In a marathon session this week, we taped six shows for my new television series in three days at the fabulous Miele demonstration kitchen. What a great feeling it is to have had so much fun, worked with so many fine and talented chefs and had the support of such a great crew from Bell Fibe TV1.
Market to Table, as the name would imply, is divided into two parts and now we’ve finished taping both parts. In the second half of the show, which we’ve just been working on, a new guest chef each episode shows me a fabulous new dish he (and in one case, she) have created from ingredients that come fresh from each market. The team at the Miele demonstration kitchen in Vaughan treat us wonderfully.
In the first section of each show, I visit a farmers’ market, meet old friends and make new ones among the vendors. The virtues of focussing on local, seasonal food, with a few exceptions, is that you meet the folks who actually grow the food and bring it to market themselves. There’s an earthiness to them and their produce still has the dirt from the farm clinging to it. There’s no sense of everything being cleaned up and prettified for the consumer you get in a supermarket chain.
Jens of Marvellous Edibles Farm, whom I interview at the Thursday afternoon Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers’ Market, is a case in point. He feels ugly root vegetables taste even better than pretty ones. If his veggies don’t sell when they’re fresh, they go into casseroles for the family or pig food on the farm. Nothing, and I expect he really means that, is wasted.
In England last Fall, we watched a great documentary featuring one of my favourite chefs, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame, in which he investigated the tyrannical practices of a UK supermarket chain, which succeeds in driving a parsnip farmer out of business by consistently changing their orders at the last minute, and refusing to accept a single parsnip that failed their perfection test. He shows a huge mountain of rejected parsnips behind the barn at the abandoned farm, a truly sad sight. There’s a lesson in here people. Once they are peeled and diced, ugly parsnips taste exactly the same as pretty ones.
In fact, on several episodes of the show I have a good debate with the chefs about their own kitchen practices and their feelings on this issue.
An even more important subject we tackle gently on the show is how we treat animals raised for food. By offering a true alternative, local markets can help us move away from meat and poultry raised with cruel factory farming to more humane practices. Unfortunately, it is hard to deal with the subject in depth on a show such as ours. I have to navigate carefully around religious sensitivities although here in a blog I can say that cutting a live animal’s throat as it hangs by its feet and letting it bleed to death appals me, even though it is required for kosher or halal meats.
We interview two other farmers, Elisabeth of Best Baa at the St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market and Wendy of Green Gate Farms at The Stop Farmers’ Market at the Artscape Wychwood Barns. Both raise their animals, sheep in the first case and beef and pork in the second, in entirely humane conditions, where the animals have as much freedom, comfort and kindness during their lives as these two wonderful farmers can lavish on them.
In fact, Elisabeth points out that research done in Australia on dairy cows, pigs and poultry (and sheep would be much the same) shows that the difference between treating an animal well and treating an animal badly was as much as 25 per cent in yield. Just from an economic point of view you would expect farmers to catch on, but sadly there are still a lot of cruel and uneducated people in this world.
She continues: “I feel very strongly that animals that we raise for our own benefit should have as good a life as possible. We raise our animals with the five British principles of freedom in mind, so they’re free from hunger, free from stress, from fear, from thirst and they have shelter. That end is very important. It’s as quick and painless as you can possible make it. And with us handling them there isn’t the terror that if you put them onto a big truck and people hurrying them up and shouting and so on terrifies them. They’re very highly strung, sheep, much more so than say cattle or pigs. They’re very highly strung and frightened very easily because they have no defenses.”
I know the saddle of lamb she provides us for Chef Matt Blondin of Omaw has come from a very good home and will taste all the better for it. When the crew devour the dish after we finish taping his segment, they attest to that fact. One says it’s the best lamb he’s every had.
Matt and I have a lot of fun on the show and he brings along a very sharp mandolin and instructs me in how to use it to create scalloped potatoes. At home I just slice them thinly with a knife, but the job’s certainly easier with this interesting device. He warns me not to cut myself, but of course I do, losing a tiny bit of my thumb. Fortunately very sharp blades hardly hurt at all as they remove parts of one’s body.
NEWS UPDATE: My fully illustrated e-book, Market to Table: The Cookbook started as a project for novice cooks, but after I was picked to host a cooking show featuring food bought at farmers’ markets, developed into a more complete collection of the recipes from the series, including some from guest chefs on the show, as well as those from my well-read foodie blog. It is easy to read, divided into chapters that cover the main mealtimes of the day, and into recipes that are concise and guaranteed to work. Most recipes are accompanied by an entertaining story. Brilliant young Chef Dan Frenette, who now hosts the TV series, has written the Foreword and contributes to the book.
Categories: Market to Table