There is a myriad of farmers’ markets surrounding us, making freshly prepared plates an everyday possibility.
In my previous column as an Haute Ambassador, I reviewed some of early spring’s finest bounty: artichokes, asparagus, and peas. Our menu has been filled with these delicacies of nature, including English pea risotto, asparagus and artichoke salad, as well as a baby lamb ravioli with fava beans, artichokes, little asparagus, and natural broth. As we transition into the early days of summer, herbs and produce will be exploding and the farmers’ markets are sure to be packed.
Since fresh produce is one of the main forces driving my menu, personally selecting those earthly ingredients is so important to me. I cannot connect with the idea of ordering products on a computer and waiting for a truck to deliver them. For this reason, I make weekly trips to local farmers’ markets so that I can see, smell, and touch the product that I will be working with. I enjoy the tactile approach of selecting my own produce at the market, and I like to talk to the people who are growing it, learning who they are and what they’re about. Only when I get a literal feel for everything going on there can I really formulate a menu based on the market experience.
From a culinary standpoint, we are so fortunate to live in this region of the country. There is a myriad of farmers’ markets surrounding us, making freshly prepared plates an everyday possibility. Some that I visit include Marin Civic Center Farmers’ Market and Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Though many markets operate seasonally, there are some year-round ones, and I usually spend the better part of two hours strolling through the stalls. An interpersonal relationship with the farmers is as important to the culinary process as actually chopping, preparing, and cooking the meal. I have spent years cultivating a rapport with local farmers, and now I even have some who contact me at the start of a season so that I can place special growing requests. Middleton Farms in Healdsburg has grown anise hyssop for me before, which I used in a clam ravioli. I also source strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries from them because they produce some of the sweetest fruit that money can buy. White Crane Springs Ranch, also in Healdsburg, has some great mixes of lettuces and wild herbs. They have 82 acres of forest, five of which have been slated for farming. The owner of the farm, Joseph Minocchi, is recognized around the country for his greens. Chefs from as far away as New York City feature his product on their plates.
The ground around here is so fertile, making it a dream for growing fruits, herbs, and vegetables. At home, I personally grow tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, pumpkins, cucumbers, beans, and quite a supply of herbs. I’ve been installing herb boxes in my own backyard for quite some time. This season I will harvest silver thyme, lime thyme, oregano, lemon balm, rue, and cilantro. The cilantro is spectacular, and I plant it in order to use the green seeds that the plant produces. They are so flavorful when they first go to seed, and I use them in sashimi of geoduck. Within the month I will also plant lemon basil, lime basil, Greek basil, tarragon, shiso, and some edamame seeds.
All of these ingredients from my backyard make it onto my menus at the restaurant, including my lemons and pears. For the month of May, cherries will be exploding onto the scene. It is beautiful time of year, thanks in part to the breathtaking blooms all over town. The culinary delights from the trees will provide us with the means to create delectable dishes like foie gras with cherries, duck with cherries, cherry soup, and cherry sorbet.
It is a great time of year for local food, so find a way to take pleasure in the gifts of the season. Whether you make a trip to one of our many marvelous farmers’ markets and prepare a meal at home, or stop by the restaurant for a taste of some of the fruits of my own labor, it is certainly a time to treat your taste buds to something special from Mother Nature.
The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton,
600 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108