An old joke has it that the best name for a band would be Free Beer. Put that on the marquee and watch the crowds come.
Free Food … a close second, right?
That’s the idea behind the Culinary Table at the North Buffalo Farmers Market, near Hertel and Delaware avenues. The market, open Thursday afternoons starting at 3, is going strong through Oct. 27th.
If you stop by, you’ll see chef Don Keating walk a high wire of creativity. Keating, who is head chef at Hertel favorite Joe’s Deli, shows up when the market opens, walks the grounds and checks out the fresh produce and other local bounty. Then he gathers a bushel of ingredients, lights a portable burner, and whips up a best-of-the-market dish for hungry market-goers to sample.
This is not your average tailgate. Among the recipes Keating has concocted on market day:
- Fresh peaches dredged in tempura batter, fried up, drizzled with honey and topped with chopped cashews.
- A sausage sandwich with caramelized mushrooms, onions, thyme and what the cheese seller calls “cowboy mozzarella.”
- Marinated strawberries with basil, topped with a balsamic glaze and whipped ricotta.
- An arugula salad with blistered shishito peppers, peaches, sunflower seeds and ricotta, drizzled with fermented honey.
It’s a labor of community for Keating, who is part of a dedicated crew working to keep the Market vibrant. And it pays off in a few ways: Shoppers get an interesting new recipe to try at home, market vendors get a little boost in sales, and sometimes there’s a dish that he can take back to Joe’s Deli and put it on the menu.
“In Buffalo, especially with all these new restaurants, the food scene has really blown up,” Keating says. “There’s this huge community of cooks and chefs and servers. And the Farmers Market has been great because it’s allowed me to work with the seasons. I’m sourcing local ingredients that I can use in sandwiches and salads, and I can show people that they can eat locally in lots of ways, not just in fine dining.”
The response, predictably, has been enthusiastic. “Free food always gets people straight to the heart,” he says. “They love it. We get a lot of the same people who are there every week and say, ‘What are you cooking today?’ It’s great to see people come back and say, ‘I tried that recipe at home.’ And it helps support the farmers – after people taste their food, often they’ll go buy it.”
It’s about building community one bite at a time.
The al fresco gig is a creative outlet for Keating, who studied creative writing at SUNY Plattsburgh and UB, and has worked in restaurants since he was a teenager growing up in Orchard Park. “Something about the camaraderie in the kitchen drew me to this work,” he says.
At Joe’s, he runs the kitchen and the front of the house, as well as creating and prepping the specials for the restaurant’s two locations and catering business.
It helps that he and his wife, Stephanie, a social worker, live close by in North Buffalo. Sometimes he bikes to work.
And the North Buffalo Farmers Market, Keating says, is about more than food – it’s about building community one bite at a time. “It’s been really nice,” he says. “I’ve created a lot of friendships there.”