This might be the last truly great harvest at the farmers' market this year. After all, snow is on the ground and a freeze is predicted for tonight. Still, despite today's bad weather, the farmers and chef Brian Wilson of Beast + Bottle were all smiles over the weekend as they discussed the vegetables, fruits and herbs on display this past sunny Saturday morning.
"We have a deep relationship with most of these farmers, and if I have a question, I can text Christian Toohey [of Toohey & Sons Organic] or Josh [Olsen of ACRES at Warren Tech]," says Wilson. "The farmers' market is such a safe haven for cooks and chefs."
Wilson met us with his friend and colleague, Chris Tessman, the sous-chef at Coperta (which is also owned by siblings Paul and Aileen Reilly). The two wandered the market together, discussing what would work with certain dishes and playing ideas off each other. In order to decide just what to cook today, we tasted honey at Highland Honey Bees, sampled elephant heart plums at Ela Family Farm and chatted with Matt Koster of Corner Post Meats.
"Buying the best product doesn’t mean always getting the same products," says Wilson. "Certain farmers, like Josh, will pull me aside and tell me about a really cool ingredient that no one, or just one other chef might be using."
When we stopped by Toohey & Sons Organic, Wilson received seven and a half pounds of purslane, a succulent that grows like a weed. What, we asked, will that be for? In short, purslane is great for everything, and Wilson added it to all the dishes he made for us. But the main reason that Beast + Bottle needs a plethora of this tangy, lemony plant is so they can whip up an ice cream, which is part of this week's invasive-species dinner (October 10). Also on that menu: lionfish crudo. Wilson made a version of the dish for us using Ela Family Farms' plums and slender Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers from Cure Organic Farm.
He also made a comforting butter-basted mushroom-and-egg dish using Mile High Fungi's mixed bag of ’shrooms, tender lettuces from Toohey & Sons Organic, fresh eggs from McCauley Family Farm, and smoked paprika from Savory Spice Shop. The combination reminds Wilson of his time in Brooklyn working at Marlow & Sons. "It showed me the possibilities of what we, as cooks, could do," he says. "It definitely gave me an appetite for cooking vegetables. After all, people baste meat and fish, so why not veggies?"
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Although Wilson runs the kitchen at Beast + Bottle, all the dishes were cooked at Coperta. We chose this location based on time and space needed; Beast + Bottle has a small kitchen that was in the throes of brunch service. Even though he wasn't in his element, Wilson executed the two plates brilliantly. And after he was finished, he humbly downplayed his own part in the process, saying, "I can't take the credit. Someone else grew the fantastic mushrooms. And those farm chickens — imagine if that was made with a bad egg."
For more photos of the Union Station Farmers' Market and the food of chef Brian Wilson, see our complete slideshow.