I’m in a food rut. I really do love to cook, and love the idea of eating locally-sourced food, but by mud season my culinary motivation—and taste for squash and potatoes—grows stale.
So I asked Keith Sarasin to help jolt me out of my habitual dishes. He’s chef and founder of The Farmers Dinner. He and his crew do on-site, farm-to-table dinners using locally produced foods. I met him at a Farmers Dinner for NHPR listeners at Gould Hill Farm in Hopkinton last fall, when local farms were bringing in the harvest. I checked in with Keith to see what he’s been cooking in the less bountiful winter months.
I met up with Keith at the Winter Farmer’s Market at the Mark Fisk School in Salem on a chilly Sunday morning. The challenge: buy local foods and put together a meal so delicious that we could all forget for a moment the dingy gray piles of slush outside.
Keith is more than a food whisperer; he’s a local produce booster. He refers to sunchokes as “the New England truffle” and looks most kindly upon imperfect vegetables, like the parsnip with tiny bug trails or the carrot gnarled by New England’s rocky soil.
Here's a breakdown of our haul from the market:
- $7 for pea shoots, carrots, and watermelon radish
- $9.80 for Brookford Farm ‘Shades of Blue’ cheese and quark
- $3.50 for onion and celeriac
- $11 for a pound of coffee
- $26 for a Hurd Farms Porterhouse steak
I’m sold on the food and on his devotion, which doesn’t come off as remotely pious. He found his way to food while growing up with a single mom who worked two jobs. He never wanted to be a chef and got his first job on a line so he could buy a mountain bike. His friend Steve encouraged him, got him jobs, and mentored him. Though Steve died three years ago, Keith says Steve’s spirit is with him, in a way, when he cooks. Keith believes in the ghosts of things, that the essence of animals and plants that die for us to eat creates a responsibility, and that in part inspires his creativity.
Something more practical is stuck in my Yankee craw—I would never spend $60 to make an everyday meal. And honestly, the food was undeniably great, but the portions were much more petite than I’d make. Fresh, local food is a more expensive choice for many families, so what does that mean for someone like him, who has known what it’s like to struggle?
Keith acknowledges there's a cost to buying local, but he says cost is subjective. "Do we value the cost up front, of the money that we're spending on local healthy products, keeping our money right here in this community? Because at the end of the day we're voting with our dollar."
For a printable version of the recipes, click here.