a Mouse” in which a farmer on discovering a mouse nest while plowing reflects how their plights are similar, both subject to forces outside their control.
These works, some set to music, will be central to the Burns Night Celebration. MacFarlane will present the Immortal Memory, a reflection on the life of the poet. At some events this can go on for hours. MacFarlane knows the local audience’s limits. He said this year he plans to focus on Burns’ ties to the United States.
During the American Revolution, Burns was involved in raising money to buy cannons for Washington’s army.
A piper will be on hand to perform and to lead the procession marking the entry of the haggis, the sausage-like dish that’s the centerpiece of the feast.
Traditionally this was made of sheep organs with the intestine used as a casing.
MacFarlane said the dish reflects what poor folks would have to feed themselves. U.S. food regulations actually forbid the most traditional haggis — no lungs allowed.
Mitov instead offers a decidedly high end version of the dish prepared with locally-sourced grass-fed beef and lamb.
The chef puts his own distinctive touches on all the dishes being served — Scotch Collops of Beef with Rumbledethumps and Cock-a-leekie Soup. He’ll also serve smoked salmon bites with dill sauce.
The Bulgarianborn chef said cooking the traditional Scottish dishes is not such a jump. All cultures have variations these dishes, just as all have such communal celebrations.
Each course, including a dessert that mixes cream, fresh berries, and oats, will be paired with a top flight whisky selected by MacFarlane from the best available in Ohio. Whisky served this year will be: Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 14 Years; Lagavulin Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 16 Years; Balvenie Doublewood Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 12 Years; and Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 18 Years.