The Great Farmers’ Market Cook Off: two hours, three chefs, nine ingredients
It’s harvest season, farmers’ markets are peddling a plethora of weird-looking local bounty, and adventurous consumers are left wondering what, exactly, to do with a $20 bunch of freshly foraged purslane. To aid, inspire and amuse, we concocted this contest: we filled three hampers with nine items each—a semi-random selection of goods from the Wychwood Barns market—and asked three daring chefs to prepare a main course, in two hours or less, using only those nine ingredients, plus their pantry staples. Then we asked our critic Chris Nuttall-Smith to rank the results.
1. Red scallion, 2. Ontario popcorn, 3. Beet biscuit, 4. Hen’s egg, 5. Baby red romaine lettuce, 6. Georgian Bay whitefish, 7. Kohlrabi, 8. Wild amaranth, 9. Pattypan squash
Carl Heinrich, the new chef at Marben.
“It was the egg that had me worried—I didn’t want the dish to be too rich. I used it for the romaine croquette with a ground popcorn and beet biscuit crust. I wrapped the fish in the amaranth and steamed it, and dehydrated the skin to make a chip. I puréed the kohlrabi, added sautéed pattypan, then topped it all with grilled scallions and drops of scallion oil. I’m a minimalist, so the biggest challenge was using all nine ingredients.”
Critic’s take: Amazing textures, genius flavours—this guy’s got mad skills. The popcorn croquette is original, this is the most perfectly cooked fish I’ve had in a long time, and who knew kohlrabi purée could taste so good? Only the skin-garnish thing is weird: it may look pretty, but fish skin is fish skin.
Anthony Rose, head chef at the Drake.
“Deep-frying is the way to my heart, so I encrusted the amaranth- and buttermilk-soaked whitefish with cornmeal and fried it. It became the centrepiece of a sandwich with the beet biscuit, hard-cooked egg, romaine and lemon aïoli. Then I made a kicky coleslaw out of the kohlrabi, pattypan and scallions. The popcorn threw me for a loop, but in the end it was the simplest ingredient to use: the skewer doubles as both toothpick and garnish. I call it the Sexy Market Shore Lunch.”
Critic’s take: Completely satisfying. The slaw with bird’s-eye chilies should be a fish shop staple. Plus, I bet if he added a few more kernels to that popcorn antenna he could get WJBK from Detroit in HD.
Tom Thai, Foxley’s head chef and owner.
“I’ve never seen wild amaranth before, but I decided to do it ohi tashi style—a Japanese technique where greens are blanched and served cold. I smoked the fish in lychee tea, cinnamon, fennel seed and dried orange. Then I fried the skin to use as a sort of bacon on my caesar salad, with beet biscuit croutons, made relish with the scallions, and pickled the kohlrabi with miso. I know it was supposed to be one dish, but I loved the idea of making something sweet with the pattypan. That plus the hen’s egg and the popcorn became a ginger-spiked custard with a brûléed top.”
Critic’s take: This is haute-barnyard gone wild: while the tea smoke overwhelms the fish a bit, it’s totally intoxicating, and the gingery relish transports you halfway around the globe.