Monday, September 12, 2005

An Incredible Feast....Part One

Each Sunday the West Seattle Junction is home to one of Seattles many farmers markets. Here those who till the earth, tend the livestock, harvest the seas and lakes, forage through the forests, collect the bees busywork, and craft cheeses bring their bounty to share with the public. Often those first in line as these markets open are the chefs who's restaurants are in the neighborhood. These chefs, knowing that outstanding cuisine starts with beautiful products, are eager to bring the fruits of these markets into their kitchens.

This special relationship between farmer and chef was celebrated this past Sunday evening in the west seattle farmers market. The first annual Farmers Market alliance diner, dubbed "An Incredible Feast" paired 18 of the city's chefs with farmers, foragers, ranchers, fishermen, and cheese makers. The farmer, or producer, donated one of their signature products, and the chef's in turn created a dish to feature both the farmer's jewel, and their own cuisine.


Amy McCray, the chef I work for at Eva was partnered with a farmer named Mai Cha. I have often patronized Mai's booth, but only for the bright bouquets of flowers that I cant leave the market with out. For this event it was Mai's Amaranth, or Chinese spinach, that Amy put to use. The leaf is a striking dark green with a spray of crimson running up the center vein. This leaf became the green in a country Greek salad called Horiatiki. Tossed with the amaranth was cherry tomatoes, red onion, small white lima beans, and Bulgarian sheeps milk feta in a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing. Amy invited me along to work, but let me run free half the time to taste, photograph, and mingle with other restaurants.


Brasa chef Tamara Murphy took time out of her busy schedule not only to organize and host the event, but to work with a farmer as well. Here her team is plating Brasa's signature Roast Suckling pig with Anderson Farms Pluots. Pluots, a cross between an Apricot and a plum, bring the best of both their parents with the sweetness of the plum and the fragrant tartness of an Apricot. For this dish Murphy grills the pluot halves for just a few minutes and dresses them with balsamic vinegar and thyme. The flavor of the pluots was lean and intense, and a nice balance to the rich tender pork.


My first glimpse of Cascadia chef Kerry Sear was outside the market as he zipped up in a bright yellow Mini Cooper painted with block letters spelling the word "Miniburgers." I guess this sweet ride is one of the perks of his job. Once inside he went to work preparing his dish of Mixed Shell Bean Ragout with Smoked Lamb Breast and Herb Salad. His partner was Gretchen Hoyt of Alm Hill Gardens who shared with us the shell beans.


Chef John Neumark was lucky to partner with a Tonasket farm called Billy's. This luck brought him what must be the sweetest of the late season strawberries. He paired these beauties with a Moscato Zabiglione. Moscato, or Muscat, is a musky grape, often believed to be one of the first varieties to be cultivated. This grape is often used to make sweet dessert wines, like the Italian Moscato. Here this wine is used in a simple Italian preparation of Zabiglione, and dripped over the fragrant, sweet berries. The flavor of the Moscato was definitely NOT lost in the cooking process, leading one mother to pull a sample out of her child's hand, and me to reach for a second.


Earth and Ocean, the restaurant in the W Hotel was paired with Cliffside Orchards. An orchard in Kettle Falls, Cliffside shared a trio of fruits, cherries, peaches, and nectarines. It was the Pastry Chef Sue McCown that took on the challenge of three fruits. She made a virgin sangria with puree's of the three fruits, thinning the thick goodness to a drinkable consistency with a lemon verbena syrup. The results were so delicious I doubt a single sampler was aware of an alcoholic absence.


There is a young man named Jeremy Faber who roams the wild, collecting edibles and bringing them to restaurants and farmers markets. I first encountered him a few years ago as he brought mushrooms, and greens like wild sorrel leaves to Lampreia. Now he brings Huckleberries, mushrooms, and even large Columbia river salmon to the kitchen at Eva, and is one of Amy's favorite people. For this event he paired with Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita and provided her with chantrelles and huckleberries. She used these to create a dish of Moscovy Duck Breast, Chantrelles, and Huckleberries with a Sherry Syrup. The dish was such a hit that by the time I got through the line, the duck was gone. But the remaining chanterelles with huckleberries were delightful.


I will admit I have never been given a reason to venture interest in the Hotel Monacoo's restaurant Sazarac. But after tasting Chef Jason McClures simple preparation of the Martin Family Orchards Peaches, I have one. The simplicity of the preparation showed Jasons willingness to step back his talents, and let the peach speak for itself. To me this shows humility, and respect for the food. It is far to easy to think you need to do more, featuring your skills over the flavor of a fruit, or food. This was not the case as Jason paired Perfectly Ripe Peaches with Arugula, Manchego, and Toasted Almonds. The flavor of the peach stood out remarkably while the spiciness of the arugula, the richness of the manchego, and the nutty flavor of the almonds set a layered and balanced backdrop. A reduction of balsamic drizzled over the top seemed to possess all these individual qualities, rich, tart, nutty, spicy, and sweet, and tied the dish together.


"Razzleberry?!? Who's ever heard of a Razzleberry?" I said in my best Veruca Salt voice as I was handed a cup of Razzleberry Tomato Gazpacho from the guys at Madison Park Cafe's booth. My comment was greeted with laughter and the statement, "I know, it does sound like some crazy Willy Wonka fruit!" But come to find out, Razzleberry is a heirloom tomato provided by Wade Benent at Rockridge Orchards. This Wonkaland tomato was turned into a gazpacho and playfully paired with an apple cider sorbet. The texture of the sorbet was nice with the chilled soup.

This covers about half of the restaurants that shared their talents, and has exhausted my time for the evening. Rather than strain to fit them all in I am opting to post the second half soon and give each the attention they deserve. Soon....


Blogger littledminor said...

Oh my goodness...Razzleberry soup and sorbet. Sounds divine.
The entire Farmer's market sounds like Seattle heaven. Taichi and some grass-fed steak. Next time you see him, ask him about steak from the slaughterhouse from U.C. Davis.

October 26, 2005 1:36 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

The slaugter house at U.C. Davis? I am intrigued!


October 31, 2005 8:58 AM  

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