From market to table
Jean-Louis Gerin of Restaurant Jean-Louis remembers being dragged by his grandmother to the local farmers market in his village in France every Thursday and Saturday when he was a young boy. “We had to stop at every single stall — ‘How are you?’ ‘And your son?’ ‘Will he marry that girl?’ — and it would take all day.” His Uncle Paul, the local butcher, would be there at his stand with his farm-raised poultry along with the rest of the Gerin clan — uncles, aunts and cousins. For years after moving to this country, Gerin did not serve chicken in his restaurant because he never found poultry whose taste he liked. Now he buys from a small farmer, and you will find boneless quail stuffed with blue crab on his menu.
Frederic Kieffer of Gaia also remembers his childhood market as a social milieu. “I’ll see you next week,” was always the parting phrase, he says, because, indeed, the market was the place to catch up on the latest news. Frederic can still recall the marshmallows dipped in chocolate from one artisanal candymaker (“there were always candy stalls at the markets,” he says) and the endless rows of fishmongers, bread bakers and farmers, all displaying their goods in a dizzying array of color and selection. One vendor, he recalls, had his own charcuterie of salami, ham, cheese and sausage.
Thomas Henkelmann of his eponymous restaurant at the Homestead Inn was, like his colleagues, exposed to farmers markets at a very young age. His parents, who owned a restaurant in Alsace, were frequent visitors to nearby markets (“every village had their own,” he says). One man, he says, sold foie gras every week.
François Kwaku-Dongo of L’Escale restaurant had a fuller immersion into a farmers market: His grandfather grew pineapples, mangoes and cocoa in West Africa, which were then sold at the village farmers market. François says vegetables purchased there were so fresh, they barely had to be cooked. He takes his commitment to the land of his fathers a step further: He buys cocoa from small-scale farmers in West Africa, has it sent to a candy factory where it is made into chocolate bars called Omanhene (Whole Foods is considering selling them) and then gives some of his profits back to the farmers to help them in maintaining their farms.
Farmers markets help us enjoy the true essence of everything we eat. Each of these talented chefs deals with artisanal cheese makers and local farmers of fruits, vegetables, poultry, dairy and meat. Their producing recipes reflect their creative instincts and the freshness of their ingredients. Such a finely honed symbiosis between land and cook and table will sustain our planet for generations to come.