Gardens to Tables

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Tomatomania!

The Tomatomania folks will be offering pop-ups through the end of April throughout Southern California. They will not only (obviously) have a wide variety of tomato seedlings but also peppers and other veggies. For more information, click here.

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Welcome to Gardens to Tables
Beaver Creek Bruschetta: Rounding up Lunch at Colorado's Minturn Market Print E-mail
Written by Linda Hayes   
Minturn MarketJeep tour? Check. Zip-line? Check. Horseback riding? Mmm…not so much. But wait. What's this? A trip to the Minturn Farmers' Market with Executive Chef Mike Spalla of Beaver Creek Lodge, host of our weekend visit to gorgeous Beaver Creek, Colorado? Yee-haw!

Yes, there are bountiful farmers' markets up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, including in Aspen, where I live. But Minturn is a sweet, historic little mountain town (about a dozen miles from Beaver Creek), with mining, railroad and farming roots and a year-round population of 1,037, give or take a few. In addition to freshly plucked produce from local farms, I'd heard talk of pickle canning demos, colorful, hand-woven grass market baskets and fab fish tacos from Mango's Mountain Grill in nearby Red Cliff. Bingo.

Little did I know, though, that the invitation to visit the Minturn Farmers' Market would come with a challenge. Our group of 10 journalists would be split into two teams, handed five dollars apiece and be sent on a mission: collect ingredients for dishes that we would prep in the Lodge's restaurant kitchen and serve for lunch. Our team made a bee-line for summer squash and zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, peaches, greens and roasted green peppers from Austin Family Farm (Paonia) and Miller Farms (Platteville). We added a loaf of artisan bread from a Denver bakery and blackberry honey from Winter Park Honey.

A couple of hours later, and with the help and good humor of chef Spa Spalla* and sous chef Chad Barbier*, we served up pretty impressive platters of bruschetta and tomato-basil salad -- paired with the just plain prettiest prosecco and peach bellinis you've ever seen (recipes below). Tasty, too, I might add.

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Sharing a Passion for Produce (and a Gazpacho Recipe) at Napa Valley Grille Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   
Chef Joseph of Napa Valley Grille

The passion that Napa Valley Grille Executive Chef Joseph Gillard has for local seasonal produce extends beyond the fare he picks up at the farmers market or purchases through partnerships with local farmers for his guests at the restaurant. Gillard has partnered with Country Fresh Herbs in Tarzana to run a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program that connects the farmers directly with busy professionals who don't have the time to shop farmers markets. Gillard has been partnering with Country Fresh Herbs since 1997 and one of the things he's learned is that participating is a lot easier than people think. "More restaurants and organizations should be doing it," said Gillard, shown here presenting a CSA basket to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "It is easy to have vegetables delivered even to where you work. Our guests are as passionate about their deliveries as we are."

Through both his work at Napa Valley Grille and with the CSA, Chef Gillard's main focus is sustainability -- the need to support local farmers so they can continue doing their work. The menu at Napa Valley Grille changes with what's available at the markets and from the local farmers. Currently that includes petite heirloom zucchini and flowers, lemon cucumbers, little gem and butter lettuce, kale, peaches, radishes and, of course, heirloom tomatoes. 

Since many of us currently have an abundance of tomatoes (yea!), Chef Gillard shared with us a recipe for heirloom tomato gazpacho. He said he keeps some in his refrigerator at home as a "healthy fulfilling snack to be enjoyed anytime." (Click "read more" for recipe.)

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Big Island Bounty at the Hilo Farmers Market Print E-mail
Written by Melanie Waldman   

Hilo Farmers MarketOn the eighth day, God created the Hilo Farmers Market on the Big Island of Hawaii. And lo, it was good, offering as it does lilikoi lemonade, local crafts, exotic plants and a whole lot more.

Since 1988, the farmers' market in downtown Hilo - the biggest little city on Hawaii's lush eastern side - has featured the bounty of the island's iron-rich soil. Back in the day, the market was little more than a few farmers hawking their wares from their flatbed trucks, while now you'll also find prepared foods, toiletries and crafts that reflect the mixed heritage of the local population: Polynesian, pan-Asian and Transplanted Mainlander.

