About a month ago, Nicolas Lebas moved to Evergreen from Florida to take a job as the executive chef of Panzano at the Hotel Monaco downtown. The day we met at the Union Station Farmers' Market, it was cold, but the chef didn't mind. He was too excited to be shopping around all the fresh produce (even this late in the season) and having the opportunity to chat with farmers. After all, he said, he hadn't been to a good green market since he lived in France, over a decade ago.
"In Florida you don't really have farmers' markets; it's too hot and humid, and mostly it's just fruit," he says while clutching a hot cup of coffee from Pigtrain Coffee Company. "I just want to walk around and see what's seasonal."
Lebas had a basic idea of what he might find — beets, potatoes, carrots and squash — but it turned out there was a lot more going on than he imagined. Going with the stranger side of produce, we bought Kiowa Valley Organics's giant Georgia Candy Roaster squash, which none of us had heard of; a carton of purple and orange Indigo Kumquat tomatoes from Westminster's Living Land Farm; and an unusual herb called salad burnet that Josh Olsen of ACRES at Warren Tech whipped out when we stopped by the chefs' cooler. There was also Lorz Italian garlic from the Crooked Clove Farm & Ranch out of Larkspur; juicy and bitter Harrow Sweet pears from Ela Family Farm; and a gnarly hunk of celery root from Cure Organic Farm, which looked like something from a Halloween flick.
Not only were there plenty of vegetables and fruit to choose from, but despite the early freeze last Monday, most of the farmers said they plan on having enough goods to come back the rest of the season (which covers the next two weekends).
"We made a scramble last Sunday to harvest everything — onions, leeks, squash — and covered everything else," says Frannie Parkinson, an intern at Cure Organic Farm who was working the market stand. "Everything mostly turned out okay."
For some vendors, like Ela Family Farm, the cold snap actually helped. "Storage apples like Fuji, Granny Smith and Braeburn actually benefit from the frost and sweeten," says the farm's marketing manager, Brynn Valentine. "So actually it was positive for us."
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The cold last week worked out for Lebas, too, as it got him in the mood for winter menus, something he plans on working out soon. Our trip to the farmers' market just renewed that desire and gave him a chance to try out a few dishes back at Panzano. There he cooked up a rich and warming plate of squash gnocchi, crispy pancetta from Il Porcellino Salumi, pan-roasted mushrooms from Mile High Fungi and oil-poached onions from ACRES at Warren Tech. He also built an almost raw dish of beet "ravioli" stuffed with a mixture of honey, pear and celery root, which proved bright and earthy. Both dishes showcased the flavors of fall so well, we wouldn't be surprised to see them in the Panzano dining room soon.
For more photos, see our complete slideshow of our trip to the Union Station Farmers' Market with chef Nicolas Lebas.