After a week of cold, rain and snow, Saturday's sun and heat were much appreciated, especially by the farmers, shoppers and Adam Vero and Jeff Hickman, the guest chefs at the Union Station Farmers' Market, who were there on May 25 to shop and create a dish from their fresh market finds.
"Typically we come and see what we have to work with and go from there," says Vero, the executive chef at Hearth & Dram just a few blocks away from the station. "We are trying to highlight the radish and thought about making a fresh salsa with all the things that look good to us."
Each week, chefs get to pick a central ingredient for the chef's demo, an event hosted from 10 to 11 a.m. in the market every Saturday through the end of the season. This time the star came in radish form, and we found tons of them, from mild French breakfast to zlata to Easter egg. Don't know all these types of Raphanus sativus? Never fear: The farmers manning Ollin Farms and ACRES at Warren Tech, where these vegetables came from, can tell you all about them.
However, Vero didn't need a tutorial to get his dish going. He and Hickman, his chef de cuisine, bantered and planned like long-acquainted friends. Turns out that their professional relationship goes back to before Vero took over the kitchen at Hearth & Dram, when they both worked for TAG Restaurant Group for years.
"We make food really collaboratively and sometimes even finish each other's sentences," says Vero as the pair danced about the makeshift kitchen in the market.
Together they made an addictive smoked-green-tomato purée, which they brought from the restaurant to add to the dish. The tomatoes in the purée came from Rocky Mountain Fresh, and while shopping the market they stopped at this farm's stand and picked up a bunch of heirloom green tomatoes and beautiful purple Cherokee to add to the garden-salad salsa for which they had a loose plan.
"This will be an atypical salsa, more of a chopped-vegetable salad on a chip," says Vero, adding that they work with lots of produce at Hearth & Dram and even make a killer fresh tofu. "At the restaurant, we make a lot of things that aren't meat, but we get pigeonholed as a meat restaurant."
There was no meat in this dish, though. Instead, the chefs filled it with baby turnips, spring onion, the aforementioned tomatoes, radishes and chunks of pink-and-green rhubarb. To cook down the veggies a little (save for the rhubarb), Vero splashed smoky Del Maguey mezcal into the pan along with avocado and olive oil, a house-blended seasoning from Savory Spice, and a guajillo chile vinegar the chefs had made with the "throw-away" parts of the pepper.
For almost an hour, Vero and Hickman chopped, sliced, cured, cooked, sautéed and stirred these ingredients around, all the while chatting with market shoppers about what was in the pot and sharing tidbits about Hearth & Dram. By 11 a.m., a crowd had gathered to try this spring vegetable salsa, and within fifteen minutes, the tangy, fruity, crunchy and delicious dish had been doled out to dozens of people and was gone.
Afterward, the chefs cleaned up, folded up their aprons and departed, with plans to hang out together for part of their weekend away from their restaurant.
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