Strawberries were supposed to be the star of chef Chris Starkus's cooking demo last Saturday at the Union Station Farmers Market, but weather and supply issues curtailed the supply of the sweet berries. So Starkus, executive chef at Urban Farmer, rallied and decided that peaches could replace the berries in his presentation, something he had organized down to the recipe cards he handed out.
"I am a big planner, but since peaches just came in, that's a great change, and honestly I'm happy about it," he says as we wander to Morton's Orchards to get the just-picked stone fruit. "I just needed something sweet."
"I have a tough time trying to simplify," he says, adding that the idea is to make a full meal in one pot. "This is three recipes in one and can work in a multitude of ways."
Hinman's Bakery bread, add flavor to seared sirloin steak from Corner Post Meats, and brighten a bed of mixed greens and multi-colored carrots from ACRES at Warren Tech. The only ingredients that didn't come from the market were salt, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard, which Starkus brought with him from the restaurant.
"It's all about light toppings," says the chef. "Sometimes you don't want to sit down in the summer to a heavy meal."
Highland Honey, the Boulder company that provided his starting "nuc," or nucleus, a small honeybee colony. Honey, he says, was a key ingredient in his dish, and Highland Honey's not-too-sweet Breathe Easy blend, flavored with osha root, juniper berries, rosehips and chokecherries, proved spot on and also showcased locally forged ingredients. A giant spoonful of the stuff made it into the star mixture of fruits and herbs, adding a little more sweetness but also a hearty depth to the flavor.
Once Starkus had all the components, he quickly got to work toasting slices of baguette in olive oil, dicing the peaches and tomatoes, and making a chiffonade of basil, which basically means stacking the leaves, rolling them, then thinly slicing the green bundle. The juice from the mixture would act as a dressing for the salad as well as a finishing pop for the bruschetta.
Seasonal cooking and local sourcing of as many ingredients as possible is something Starkus does not only at Urban Farmer, but at his Lakewood home, too. His family has a micro farm, and since tomatoes are coming in strong, he explains, there is nothing his wife loves more than making a simple bruschetta topped with ripe tomatoes from the garden. In a way, the star mixture he made at the market was an ode to that favorite breakfast, and something other people could easily prepare as well, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The only trick is getting to the farmers' market and picking the freshest ingredients possible.
Chef's demos run every week at the Union Station Farmers' Markets. Next up are Nick Kayser of Vesta on July 7, Amos Watts of Corrida on July 21, and Tim Kuklinski of Rioja on July 28.