Getting fresh with farmers
Dragonfly owner and chef Billy McCullough is a fanatic when it comes to using fresh seasonal produce in his recipes at the restaurant and at home.
To celebrate the opening of Truckee’s Tuesday morning farmers’ market at Truckee River Regional Park, McCullough met the Sierra Sun at the market to buy some produce and talk about what he likes about shopping fresh.
Sierra Sun: So what do you look for in produce you find at the farmers” market?
Billy McCullough: The most important thing is the seasonality. There are definitely certain weeks where peaches or plums or root vegetables are at their peak, and that’s the key for me because the flavors will be the best.
Visually, I’m just looking for something that’s as ripe as possible, that I can use as quickly as possible and that will have the best flavors.
It’s funny, for a lot of the restaurant use you don’t need the beautiful looking vegetables ” blemishes are fine. I will buy from these guys their seconds because the flavors are spectacular and the prices are better. So you can find the deals here if you look around and ask them if they have any of their blemished ones.
Sierra Sun: So what is in season now? What are you looking at buying today?
McCullough: It’s a little early right now as you can see by the fact that all the farmers aren’t here. There will be about twice as many farmers in three weeks.
But the squash are great; the leeks, the herbs are fantastic and some of the basil over here look incredible. The berries are just starting and the stone fruits need three weeks and then they will really be going off.
What I’m thinking of doing is a spring vegetable Pad Thai, and I’ll probably use the organic broccoli down there, squash, basil, leeks, the onions are looking good.
Sierra Sun: Is it preferable to be able to hand pick your own produce at a farmers’ market?
McCullough: I would definitely say so. It’s nice to have a relationship with the people who are out there picking them first of all. And even for a person who’s just going to cook at home, I think there’s an entertainment value to a farmers’ market. It’s a fun place to hang out and be around all this great produce.
For the restaurant it’s great to know that you’re passing on to your customers the best produce you can find. You’re almost at the whim of a company when you’re ordering it and they deliver it. Here, where you can hand pick it, you know that you’re getting the best of the best.
Sierra Sun: Any tips for figuring out what fruits and vegetables are the ripest or most flavorful?
McCullough: Talk to the farmers. These guys are here as teachers. They really want to talk about their product.
That’s one of the benefits of the farmers’ market is that intimate relationship. And they will steer you in the right way.
They don’t mind if you touch it and ask for a taste. They know that they’ll get more sales out of people tasting [their produce]. We just tasted those pluots (a plum-apricot cross) and I just bought a few pounds because I knew they were good. And that’s the beauty of coming and having an intimate relationship with the farmer ” you can taste it right there and really get a good sense of what’s happening; where they grow it and the history behind it.
And there are so many heirloom vegetables these days. There’s not just a tomato or a plum or peach, they all have their different name. What they’re doing now is cross breeding so many different fruits and vegetables and truly creating new flavors that are exciting and delicious.
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