By: Ann Marie Awad
In this day and age, when more people demand full disclosure of their meat and potatoes, their apples and oranges, many have pursued different solutions to close the gap between consumers and their food. Feed Your Soul, a local company devoted to shedding light on the culinary culture of the Western New York region has come up with a few solutions. This summer’s Chef & Market Lunches are one; a sunny day stroll through the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market with a local chef, followed by a hands on lunch at Delish crafted from wares collected at the market. The first installation of the series went down on Saturday morning with Chef Jim Guarino, owner and executive chef at Shango.
Guarino, one of the Buffalo chefs to pioneer locally sourced menus and recent Nickel City Chef victor, walked participants through the market introducing them to his buddies: local farmers and producers that he now knows on a first name basis.
Nearly twenty participants meet up on the sidewalk and are given name tags, shopping bags, and packets full of information regarding Western New York and New York State farming culture, free range livestock, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Before setting out, Tom Tower, farmer and one of the founders of the Bidwell market, briefs everyone on the history of the market and his own farm. He explains that the market is almost fifteen years old, spurred by members of the community who had contacted some farmers and producers. It was originally intended to be held where the Lexington Co-op now stands, but after a few false starts, it moved down the street to the parkway (thanks to support from Olmsted Parks) and forged on with a mere six vendors.
He also elaborates on the market’s strict standards for vendors. All products must be produced by the person selling them, and no reselling is permitted. The market is organized 2/3 farmers and 1/3 non-farmers. Tower then gets to the meat of the matter, the soul of the market itself. “We’re guests here and we have to have a good reason to be invited back,” he said. The market to him is “a chance for us growers to really farm the way we want to.”
Wrapping up his speech, Tower turns to Guarino saying “We’re in the same business, you and I.”
Tower’s farm grows 25 different kinds of tomatoes, stone fruits, potatoes and more. He even tests seed varieties for Cornell studies.
Guarino takes up the reigns by gesturing around him to the market and letting everyone know: “This is why I cook.”
Heading over to the stand of Blackman Farms, participants have the chance to try their new fruit juices and Blackman’s well-known fruit butters. Robert Blackman mans the table that day, explaining how the juices and butters are made.
Over at the Blossom Hill Farm stand, Guarino explains how this farm offers Chef Shares; local chefs commit to a certain poundage of meat when her pigs go to slaughter, and are then placed in a rotation. Their number in the rotation determines what cuts they’ll receive, so chefs must change their menus to best use the share. Thanks to this unpredictability, Guarino now makes ham, sausage and prosciutto in house at Shango. The group purchases bacon from this stand for the salad they will all prepare together later.
The next stop is at a stand attended by Bonnie George of Painted Meadows Farm, who has the pleasure of being Guarino’s only source for eggs, heritage duck and rabbit at Shango. She also deals in heritage chickens, turkeys, lambs, and also sells chicken and duck eggs. George is one of the most popular stands at the market, and her rabbits, duck and eggs are served at many of the area’s best restaurant. Guarino puts an arm around her and asks her to tell everyone about her animals. “You come to my house, most of them will meet you in the driveway,” she jokes. George’s animals are truly free-range.
Two long tables laden heavy with piles of greens and vegetables belong to Native Offerings. Formerly Buffalo Organics in East Aurora, Stew Ritchie moved his operation to Otto, New York and became Native Offerings, famous for their abundantly leafy Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA) shares. Their stand is crowded by shoppers clamoring for their veggies, but Ritchie also offers various meats that are not available at the market, but through CSAs and special orders. Native Offerings also has a weekly blog full of recipes based on what is included in the CSA share for that week. “We love vegetables,” says Ritchie.
Next up, Patrick Lango excitedly tells everyone about White Cow Dairy products. Located in East Otto, Blue Hill Farm’s White Cow Dairy line has recently been awarded Best Locally Produced Food Product by Buffalo Spree and is carried in places like Wegmans, Lexington Co-Op and even Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village and Grand Central Station in New York City.
While only the yogurt and whey-based drinks are sold in stores, puddings, dips, custards and creams are made available at the market. Lango talks everyone through how a few of his products are made. He extolls the virtues of his live culture whey-based drinks: “I don’t like using a spoon, so I can drink this stuff and then I don’t need to eat anything for a while.” Samples are passed around, one of which is called Crème Bulgare, a rich, thick yogurt flavored with vanilla and rose water and made from cream rather than milk. “They make milk in to yogurt, but they never make cream into yogurt.”
