It’s the blessing and curse of market day at the South of the James Farmers Market in Forest Hill Park: So much amazingly fresh, local produce — but deciding how to cook it all can leave you stewed.
Problem solved. Coming this market season, beginning May 5, the South of the James Farmers Market presents its Fresh Foods/Fresh Chefs cooking series. One chef surrounded by 100 vendors serving up the freshest local produce available in Richmond, showing market customers how it’s done.
Kicking off theseries is Chef Samuel “Rude Boy” Baker, long-time afternoon and Sunday brunch chef at Hermitage Grill, and self-described “punk rock purveyor of produce”.
“I’ve been cooking about 23 years,” says Baker, a tall, tattooed kitchen phenom whose artistry is heavily influenced by Latino, Caribbean and Deep South flavors. “I really got my food culture in New York. In New York I learned to cook all sorts of Mexican, Spanish, Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Cajun and … uh, Polish.”
That’s right, living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, it’s hard to avoid borscht and kielbasa. But Latino flavors are by far his prevailing influences.
“It’s my favorite tasting foods — plus I was married to a Peruvian for 12 years and her grandmother taught me to cook,” says Baker, who cooked at such New York staples as Sidewalk Cafe and Live Bait. He’s also remembered by Richmonders from his stint in the early 1990s at Third Street Diner.
Waller McCracken, owner of Hermitage Grill, who is a sponsor of the South of the James cooking series, and who insists on local produce in his own kitchen, says he’s excited to introduce Sam’s cooking south of the river.
“He thinks creatively,” says McCracken, who has a special place in his heart for Sam’s North Carolina-style tamales, They are themselves an illustration of Sam’s kitchen creativity and his ability to make meals happen regardless of what ingredients happen to be at hand.
“I was at a Mexican restaurant eating tamales and I just had the idea,” Sam says. “I said, ‘Wow! This would be really good with some local flavor instead of Mexican flavor.”
The answer was mixing traditional cornbread spoonbread with North Carolina-style pork barbecue, wrapping it all in a fresh collard leaf and then steaming it to perfection.
Sam says he’s excited to be the first chef in the Local Foods/Local Chefs series, not only because of his love of cooking creatively, but because of his love of the garden.
“I grew up gardening,” says Sam, who grew up in rural Culpepper County, Va. “All the food we ate, we grew it, we canned it and we ate it. I may not have appreciate that as a child, but I do now.”
Sam will continue as the Fresh Foods/Fresh Chefs chef in residence throughout the 2012 season. Expect a few surprises and special guest chefs — so don’t miss a single market this season.