'Follow the Chef' through the farmers marketby Jonathan Mendick, published on May 5, 2010 at 8:15PM With more than 10 local farmer's markets open weekly starting this month, it's difficult to navigate all the options and choose something you can easily prepare. Enter Michael Tuohy, Grange Restaurant's executive chef and leading proponent of the Slow Food Movement, whose mission is to "understand the importance of caring where their food comes from, who makes it and how it’s made," according to its website.Tuohy holds a weekly "Follow the Chef" lunch at the Grange, located on the corner of 10th and J streets inside the Citizen Hotel. At 11 a.m. every Wednesday between May and October, he meets with a group of 15 people or less at the Grange and leads them through a tour of the farmer's market at Cesar Chavez Plaza.He introduces them to farmers, shows them his favorite farm stands and talks about the different varieties of fruits and vegetables, as well as different ways to prepare them.
After walking the group back to the Grange, he cooks up a meal featuring the locally grown produce bought at the farmer's market. It's served at a special "chef's table," the table nearest to the kitchen.Wednesday was the first Follow the Chef lunch of 2010, now in its second season."Farmer's markets are the next-best thing to having your own farm or growing your own vegetables," Tuohy said. "You can truly cook locally here as much as possible."He noted that spring and summer are great seasons to buy asparagus, artichokes, snap peas, fava beans and English peas. Strawberries, usually ready in early summer, are unusually not sweet so far this year, Tuohy said, pointing to the recent rain for their "waterlogged" taste.Perhaps that's why a number of usual farm stands at the farmer's market were missing, causing the chef to remark that it looks a little "thin." He explained that since it's the first farmer's market of the season, the produce might not be ready yet.But for the fruits and vegetables that were there, "the prices are good," Tuohy said. "I feel like they don't charge enough. It's amazing."And there was still a large variety of in-season produce including cherries, beets, daikon, bok choy, garlic, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, cilantro and dates among others. Local apples are popular year-round, even though they're from the fall harvest. A few early tomatoes are also available, but slightly out of season.
There will be more later in the summer.Tuohy noted that not all of the farm stands are certified organic. But what does that mean, exactly?"Buying local is more important than buying something organic certified, (as long as) they grow sustainably with no pesticides," he said. "Organic certified is a bonus."Among other local media outlets, local food bloggers representing The Sac Rag, Cakegrrl, Sac Foodies, Sacatomato and Poor Girl Eats Well all took the tour and sat down for a sample four-course meal paired with wine, usually priced at $35.The lunch group sat at the chef's table, slightly curtained off from the rest of the restaurant, while Tuohy and his staff worked their magic on the fresh produce in the kitchen.Dishes included spring onion soup with crème fraiche; asparagus salad with dry beets and local Barioni olive oil; spring vegetable risotto with fava beans, artichoke and English peas; and a strawberry crustada with fresh strawberry, crème fraiche, caramel and St. Germain liqueur - created by pastry chef Elaine Baker (see below for photos).
The dishes were paired with a choice of Bogle pinot noir or a Conway Deep Sea rosé.Dishes vary by week, depending on what the chef purchases at the farmer's market. Reservations for the Follow the Chef lunch are available by calling 492-4450