Kevin Gardener of Five Points Bakery manned his stand alone, and talked about the need for food to be transparent. The bakery’s website includes the ingredient lists of all their products, each ingredient acting as a link to the farm it came from. “It’s up to the restaurant or the business to make that information available,” he explains. Gardner mills the grains he receives from Zittel Farms, who only produced feed grain for animals for generations due to lack of demand for locally-grown whole grains. Gardner is in on the whole process, from seed, to sow, to mill, to sourdough.
The final stop was at Dan Tower Farm stand (not to be confused with Tom Tower farms. There are many farmers with the surname Tower in the WNY region). Iris Tower explains how she makes apples available out of season with controlled atmosphere storage. In CA storage, all the oxygen is removed from a room and replaced with CO2, “putting them to sleep,” as Iris puts it. The Towers have 38 varieties of apples.
After the rounds, the group takes a walk to Delish to cook up lunch. Guarino carries loads of items from the market in both hands. These were the groceries in tow for lunch:
A few varieties of heirloom tomatoes from Tom Tower Farms
Chili sauce from Blackman Homestead Farm
Bacon from Blossom Hill Farm
Eggs from Painted Meadows Farm
Swiss chard, summer squash, zucchini, carrots, red scallions, basil and oregano from Native Offerings
Brown sugar and Sourdough Ciabatta from Five Points Bakery
Blueberries and raspberries from Dan Tower Farm
Now, the event advertises a cooking class to prepare lunch, but this is ever misleading. Lunch was prepared with a flock of participants in the kitchen, cracking eggs, washing and chopping vegetables, and cooking bacon. Other guests relaxed at the table, cooling off from the muggy afternoon with peach iced tea. Samples of Five Points’ ciabatta and Delish’s own balsamic vinegar and olive oil make their rounds. Chef Roo Buckley (formerly of The Coda) comes out to say hello, and later sends out a plate of chocolate treats for everyone. Guarino is patiently giving instructions in every direction as other observers ask him questions every now and again.
With the help of the guests, and a few things from Guarino’s own kitchen, lunch is served.
Everything on that grocery list became everything on this menu: Frittata with summer squash, red scallion, Swiss chard, garlic and parmesan; tomato salad with bacon, goat cheese, carrots and chili vinaigrette, garlic oil sourdough crostini; blueberry and raspberry crisp with basil infused whipped cream and a balsamic reduction.
The Chef & Market Lunch had effectively accomplished its purpose. It involved its participants every step of the way; engaging farmers and producers in a dialog about their products, allowing them to ask questions and try new foods, and finally bringing them into the kitchen to make lunch. There is no gap between these people and this meal. They know where it all came from, who grew it, and how it became frittata, salad and crisp.
There is a toast to Guarino and a warm applause thanking him for the day’s activities. When the clapping dies down, one guest chimes “When can we do it again?”
Saturday, August 14th with Chef Kate Eliott of Juniper
Saturday, September 18th with Chef Steven Gedra of Bistro Europa (SOLD OUT!)
Sunday, August 22nd Urban Ag Foodie Tour (tour four city-based farms including Wilson St. Cold Spring, Curbside Croft and Map, includes a lunch catered by Chef Bruce Wieszala)
Sunday, September 12th Niagara Escarpment (tour Flavor Farm, T-Meadow Farm and enjoy a lunch catered by Chef Bruce Wieszala in the vineyards at Leonard Oakes Estate)
Disclosure: FYS is owned by BR staffer Christa Glennie Seychew
Ann Marie Awad is a senior English major at the University at Buffalo, who is also studying journalism. Awad has been published in Artvoice, Generation Magazine and Eat Me Daily (a food blog). She has a passion for supporting local businesses, great coffee and Saturday mornings at the farmers market.
All images by photographer Nathan Peracciny.
Lead image depicts Tom Tower selling his wares to Chef Jim Guarino. First inset features carrots form Native Offerings. Second photo shows Stu Ritchie of Native Offerings speaking to the group. Third and fourth inset show of participants cooking at Delish.