Tag Archives: chefs

A Market Basket Cook-Off

What a phenomenal Saturday morning it was yesterday. It was such an honor to be asked to judge the Ready Set Go…Cook (friendly) competition at the University District Farmers Market, an annual affair that pits two Seattle chefs against each other using their pick of items from market vendors. My cohorts on the judging panel were Joe Gruber, Executive Director of the University District Food Bank and Joane McIntyre from Rents Due Ranch, a longtime market vendor. We were introduced by Mayor Greg Nickels who had moments earlier been part of a ceremony celebrating the city’s purchase of the University Heights building and property, under a banner that touted “celebrating community and supporting local farmers.” It’s a phenomenal step forward in helping ensure that at least one of our city’s neighborhood farmers markets has a permanent home to count on for years to come.

One proviso for the cook-off was that each dish–serving four–should come in at or below a $10 cost. An new this year was the added challenge to integrate pantry items provided by the nearby University District Food Bank, in an effort to show shoppers how well you can eat without having to bust your budget on expensive gourmet products.

The two contenders yesterday were Rachel Yang, chef/co-owner of Joule restaurant in Wallingford and Juli Guillemette, a just-recently-departed sous chef at BOKA downtown (she’s headed off on a road trip adventure back to Vermont where her family has a dairy farm–best wishes for that Juli!). Here’s how each provisioned their kitchens for the cook-off, best as I could note.

Rachel’s market products included fennel, small Asian eggplants, zucchini and yellow squash, hazelnuts, eggs, zucchini blossoms, purslane, honey, goat yogurt and (coolest product of all) zucchini stalks, which included crunchy stalks, tender tendrils and leaves. From the Food Bank pantry she used vinegar, cider, rice, mandarin oranges, and …. Spam!!

Juli’s choices from the market stalls included purslane, Walla Walla sweet onions, green beans, tomatoes, peaches, cucumbers, garlic, oregano, basil, and chicken livers. And from the Food Bank pantry she opted for flour, vinegar, tuna, oil, and maybe one or two other items I missed.

Oh, and each chef was allowed to bring a secret ingredient.

Juli presented her dishes first. She noted a love for meat and fruit combinations, pairing the chicken livers with peaches. The peach halves were lightly sugared and caramelized cut-side down in a cast iron pan (she’d have grilled them if that had been an option). Then cut in pieces, the peaches were partnered with chopped basil and sautéed Walla Walla sweets tocookoff3accompany the crispy pan-fried chicken livers. Her secret ingredient went to use here as a simple sauce: exquisite aged balsamic vinegar. I’m not, unfortunately, a fan of meat-meets-fruit, but do really like chicken livers. And I appreciated the creativity of this combination, particularly given the more savory basil and onion elements.

The second dish Juli served was a twist on salade niçoise, with the tuna, tomatoes, blanched green beans, cucumber and purslane, topped with a vinaigrette that included minced garlic and fresh oregano.  What’s not to love, great fresh bright flavors, quite summery, and nice to show how much you can dress up an inexpensive can of tuna.

Rachel followed with her first of two dishes. The halved baby eggplant and cookoff2pieces of fennel bulb had been marinated (honey-soy) and cooked in a grill pan, served with a salad of purslane and mandarin oranges, a sauce of yogurt and honey with chopped fennel fronds alongside. Delicious.

For me, the star dish of the day was Rachel’s second, a zucchini congee. Congee is, as Rachel simply put it, a rice porridge, typically savory. She noted that giving the time constraints of the competition, cooking the rice congee-style was a quicker option. The long grain rice soaked in cold water for maybe 20 minutes, then she whirled it in the blender with water for a bit, tossed it all in a saucepan to cook. Later she added grated zucchini, sliced zucchini stalks and zucchini leaves. For a finishing touch, she sautéed diced yellow squash and Spam to spoon over.

Rachel put her secret ingredient–soy sauce–to unique use, curing egg yolks from the beginning of the competition (about 1 hour before serving). A cured raw egg yolk was then added to the center of each bowl just before serving, which then oozed deliciously into the congee as you eat it. The lastcookoff1 of many flourishes in this dish was a small piece of lightly fried zucchini blossom on top, a lovely crisp contrast to the silky rich texture of the dish. Wow.

Both chefs did such a great job, really got into the spirit of the challenge and into the pleasure of sharing their favorite ingredients and techniques with the crowd. But Rachel prevailed to take away the coveted blue ribbon first prize for this year’s Ready Set, Go…Cook!

