Chefs In The Market Puts Local Food In The Spotlight

Local farmer’s markets are getting into full swing. In addition to bringing people fresh local produce, some markets on the Central Peninsula are also showing people creative ways to use all those fresh vegetables.

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There is no doubt that the offerings at local farmer’s markets are expanding every year. Growers are always trying new things, and always getting better at producing the old standbys. But how do you use all that stuff?

Well, for the uninitiated who may not have a bunch of trusty recipes for kale and kohlrabi, the farmer’s markets on the central Kenai Peninsula have some help this summer.

“We want people to be comfortable cooking Alaska-grown produce and have new ideas for how to prepare it on their own, at home,” said Heidi Chay, district manager at the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District. That organization submitted an application for funding for a Chef’s in the Market program to the Division of Agriculture on behalf of all the area’s farmer’s markets and the Kenai Local Foods Group.

“The goal of having Chef in the Market events is to make it just that much more fun to go to the farmer’s markets. It’s something new, a special event, and farmer’s market shoppers get to actually see and learn very simple preparation for taking home some of the vegetables they might purchase at the market, Alaska-grown, of course.”

While classically trained chefs have given workshops at the markets here before, and this year’s series will feature a professional chef, the focus is geared more toward the home cook. Susan Nabholz will lead a few of the sessions. Her specialty: gluten free fare.

“I have basically switched to a 100% gluten-free diet. I’ve learned how to bake and switch up some of my ingredients. My family always ate healthy before, a lot of fish and game and local food, but it’s been kind of ramped up and it’s made a huge difference.”

Raw, fresh fruits and vegetables of course are a staple of a gluten-free diet. But that’s not always the most exciting way to eat them. So, Nabholz will share one of her go-to’s, vegetable wraps in rice paper. Sort of like a spring roll. The goal is to keep it simple and healthy.

“I also have kind of a theme to it. We have a booth at the Tuesday market for kids and families to encourage them to ‘eat the rainbow’. A healthy, local rainbow, not an artificially colored rainbow. Cheetos don’t count, Powerade doesn’t count. So we have a coloring sheet and word search (and other activities).”

“I think perhaps there is a misconception that the farmer’s market is where you go for expensive food, or that it’s too expensive to buy healthy food at the farmer’s market. I would challenge people…to go check it out and find that in many cases, the prices are quite affordable,” Chay says.

Now, it’s not likely that any of our local grocers will be shutting down their produce departments. But that’s not really the point. Part of it is to simply increase the capacity to feed ourselves locally.

“If we’re serious about building a local food system, we have to make a point of purchasing and enjoying what grows here,” Chay says.

The first Chef in the Market event is planned for Saturday July 5th at the Central Peninsula Farmer’s Market. Ally Bril will lead off with a Quick and Healthy demonstration. Susan Nabholz follows on August 9th, and Nancy Schrag will teach you how to love your kale and eat it too on August 16th. Three other demonstrations are planned for the Tuesday market at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. You can find more at Kenai Local Foods facebook page.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

(This article has been updated. Ally Bril was incorrectly associated with the Flats Bistro in Kenai. She has no official affiliation with that business.)

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