Amid the regular Tuesday crowd at the Boalsburg farmers market, a local chef and bartender set up a learning kitchen as a special summer event and demonstrated how to create various dishes out of food available from the market’s vendors.
Zola New World Bistro chef Mark Johnson prepared pork rillettes using pork from local vendor Cow-A-Hen Farm, and served on a piece of bread alongside his three types of pesto: garlic scape, kale and spicy cress and greens from Tamarack Farm.
“I just wanted to get people away from doing the basic basil and pine nut pesto, which is awesome, but I want to get people to step out of the box,” Johnson said.
This was not Johnson’s first time participating in a learning kitchen.
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“I’ve done a few of these through the years. I used to work at Elk Creek Cafe, so I have pretty strong ties to a lot of these people,” he said. “This opportunity came up and I’m always trying to think, what can someone who meanders through here be able to purchase, what are some ideas that they could do with some of the products.”
Sc’Eric Horner, a bartender at Fuji & Jade Garden, prepared two summer drinks for the crowd to sample. The first, called the Muskmelon Cooler, was cantaloupe blended with gin, cucumber, mint leaves, Lillet blanc, a dash of salt and some simple syrup, all blended together and garnished with cured meat and cheese from Clover Creek Cheese Cellar.
Horner’s Hoe-Down Shandy is watermelon, basil leaves, a bitter cherry liqueur called Maraschino, some elderflower liqueur and a pinch of salt, blended and topped with local beer from the Happy Valley Brewing Co.
“I’ve been doing this event three years in a row now. I thought it would be a fun challenge because I’m at an Asian restaurant and we have a lot of leeway in there in terms of what kind of drinks we can make,” Horner said. “But there’s also limitations and it’s nice to kind of step outside of that comfort zone and try something new and work with fresh ingredients.”
Lynn Heritage, a local resident who attended the learning kitchen, went to the market to get her weekly produce from Jade Family Farm, but left with fresh ideas and new recipes.
“I always make pesto; I can’t get through the winter without it, so it’s always good to get ideas for different combinations. I loved the garlic scape pesto especially,” Heritage said.
Amanda Richards also sampled from the learning kitchen and said she’s been trying to frequent the local farmers markets.
“The garlic scape pesto was really good and the watermelon shandy, too. I think I would probably make that. This is my second time (at the market), but I’m trying to make it part of my routine for the summer,” Richards said.
Danni Lee, with Bee Kind Winery, had only good things to say about the market.
“I like that there’s music here; a lot of markets I go to don’t have music and the special event going on today, that’s pretty awesome,” Lee said, adding that she likes the variety of vendors. “Like our soap lady, she’s awesome; there’s not a soap person at every market I go to. The vendors themselves are my favorite part.”
A similar event will take place Sept. 10 at the Mount Nittany Winery. The third annual Plow to Plate Harvest Dinner is like the learning kitchen, but on a much larger scale. Local chefs will prepare a variety of dishes made with products from the Boalsburg farmers market. Tickets will be available to purchase at the market after Tuesday.