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Meet Your Friendly Farmer

Just around the corner, on August 23, is one of the best chef-farmer food events in town each year. This will be the 5th annual Incredible Feast, an outstanding chance to visit with  farmers you see at the weekly markets around Seattle, in a setting that’s not quite as frantic as a busy market day! Each of the 30 or so participating farmers showcases one or more of their signature ingredients, cooked up into a delicious treat by the chef they’ve been partnered with.

This year’s Feast will be held at the University District market site, at University Heights (corner of University Way and 50th). Among the participating farmers are Billy’s Organic, Rama Farm, Whistling Train, Foraged and Found Edibles, Rock Ridge Orchards and Loki Fish. And the chefs who’ll be cooking include John Sundstrom from Lark, Chris Keff from Flying Fish, Renee Erickson from Boat Street Café and Ethan Stowell from Union. More details hereUntitled-2.

Proceeds from the event support the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which oversees many of the city’s best markets. In fact, the University District just received major national recognition as one of the top 10 markets in the countryby Huffington Post (it ranked #3).

I’ll be there and hope you might consider joining for the fun, delicious Sunday afternoon of wonderful food, farm-fresh. You can get your tickets here.

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The Celebrity Farmer

Do you remember back when we used to just go to a restaurant, enjoy a meal, pay our check and head home without much thought at all to the talent back in the kitchen making it all happen? I know, it’s hard to recall such a time. There are many influences that helped bring the phenomenon of the celebrity chef to life, but suffice it to say that more often than not we now know more about the people cooking our restaurant meals than we do about our own neighbors.

Where we are now is in the early years of the newest incarnation: the celebrity farmer. Whether diners are hoping to see “Billy’s Tomatoes” on a menu (as we did recently at Sitka & Spruce, served in utter, delicious simplicity) or stand

Perfect, delicious simplicity

ready with their canvas bags, waiting for the market bell to ring the day’s opening so they can race to Rama Farm for amazing peaches or hit Whistling Train Farm before they run out of eggs. It may start with a love affair we develop for their products. But just as the separation between the front-of-the-house diners and the back-of-the-house chefs has found us yearning to get to know the people behind our meals, so has our love of certain ingredients made us want to learn more about the people on the other side of the farmers market stall. The farmers are becoming, more and more, the stars of the day. And it’s about time.

This is a phenomenon that many farmers are only slowly taking to. For my July article in Seattle Magazine, I met with and/or interviewed a number of Washington farmers who seem to begrudgingly be finding themselves in the spotlight. And drawn away from the farm. They clearly get a good dose of energy and satisfaction from interacting with shoppers at the markets, and making deliveries to restaurants, but most sounded as though they’d be just as content to be on their farms most of the times.

It’s one reason why the Incredible Feastevent around the corner (late afternoon of August 24 at Phinney Ridge Community Center) is such a treat. Sure there are top guest chefs from around the city, including John Sundstrom, Maria Hines, Holly Smith and Ethan Stowell. But it’s really the farmers who are the stars, each farm paired with a chef who will showcase the farmers products in delicious style.

On top of the great food and outstanding local products that are featured, there’s something of a carnival atmosphere at this down-home event, including games, live music and a wine and beer garden. A popular spot is always the balloon toss area. Take your chances, pop the right balloon and you may be going home with a restaurant gift certificate, a signed cookbook, outstanding local food products, you name it. Hope to see you there!!

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Best New Chefs — Food & Wine

Ethan StowellI just got a press release from Food & Wine Magazine announcing the 2008 winners of their coveted “Best New Chef” recognition. Of course, I’m always thrilled when Seattle chefs gain recognition nationally. An ovation goes out to Ethan Stowell, chef/owner of Union, Tavolata and the new How to Cook a Wolf for being so honored this year. Woo-hoo!!!

The ten winners are being fêted tonight in New York City. That explains why Ethan could so easily make an appearance on today’s episode of Today (as I learned from Nancy Leson’s blog this morning, too late to try to catch the spot). Sorry to say that I haven’t been to any of the other award-winners. But I can try to make it to Gautreau’s in New Orleans in a couple of weeks to sample some of Sue Zemanick’s creations. 

Past F&W “Best New” winners in our neighborhood include Jason Wilson at Crush (2006), John Sundstom at Lark (2001), and Maria Hines at Tilth (2005).  And we’ve inherited a couple: Danielle Custer won in 1998 while she was cooking in Dallas (she’s now general manager at Taste at SAM) and new chef at The Herbfarm, Keith Luce, won in 1997 while in Chicago at Spruce.

Oh, and just to keep the kudos coming, I’m late in sending out three cheers to Maria for her inclusion on Frank Bruni’s recent list of ten “Intriguing New Restaurants Outside of New York” in The New York Times. Outstanding news, bravo Maria! I have been to one other on that list, Central, which I reported about in an earlier post about our trip to DC (keyword: banana split). And one I will definitely be visiting on my New Orleans trip: Cochon. So excited about that dinner, gathering with a number of IACP friends before the big conference begins mid month.

