What Chefs Are Most Excited About From Farmers' Markets
With farmers’ markets heading outdoors for the season and produce beginning to pop up at a rapid clip, chefs are getting excited to stock up and start shopping. We asked chefs what their favorite market ingredients are and what they’re most excited to cook up this season.
I’m looking forward to getting my hands on all the ramps, onions, radishes and rhubarb.
I am excited for the Green City Market. It has such a tight-knit community of wonderful farmers in such a beautiful area. There is no way anyone can be in a bad mood as you casually stroll through the park checking out the beautiful products from all the vendors. I’m also looking forward to visiting some of the vendors we work with, like Nichols Farm and Green Acres.
In spring, we add ramps to our octopus dish on the Broken Shaker menu; it helps round the dish out and it’s a flavor people look forward to in spring. I’ll use onions, radishes, oyster mushrooms, pickled fiddleheads, peas and preserved lemon in a ricotta dish on the Broken Shaker menu and for a frittata at Café Integral. I’ll use the rhubarb for a balsamic-rhubarb jam that accompanies our charcuterie board in Broken Shaker and on our jamon y queso sandwich at Café Integral.
Cedric Harden, III Forks Prime Steakhouse:
I love the fruit that comes from Klug Farms in Michigan. They never disappoint. The rhubarb is amazing and when peach and apple season is here, I buy as many as I can!
I frequent the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. I started going there about eight years ago while working with chef Bill Kim (urbanbelly, Belly Shack). I have developed some nice relationships with farmers and think it is the best market in the city.
I will make some cobblers and pies with the fruit that I purchase at the market this year. I am hoping to find some exotic fruits and creating something out of the norm for our guests to enjoy.
Mariela Bolanos, MAD Social:
I like going to farmers’ markets to see all of the heirloom items. Multi-colored carrots, tomatoes, beets are all so beautiful and delicious. I'll occasionally find products that I’ve never seen before, so I’ll take it with me a play around in the kitchen to see what I can come up with.
I’ve been so some around the city and my favorite so far is the Green City Market. I feel they have more of a selection of products to choose from and many more farmers to interact with.
I have to go and pick up some green garlic. My green garlic mojo sauce is to die for. Once I can get my hands on green garlic I will be adding it to the chimichurri for tartare and steak and eggs for brunch. Maybe an add-on to the charcuterie options.
Moosah Reaume, The Lobby:
I'm looking forward to local ramps!! And also asparagus.
I like Green City or Logan Square. It’s nice having the relationship with some of the farmers now at Green City, but the one in Logan Square is much smaller and has some artisan farmers that will only sell to the public and are truly organic. It’s great to see the farmers and talk with them to find out how the season is going to pan out, so that we can design our menu around it based on quality and quantity.
The gluten-free spaghetti with asparagus pesto, morels and fiddlehead ferns is my favorite dish. It’s really about the quality of the asparagus and how clean and simple the dish is, while still bringing a lot of full flavor forward. It tastes like spring when you take that first and last bite.
Elmo Han, Shanghai Terrace:
I'm most looking forward to fresh mushrooms. I love Chicago Farmers’ Market near Lincoln Park because of their large selection of fresh mushrooms. Mushrooms from the market are rich and fresh, and some farmers even sell their own mushroom sauces. I enjoy talking to the farmers about the growing period of the mushrooms and choosing a more suitable quality to make different dishes. I plan to use mushroom or truffles with different seafood, like scallops. Fresh mushrooms can also be used in the production of dim sum filling.
What are you most looking forward to picking up from the markets once they open outdoors for the season? I'm looking forward to peaches and berries. I love Green City because I love the access and section on Saturdays. The vibe is lively and a place you want to be. I'm planning on making crisps, brown butter Danishes, frozen yogurt, mostarda, you name it!
Greg Biggers, Cafe des Architectes:
I can't wait for asparagus from Klug Farm, carrots and herbs from Green Acre and cherries from Seedling Fruits.
I love going to the Evanston Farmers’ Market. It is a great chance to get out of the city and relax for a few moments before what is usually a hectic day in the kitchen. The market has a festive atmosphere and the friendly farmers love to discuss what is fresh at the time and what will be at the market during their next visit. You can find everything you need at this market; fruits, vegetables, meat, flowers, cheese, eggs and bakery items. Also Henry’s Farm is there and they are fantastic people!
I love the micro radish and carrots from The Chefs Garden in Ohio. We’re making a spring antipasto salad with barley cracker, baby greens, radish, Chestnut Provisions lamb salami and chevre cheese, micro carrots, pickled cherries and housemade mustard.
Anything and everything green. I'm excited about green garlic, ramps, stinging nettles and garlic chives. After dealing with a long winter, it’s exciting to get some chlorophyll back into our lives. Also the other early sprouters like young baby potatoes that are creamy and soft and barely need any cooking, to the sharp peppery snap of breakfast radishes.