It rains in Hilo at least once every day, so just about the entire market is tented. As you elbow your way through the sometimes-serious crowds, keep an eye out for:

  • Filthy Farmgirl at Hilo Farmers MarketFreshly made Vietnamese rolls and tropical-fruit-flavored lemonades
  • Spam musubi, a local version of sushi made with...Spam
  • Hand-woven palm baskets from one of Hawaii's oldest families
  • Gorgeous beach glass-and-silver jewelry by Seashore Collections
  • Little bites of purple sweet potato mochi from the Papa'a Palaoa Bakery
  • Dramatic necklaces made from big, shiny, dark and indigenous kamani nuts
  • More Hawaiian shirts than you've ever seen in your life
  • Soap from Filthy Farmgirl, featuring fresh ingredients -- and hilarious labels
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New Studio Garden (Cocktails) at Montage Laguna Beach Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Studio garden at Montage Laguna BeachIt's hard to imagine a more beautiful spot for a garden than that enjoyed by the new chef's garden at the Studio restaurant at Montage Laguna Beach (right). Perched next to the Craftsman-style bungalow that houses the restaurant, the garden features beds that are built 31 inches tall (according to Chef Craig Strong, that is the exact height needed to keep the pesky bunnies that roam the property away) and filled with herbs and vegetables -- and companion flowers such as marigolds. Against the wall of the garden area, berries and other fruit grow -- protected (again, from those pesky bunnies as well as insects) with a row of alyssum.

Studio Executive Chef Craig Strong, who we first wrote about here in 2009 and who has provided us since with great recipes for salsa verde with spring garlic and watermelon, feta and black-olive salad, is long a proponent of using local seasonal products and a home gardener himself. While he still buys most of his produce from local farmers -- where he gets inspired by some of their discoveries (one of the latest was a leek blossom, which he has been using with sauteed swordfish), the new chef's garden allows him to do two things: 1. Pick herbs such as lemon verbena minutes before using it in, say, the aroma that accompanies his seared Hudson Valley foie gras and 2. create a series of signature cocktails based on what's growing in the garden.

Using a base of Cachaca, the first Studio Garden Cocktail featured tarragon, cucumber, basil and key lime, along with a splash of St. Germaine and champagne. The current Studio Garden Cocktail again uses Cachaca as its base and adds fresh lime juice, lavender-infused syrup and blackberry. For those who would like to try it at home, here is the recipe (click "read more"). Enjoy!

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Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Chef Sri of Taj Campton PlaceThere’s something wonderful about traveling through a farmers market with a chef. You can almost see the little gears ticking as they make their way through the produce stands making decisions for that night’s menu. A few weeks ago, I got that chance at the farmers market held each Saturday morning at the Ferry Building in San Francisco (already a great hub for artisanal products) with Chef Srijith Gopinathan (left) of the Taj Campton Place San Francisco. Chef Sri hit at least a dozen stands for everything from baby beets to stone fruit. Some of the lessons learned: greens that will be used raw need to be more perfect looking than those that will be cooked, and borage flowers make a beautiful edible garnish.

Chef Sri’s Campton Place Restaurant recently received a Michelin star and it’s easy to see why -- the farm-fresh food is expertly prepared and the service is impeccable. Not to mention civilized: The meal starts with Master Sommelier Richard Dean coming by the table with a cart filled with a choice of four types of champagne as an aperitif. The spring tasting menu we enjoyed brought to life everything we’d seen at the market, including a baby beet salad with fennel ice, Andante Dairy goat cheese and lemon-infused olive oil; maine lobster butter poached with coconut curry, green peas and cilantro; sous-vide Angus beef with wild morels, cippolini onions and petit bok-choi; and caramelized chocolate cake with yogurt, pear and blood orange sorbet.

But the highlight (at least for me) was an amuse-bouche made with apple, avocado and arugula, not flavors I would think of putting together but blended in a way that was simply amazing, with each sip bringing out the best flavors of each. Chef Sri was kind enough to share the recipe. Now, many of you may not have N2O chargers and syphons (I know I don’t) but I’m sure it’s just as tasty as a gazpacho-style cold soup. Enjoy!

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