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The Lexington Farmers Market opened Saturday, April 14, to large crowds and a surprising array of early spring produce. I was there with three of my culinary students to do our usual opening day food demonstrations. I’ve been a part of opening day at the LFM for almost two decades, so I am comfortable and fairly serene when it comes to cooking live.
I always seem to forget, however, that the students are doing it for the first time. They were ecstatic. It always seems to be more of an adrenaline rush when you cook live, and they were definitely feeling it. Comments such as “this is the best thing ever” and “the most fun thing I’ve done in school” were a validation of the power of public display and the magic of the Farmers Market. Not only did it educate a new crop of culinary students as to how to purchase beautiful produce and meat, but it also inspired them once they got back to the demo table.
I started them off by cooking a couple of dishes myself – simple, direct and flavorful; local asparagus (believe it, it’s true!) with spring onions, local goat cheese and olive oil. And then asparagus again with Pyrenees cheese, local sausage and salt and black pepper. All the while they were plotting what they would do. It just took a little encouragement and three hours later we were done. It was probably the easiest Opening Day I’ve done, and one of the most rewarding days at the market. No recipes, prep as you go, and the best, freshest mystery basket a cook could have.
I have to come back one last time to the energy that was created. It would not be hyperbole to suggest that the process of demo cooking has that great an effect on some. Cooking has the ability to take you out of the mundane and the tedious, make you forget that you’re working on a table that’s a foot too short in a space the size of a broom closet, with no books, Internet recipes and only the cooks beside you for support. You can call it adrenaline, but with the market it’s different. You’re not pushing out 200 dinners a night; you’re cooking for the choir, so to speak. No need to impress, no need to make your mark, you’re just cooking great food, and having great fun. The people who sample see that joy and can almost taste it in the way you work. That, my friend, is cooking.
No real recipes to give this time around. Just shop at the Lexington Farmers Market and follow a few simple rules. Go with a plan, but don’t lock it in. Want asparagus but it’s gone? Opt for greens and dress them up with good olive oil and local cheese. Not sure how to stretch the vegetables? Pick up some local gnocchi from Lexington Pasta and combine them all together.
The other rule we follow when demo cooking? Keep it simple; let the produce sing loud and long and leave the fancy stuff for another time.
Lastly, enjoy the process, the whole process, including getting up at an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning no less, trudging through the rain and trudging home again. The reward is waiting. …
John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Chef Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been an executive chef, including at the popular Dudley’s Restaurant, and a restaurant owner.
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