My favorite markets are the Green City Market on Wednesdays, because of the variety, and it’s not as crazy as it is on the weekends. And also the Logan Square Farmers’ Market. At both markets, you not only get a taste of what is available regionally, but you get very different tastes of what the City of Chicago has to offer in terms of atmosphere. The Green City Market is very polished and you’re surrounded by health conscious yuppies and restauranteurs, while at the Logan Square market, you'll get a smaller neighborly feel and be surrounded by hipsters and restauranteurs.
We have a dish featuring ramps with a pumpkin seed romesco. We're using green garlic roasted, and served with a breast of duck and wild rice risotto. With the nettles, I'll most likely make a vibrant green pistou, that could work really well served over new potatoes.
Nancy Silver, Americano 2211:
Having been a vendor for six-plus years at Green City Market, it still holds a special spot in my heart. This time every season, I would be anxiously waiting to see if Mick (Klug Farms) or René (Ellis Farms) would have strawberries and rhubarb by the first outdoor market. The strawberries went into my Snookelfritz roasted strawberry brown sugar ice cream and the rhubarb was used to make my rhubarb crème fraîche sherbet. At Americano 2211, we're doing my ice creams by the half pint and in ice cream sandwiches, so both flavors should be making an appearance soon.
Sean Murray, Four Seasons Hotel Chicago/Allium:
I'm looking forward to heirloom vegetables! Rhubarb, peas and squash blossoms. Since I just moved to Chicago, I have yet to experience any of the markets. I have heard incredible things about Green City Market, so I can't wait to get there. I anticipate being there very often this summer! Planning on making rhubarb mostarda for our 12-hour cooked pork belly. Also, crab-stuffed squash blossoms!
Mike Galen, The Bedford:
Like many, I look forward to farmer’s market season so that I can get out and shop at Green City Market! It has such a relaxed, fun atmosphere, it makes shopping for items a breeze. We always incorporate locally sourced items into our menu at The Bedford, however the spring and summer seasons allow us to bring in such bright flavors. I’m personally really excited to pick up some beautifully hued carrots for our honey roasted carrots, which is a simple yet flavorful side dish, and I also love cucumbers from farmers’ markets, as we have a lot of use for them. We use them in our seasonal housemade jar of pickles and they will play a roll in some of our new dishes that are launching in May for our five-year anniversary, such as our ahi tuna poke.
Mark Payne, Streeterville Social at Loews Chicago Hotel:
I think there are two things I look forward to most when the farmers’ markets finally open back up for the season: strawberries and asparagus. Even though you can find them both year-round, you can get the real deal in the early summer months. Then I can weave them into some of my standby dishes, like asparagus paired with potato gnocchi and seasonal wild mushrooms topped with shaved pecorino. Or getting back to basics by just preparing the asparagus simply on the grill with quality olive oil, lemon zest, shaved parmesan and a few chili flakes.
Green City really does have to be my favorite. But besides the great depth of options they have, their produce is high-quality. I’ve also been able to make great relationships with the farmers there, so I always like to go back and see how they are doing, and what new they are growing each year. But I will say get there early before the masses!
I always try to put a heavy focus on fresh ingredients and use seasonal produce in my dishes. This year our rooftop terrace, Streeterville Social, will open in peak farmers’ market season. So we will use fresh and local wherever possible. For example last year we did amazing stuffed zucchini blossoms. This year we might make fresh pesto, or strawberry jam to accompany our dishes. We also have a beet dish on the menu that will really shine when we have fresh produce from the market. It’s the perfect light summer dish to enjoy while soaking up the sun from our rooftop.
Mark Newman, Ballaro:
I grew up going to the farmers’ market over the summer every Wednesday. Once I started my career as a professional cook, I was introduced to the Green City Market downtown. I developed many relationships with growers there and when the crops started, I would go to the market with my chefs and pick fresh ingredients for the restaurant. Watching the seasons come and go and how the weather affected the crops and availability was always fascination to me, and still is. I always look forward to the farm fresh cucumbers, asparagus and strawberries early on, zucchini blossoms, zucchini, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes mid-summer and apples in the fall. With my new home at Ballaro in Highwood, I look forward to getting back to my childhood market on Wednesdays where they do an open market in the evenings, just down the street from us.
Dan Weiland, Forbidden Root:
What I am looking forward to the most at the market is just beautiful and local produce. I can't think of any specific items I look for—I’m just grateful it’s the season. However, when summer is in its heyday and corn and tomatoes and peppers, etc. are out, that’s pretty amazing for me.
I'll try to go to the markets as often as possible and I'll go to a few different ones, depending on the day of course. If I were to choose, I would say the Thursday market in Daley Plaza is my favorite. Not only do I always love to see the Picasso but I like the backdrop of the city that surrounds the market.
It’s hard to say what dishes we are going to make and it’s hard to predict what is going to be really good. With Forbidden Root being a new restaurant and this being our first market season, it’s all new dishes we are producing—dishes that are inspired by what the season gives us. I’m just excited to let the inspiration take over.
Atticus Garant, Columbus Tap:
I cannot wait for all the fresh produce, especially the vegetables. Spring and summer months produce the most amazing items, from peas to legumes, tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots and radishes. All of which are so fun work with, whether cooked or in the raw.
