- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

You can find produce, fresh flowers and pastries at most area farmers markets, but how about a chef who cooks in front of you, providing a taste of the dishes that can be made with offerings available at the market?

That’s exactly what you can find every Sunday at Freshfarm Markets’ Dupont Circle location with its Chef at Market program.

Freshfarm Markets is a nonprofit organization that since 1997 has been dedicated to linking farmers in the D.C. metro area.

“The markets are really a way for the Chesapeake Bay farmers to sell directly to the public. With the increasing interest in food, health and food safety, the markets have really doubled in participation rates,” says Ann Yonkers, co-director of Freshfarm Markets.

Freshfarm’s eight markets - four in the District and four in Maryland - feature “producer-only” goods, meaning the participating farmers and producers may sell only what they grow or make on their own farms. The Dupont Circle location operates year-round, while the others are seasonal.

At most of the markets, chefs from acclaimed area restaurants - including Firefly, Charlie Palmer Steak, Vidalia and Ici Urban Bistro - offer demonstrations, cooking tips, tastings, book signings and market tours in the Chef at Market program.

“It’s one of my dearest programs because the chefs and farmers become so close,” Ms. Yonkers says. “It is the principal educational program that Freshfarm Markets runs. It teaches customers ideas of how to prepare and cook the market-fresh food.”

More than likely, the chef doing that day’s demonstration will stroll through the market, choosing from among the available produce.

“We didn’t want to write recipes because we didn’t know what foods would be at the market this morning,” said Sara Siegel, pastry chef de partie at Vidalia restaurant, at a recent Sunday market at Dupont Circle.

“He just walked around and grabbed foods - the only thing he brought was the pig,” said Ms. Siegel, referring to R.J. Cooper, chef de cuisine at Vidalia.

As Mr. Cooper roasted chicken in an olive-oil base with thyme, rosemary, garlic and lemon, he was asked where he had gotten the chicken. “Ecofriendly meats,” he said, pointing to the nearby Ecofriendly Foods LLC tent.

Department of Agriculture. Ecofriendly Foods represents small family farmers, and all animals are humanely raised.

“Everything lives outside on pastures - no chemicals are allowed on any of the pasturelands,” Mr. Saunders said, helping customers with their purchases.

While Mr. Cooper splashed the roasting pig with a maple brine, a Cuban method, he looked at the wide-eyed crowd and added, “I’m gonna let this pig rest from the heat for a while so the juices stop running.”

He then turned his attention to roasting bulb onions and eggplant in olive oil with a pinch of shaved Himalayan salt.

When asked to describe the benefit of the markets’ strong relationship with area farmers, he said, “the availability of great produce that is grown with the utmost care and love to deliver to the guests.”

After his team handed out the last bit of roasted pig and vegetables, he ended his demonstration by remarking on his participation in the Chef at Market program. “The interaction with the people of the market and the farmers themselves makes for a great day. The market is also run by a great team,” he said.

To view past Chef at Market recipes, market schedules and other information, click here.

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