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Cooking in Season: Sunchokes

I went to a Chef’s Collaborative event here in Seattle on Monday night. I really love the crowd at these member meet-and-greet gatherings. Can always count on seeing pals from the food and beverage world, including Charles and Rose Ann Finkel from Pike Brewing Company and Pub; Fernando and Marlene Divina from Tendrils at Cave B; Tom Buckley from Caffé Vita; Seth Caswell (president of the local chapter) from Stumbling Goat, among others. And local farmers are often the stars of the day. This week the theme was winter produce. Many farmers don’t stop growing things just because the temps drop and days get shorter. And chefs who try to devote themselves to truly local, seasonal products have a decent, if not summertime-bountiful, variety of ingredients to choose from. It just takes a little extra creativity to make the most of them.

The event was held at City Catering, chef Russell Burton dreamed up a menu featuring of-the-moment ingredients. Farmers attending that night from Full Circle Farm, Nash’s Organic and Willie Green’s Organic Farm provided arugula, beets, sunchokes, parsnips, cabbage, squash, fennel and probably one or two others things I’m forgetting. Menu items included a delicious beet and fennel terrine, roasted root vegetables, squash seed brittle, sunchoke purée, parsnip and rutabega chips, and beet cake (rather like carrot cake or zucchini bread, moist and tender).

When Andrew Stout from Full Circle addressed the group, he mentioned they’d brought the sunchokes for the chef to play around with, adding “everyone needs to come up with 5 new recipes for sunchokes!” The crowd laughed. I took it as a personal challenge. I can do this. This is what I do. But just not until this weekend’s farmers markets when can I stock up. More on those experiments later.

For now, I wanted to share you with a delicious sunchoke recipe for your reading (and hopefully eating) pleasure. It’s from my book Northwest Best Places Cookbook, Volume 2, a collection of recipes from restaurants, cafes, hotels, bakeries, etc. across Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. This sunchoke recipe came from chef David Hawksworth, then at West restaurant in Vancouver. He left that post last year, taking time now to prepared for his next big venture: Hawksworth at The Georgia. The Georgia hotel, which had its heyday in decades past, is closed for a complete renovation, due to reopen late 2009. In the meantime, he’s busy doing “research” which means eating well, cooking, traveling, taking notes, dreaming ideas….. West was always a favorite restaurant of mine in Vancouver, can’t wait to taste what David has in store for us next.

Back to sunchokes. They’re a tuber, also known as Jerusalem  artichokes. “Jerusalem” because the plant family is the same as that of the sunflower, or girasol/e in Spanish/Italian (which I guess you can imagine being corrupted to Jerusalem….). And “artichoke” because the nutty-earthy flavor is reminiscent of artichokes. Sunchokes seems to be becoming the more commonly used name lately. Flipping through my notes recently from November’s trip to France, I was reminded of this course from dinner at the 2-star Michelin La Madeleine restaurant in Sens (northern Burgundy), sunchoke cream soup–very simple–served with mini sun-dried tomato madeleines. Sublime. Oh, they’re called topinambour in France. Curious about that name? Me too. Just read something about it being a French corruption of the name of a tribe in Brasil (yes, Brasil).

Finally, here’s the promised recipe.

Sunchoke Soup with Skillet-Roasted Scallops

1 1/2 pounds sunchokes

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small white onion, coarsely chopped

1 large leek, white part only, sliced

1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped

1 small carrot, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 sprig thyme

1 bay leaf

4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

1 cup milk

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, more to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons olive oil

12 sea scallops

4 sprigs chervil or flat-leaf parsley

Use the edge of a spoon or a vegetable peeler to scrape away the thin skin from the sunchokes, dropping them into a bowl of water as you finish to help minimize discoloration. When all the sunchokes have been peeled, drain them well and coarsely chop them.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sunchokes, onion, leek, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, 8 to 10 minutes (the vegetables shouldn’t brown; reduce the heat if needed). Add the chicken stock, milk and cream, bring the liquid just to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove and discard the thyme sprig and bay leaf from the soup, then purée the soup in batches in a blender or food processor and return it to the pan. Season the soup to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper and keep warm over low heat.

In a large skillet (preferably nonstick) heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it just begins to smoke. Add the scallops and cook until nicely browned, 1 to 2 minutes on each side (the scallops will remain translucent in the center).

To serve, arrange the scallops in the bottom of individual shallow soup bowls and ladle the hot soup around them. Garnish each serving with a sprig of chervil in the center and serve right away.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

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