Green City Market is my favorite because the actual farmers (and not just their employees) come out to make that connection with their customers.
We have a lot of avenues already dedicated for market-inspired dishes as well as market/seasonal vegetables: Green City Market salad, sustainable market fish, “Sunday Dinner” (rotisserie special, served everyday). In addition, we will be ever changing our menus to reflect the seasonal product.
Sean Sanders, The Northman:
I absolutely love the farmers’ market season—it’s like spring with all of its glory of a new year. Having seasonal ingredients available again like ramps, asparagus, morels, strawberries, rhubarb, sweet cicely, oxalis and wood sorrel inspires me to create new dishes and incorporate those spring-like flavors.
I love the Lincoln Square Farmers’ Market! While it is smaller, it has great prices and amazing farmers with some great products. I also enjoy Green City—it is awesome for its diversity in product and farmers as well.
At The Northman, we have created a bunch of new spring dishes, including ramp fritelle, which is a very simple Italian fritter with gruyere cheese and a touch of flour. It is served with a grapefruit serrano pepper aïoli. Also, we are doing a lovely grilled Spanish octopus with green almonds, charred ramps, citrus pudding, doner kebab vinaigrette and puffed rice.
Ariel Bagadiong, SPiN:
I am looking forward to picking up herbs and the fresh fruits, especially Michigan peaches, from the markets once they open outdoors for the season. I love going to the Green City Market in Lincoln Park, it’s a great group vendors and the market is very picturesque. I have two favorite ingredients that I plan on utilizing in a refreshing dish, which are lemon verbena and Michigan peaches. I’m looking forward to making a panzanella salad this summer.
Jimmy Papadopoulos, Bohemian House:
Like most chefs in Chicago, Green City Market is my favorite; I love the people behind the farms. Beth Eccles and her whole team from Green Acres are always great to share some late morning banter with, Abby from Mick Klugg is almost as sweet as their delicious fruit and Greg from Marigold Hill loves his lettuces like they were his children. The people behind the products see what is growing beautifully throughout the season, and work with what is best. This is what I love most about walking through Green City.
Not sure what dishes we will be making. I like to let the produce decide where we are going with the menu. The dishes evolve much more rapidly at BoHo based on what we can source, as well as what inspires and fits into our European-inspired menu.
Matt Holmes, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!:
I always like to shop for spring produce after a long winter. Asparagus, ramps, morel mushrooms, radishes are all things I look forward to. When summer rolls around, it's hard to beat market corn, stone fruit, melons and tomatoes. I particularly like walking around the Green City Market due to the variety of farmers and vendors. I try to keep the dishes in the spring and summer light and fresh after having done heavier, rich dishes in the fall and winter.
Martial Noguier, Bistronomic:
Looking forward to asparagus, turnips, rhubarb, radishes, summer squash, heirloom tomatoes (coming soon) and beans such as yellow white, green and fava.
The Green City Market is my favorite. I started going to the Green City Market when I was the executive chef at the Pump Room. I first fell in love with farmers’ markets when I went to the one near the Cadillac Theatre in 1998 that was in existence before the Green City Market on Lincoln. The founder of Nichols Farm, Lloyd Nichols, was there and that’s who I bought my produce from. He had great fingerling potatoes and apples. Luckily, Nichols Farm sells at the Green City Market these days so I can still procure the best.
Kevin Hickey, The Duck Inn:
They won’t have any when they open, but later in the summer I always look forward to all of the stone fruit. I love peaches, plums, nectarines!
Green City Market is still the standard bearer. There’s more to it than just a a bunch of food stands. It’s a cultural event in a city that desperately needed that sort of thing. I think GCM had the most important role in turning Chicago's restaurant scene into such a local, farmer-supported culture. I have been a supporter for 12 years and have a fierce loyalty to it, I still think of it as Abby Mendel’s baby and I have to support it even though we lost her some years ago.
I think the bubblegum plums are so unique, I like Mick Klug’s, so I plan on doing a number of things with them like jams for cheese, pairing with foie gras and some sort of summer pudding.
Jason Vincent, Giant:
I'm looking forward to everything, but I'm super bummed that we've already missed spinach and might miss asparagus (not so bummed about missing ramps). I constantly pine for the next season and when I miss anything for any reason I get really, really upset. It's a wasted opportunity. What if a great dish was missed because I was dragging my feet? What if we missed out on learning something or making something special?! And now it's out of my control because we don't have a kitchen! It's kind of driving me crazy!
I love going to the Green City Market because, at this point. it's tradition. It was one of the first things that Jason and Lea showed me when I was the sous chef at Lula Cafe 11 years ago and I've gone every week since (before we had the second kid). The Logan Square Market is right next to my house (and the restaurant) and it's really amazing to see how it's grown, though I wish it was a little/a lot more affordable. Also, my wife plays the cello there every now and again, so I can take the girls to watch!
We are dying (DYING) for little sweet and hot peppers. There is nothing on the planet that isn't made better by the perfect balance of fat (butter, olive oil, bacon) and sweet and hot peppers, with salt and pepper obviously.
- Matt Kirouac