Monday, August 20, 2007

Finding Faith in Local Food

I haven’t spent much time in New York City this summer. In fact, since the beginning of May, I have only spent 2 weekends in Manhattan - this past weekend being my second. I really enjoy spending my summer weekends in Cutchogue, my home town, where I can be by the water, by bountiful farm stands selling the freshest local produce, and - by far the biggest perk - in cooler temperatures. It is HOT in New York City in the summer.

So for a change of pace, and for a very good reason, I stayed in New York City this weekend. My good friend from college was in town, and we had a lot of catching up to do....which of course took place over food! Because we both love to cook, and love the process of cooking, we decided in advance to make a meal together on Saturday night.

We began our dinner preparations at the Union Square greenmarket - a famous outdoor market where local farmers from Long Island, New Jersey and the Hudson Valley sell their produce and specialities all year round on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Union Square greenmarket is an urban paradise. In an area that is probably a quarter in size to a city-block, dozens and dozens of farmers set up tables showing off their varieties of heirloom tomatoes, fresh herbs and other mouth-watering legume- wonders.

Walking around the greenmarket is euphoric and sensual. You don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate that the smells and colors of the fresh produce and local baked goods is a nice change to the more traditional smells of New York City - i.e. exhaust and garbage. With a menu in mind (chicken shish-kabobs [picture included], grilled corn on the cob and a fresh heirloom tomato and basil salad), my friend and I wondered from table to table shopping for the dinner’s ingredients.

With the smell of fresh tarragon and rosemary in the air, walking around the Union Square greenmarket sort of felt like a religious experience. Feeling like the produce and smells were larger than me, the greenmarket became my sanctuary - my place for reflection and meditation. After all, for a locavore like me, of course I would want to pray to a large bouquet of fresh basil!

After an hour or so in Union Square, my friend and I carried our bags of vegetables back to my apartment to begin preparing our dinner. With the herbs washed and left to dry on my counter, my apartment began to take on the smells of the greenmarket. Almost instantaneously, my small New York City apartment took on the big smells of a country farmstand. Believing that local produce tastes much better than any vegetable bought in a super market, it was nice to have an urban experience that not only tasted fresh, but felt divine.

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bringing it Back to Basics

After a long hiatus from blogging, Chefs in the City are back and better than ever! We apologize to all our loyal food fans who may have assumed we have thrown in our cooking mitts on both cooking and blogging, but (and to avoid making excuses), for me, it is nice to finally be free of the figurative food coma that has come between the oven and my computer.

To bring everyone up to speed, for the past three months the supper club has dedicated our monthly menus to local, sustainable eating. If Al Gore can bring awareness to the climate crisis by creating an Oscar-winning documentary, and Mayor Bloomberg can implement a congestion pricing scheme to mitigate pollution, then Chefs in the City can do our part by eating locally! This month, in an effort to continue our local eating theme, the supper club decided to leave Gristedes and our small New York City kitchens behind and travel to New York’s agricultural Mecca - the North Fork of Long Island.

The North Fork of Long Island, an area of Long Island that is closer to New England than Manhattan, is still a place that brings you back to basics. Perhaps it is that quintessential Yankee accent that is only spoken from a resident whose ancestors founded the area in the 1640s, or perhaps it is the pristine beaches, or better yet, maybe it is the bountiful farmstands selling fresh peaches, sweet corn, fragrant basil and plump heirloom tomatoes that reminds you life isn’t just a crowded subway car or a $6 cup of coffee.

This past weekend, the supper club took over my parents’ kitchen and created a completely local food - completely North Fork - menu. After a quick brainstorming session over a summer pasta salad we hit the farmstands to buy the ingredients for our meal. Starting at Briermere and ending at Braun Seafood, we bought everything from tomatoes and fresh berries to striped bass and oceanic scallops.

The true test of this supper club weekend was preparing a meal for 11 from start to finish in just a few hours. Whether our prep-time resembled Dinner: Impossible or Iron Chef America, all four of us worked together like a perfectly baked souffle. Using our palates as our guides, we created three appetizers, five side dishes, the main entree and two desserts.

Whether our role in the kitchen was to wash the fresh herbs or to beat egg whites until perfect peeks were formed, a meal of gastro-proportions was formed. Starting with lightly breaded seared local sea scallops, grilled eggplant rolls with goat cheese and basil, and fried green tomatoes with a balsamic reduction our supper club was off to a palatable start. Our dinner, which arguably could have been considered a Last Supper, consisted of a medley of fresh salads and grilled local striped bass with a pesto crust.

The dish de resistance was Andrea’s savory bi-colored watermelon salad. Using two varieties of watermelon (red and yellow), Andrea created a salad that did not resemble any watermelon eating experience that I have ever had. By blending the watermelon with coarse sea salt, pepper, fresh mint and olive oil, a light and refreshing salad was created that tasted like a North Fork summer. Pairing her salad with a grilled pesto encrusted striped bass could not have been more perfect. The meal was topped off with a sweet meringue with local blueberries and grilled stone fruit served with vanilla ice-cream.

The entire meal truly resembled all that is pristine about the North Fork of Long Island. As we sat around my parents dining room table sharing stories and experiences, I couldn’t help but think that the local food told its own story. The local food is my reminder of what brings me back to basics, and it was a treat to share that experience with my fellow Chefs in the City.

Until next time...