Story last updated at 9/18/2013 - 1:52 pm
Rhubarb, garlic, apples, carrots, onions, garlic snips, Swiss chard, and zucchini are just a few of the locally grown fruits and vegetables personal chef Gerry Donohoe cooked and gave away for free this summer.
Donohoe, owner of Thyme Savor Personal Chef Service, was the Juneau-based chef for "Chef at the Market," a grant intended to promote locally grown and produced products.
Donohoe participated in four Second Saturday Markets at Homespun Mercantile in the airport shopping center, and the Food Festival at the JACC at the end of the summer.
The biggest challenge to cooking produce and giving it away for free, Donohoe said, is that sometimes people wanted to buy what he was making instead of buying ingredients and making it for themselves.
"That's the whole idea of the program, is to show people how easy it is to take (locally grown produce) and turn it into a delicious dish," he said.
He contacted growers a few days ahead of time to find out what they were bringing to market. Over the summer, he made kale chips, kale salad, a raspberry jam vinaigrette out of locally made raspberry jam, zucchini paninis, potato and gorgonzola cakes, and other foods.
"It was a lot of fun. It was different," he said. "A lot of people you could really see their eyes open up ... the most interesting customers I had were the little kids. The little five and six year olds were very interested in taste and food. I'd show them the whole zucchini, (the zucchini) diced, and the end product. That really seemed to amaze them. The farmer picked it this morning - it doesn't have to go to the grocery store first."
Jacquelyn Schade, program assistant for marketing in the Alaska Division of Agriculture, said the Division has received the grant from the USDA for several years now. They've funded the Chef at the Market program since 2011.
"It is a very successful program," she said. "Many markets and many chefs find it a great way for local farmers to connect with the chefs, connect with the restaurants. ...It's increased sales at all the markets the chefs have been at."
Local grower Joe Orsi said the program "was helpful because it advertised the crops I had available at the time."
Schade said they'll apply for the specialty block grant again for next year. If and when they receive it, they'll decide whether or not to apply it to the Chef at the Market program in 2014.
Amy Pettit, marketing manager for the Alaska Division of Agriculture, said this year the Division devoted $20,000 to the Chef at the Market program in locations around the state. The two primary goals of the program are to attract residents - and attention - to local farmer's markets, and to teach people how to use Alaska-grown specialty crops in meals.
"Specialty crops" is a term with a specific definition set by the USDA.
In 2013, the grant money funded six chefs performing 27 demonstrations between seven markets and special events in Homer, Seldovia, Anchor Point, Juneau, Tanana Valley and Glennallen.
Orsi said he appreciated the program from "all kinds of perspectives" - sustainability, the smaller carbon footprint of food that is grown, sold and consumed locally, and what he estimates as a 5-10 percent a bump in his sales of garlic and other crops.
Contact staff writer Mary Catharine Martin at email@example.com.
Recipes from chef Gerry Donohoe of Thyme Savor:
Zucchini a Quattro Formaggio Panini
10 ounces zucchini, shredded (medium shred)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
2 ounces Fontina, shredded
2 ounces sharp Provolone, shredded
2 tablespoons freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan or Asiago
1 teaspoon dried basil
8 slices crusty country bread (each about 8 x 4 x 1/2)
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Place shredded zucchini in a colander and toss with salt. Let stand for 20 minutes. Then rinse and press out as much liquid as possible. Place in a clean towel and squeeze until no more liquid is released. Place in a medium bowl with the four cheeses and the basil. Toss gently to combine. You should have about 3 cups. Preheat the to med high. Lightly brush one side of each slice of bread with the olive oil. Lay 4 slices of bread on the work surface oiled side down. Divide the shredded zucchini and cheese mixture evenly among the 4 slices of bread - making as even a layer as possible. Top with the remaining sliced bread, oiled side up. Lay two sandwiches on the grill evenly spaced. Grill panini for 3 to 3-1/2 minutes, flipping half way. Grill remaining 2 sandwiches in the same way. Cut in half on the diagonal to serve.
Potato and Gorgonzola Cakes
2 large (10 ounces each) russet potatoes, peeled, thickly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/3 cup finely crumbled gorgonzola cheese*
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
*Cheese may be varied, try: chevre, feta, cheddar, gouda, Parmesan, etc.
Place potatoes in a medium sauce pan and cover with water by 1-inch. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15-18 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Place potatoes in a bowl with reserved liquid. Mash potatoes. Measure out 2 cups mashed potatoes and place in medium bowl. Add cheese, beaten egg, shallot, parsley, olive oil, remaining salt, and pepper. Stir to blend. Preheat griddle to med high. When hot, scoop out potato mixture using a 1/4-cup measure. Arrange 4 scoops on each side of the griddle. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side, until golden and crispy on the outside, and hot on the interior. Serve hot.