There is something about being on a real farm. Something that just feels right to me but I have never been sure why. It took an entire day at Oxbow Farm to figure it out but I finally did. What is it? Why do I feel so at home in a place so far from how I grew up? I think it is the people. Bad people just don’t seem to hang out at farms. I feel safe on a farm. My kids can roam unwatched. I can leave my phone or GoPro camera just sitting there and not worry about someone taking it. Ya, that’s it. I feel safe on a farm.
I spent the day yesterday at Oxbow Farm in Carnation, WA at their event called The Sowdown. They invited me to cook and had the idea of a “Showdown at the Sowdown” I called out my Chef and Father Podcast partner Jason Vickers and we were all set to battle. Local farm, organic ingredients, cooking outside, big crowd and an amazing sunny day set the scene. Think of the show Chopped crossed with Top Chef but with a twist. We were going to be judged by kids! Luckily our mystery basket contained kid friendly ingredients like….Rapini, swiss chard, Shitake mushrooms, pea vines, sprouting purple broccoli, parsley, and other bitter green over-wintered delicacies. Oh crap.
Bell rang and we were off. Butane burners firing hot. Cast-iron skillets. I grabbed the pea vines. Quick chop. Sauté in garlic. Now what? I will start strong with a quick macaroni and cheese. Forgot the cream so I make a quick roux and add some milk for my base. Throw in the pea vines and some cooked pasta I brought. Bit of cheese, quick toss and done. First dish is up in minutes. Pea Vine Mac n Cheese. Yep.
Jason whips up a greens filled omelet with parmesan cheese as his first dish. (Which turns out to be the judges favorite dish.) The youngest judge said she doesn’t normally even like eggs but loved this. That is a win right there. Get kids to eat new foods. Our job is done.
But no, we have a lot more time. I think about doing a sort of fritter or something. Sauté some rapini with garlic. Mix up a little flour, baking powder, salt, local fresh egg, and some Smith Brothers Farm milk. Some sort of batter right there. Fold in the cooked rapini (Broccoli Rabe) and voila. Cast-iron skillet with some oil. Golden brown on both sides and a quick drizzle of honey. Never made or even thought of this in my 20+ year career but made it on the fly in front of a crowd. This is real cooking and what I live for.
Kid judges are eating away as Jason whips up an amazing quinoa salad with sprouted purple broccoli. He gives some to the crowd too. Smart move. We are trying to promote ourselves. Yelling about Chef and Father. This blog. The Chef and Father podcast, and Jason’s new food truck Fez on Wheels. But we are on a field at a farm and sweating like pigs under the sun and over the burning skillets so who knows if people are even hearing us. Whatever. Next dish! Go. I see the local eggs sitting there and whip up a quick crepe batter in seconds. Sauté some shitakes and more greens. Then make 3 crepes. I could do this faster but my other cast-iron skillet is coated in starchy milk from the mac n cheese. I throw some goat cheese on the crepes and toss on some greens then roll it up like a burrito. Nice dish. Jason does some nice shitake mushroom toasts. We are kicking ass. No plan. Kids climbing all over us. Hot. Standing on grass using portable burners. Just cooking real food on the ground where it was grown. This is pretty cool.
We keep going. I duck behind the table frequently to wipe the sweat off my face with a coarse kitchen towel. Jason and I attempt some trash talk. We were having fun. This is what we are on this planet to do. Another dish. I make a grilled cheese sandwich with swiss chard and apple. Jason makes another awesome dish. I am losing track at this point. Sun-drenched. Delirious. Where are my kids? My oldest did all the serving. My youngest was off making fairy houses at another awesome booth put on by awesome farm people. She was safe. More food. I look around. Make a quick pasta dish of whatever was left. Add some smoked paprika and balance that with some sweet apple. Never would have ever thought of that under normal circumstances. Seemed a little dry so I cracked in an egg off the heat and tossed it with some Parmesan I stole from Jason. I was done. Spent. I went and sat in the shade with the audience as Jason finished his last dish. People applauded. Always weird but I smiled and said thanks or something. It did feel good though.
We rounded up the kids and sat in the shade. Exhausted but feeling great. People talked to us and wanted us to come out and cook at their school. Asked about the different flavors we used in the foods. Our jobs. Our lives. Man, this is the life. We were teachers. Inspiring people to cook at a farm. This is our life. We are here because of connections to people based on a love of food. One to the other to the other to here. Bonded. So cool.
The kid judges get in a line and tell of there favorite dish and why. This is all so amazing cause we are really just improvising the whole thing on the spot, in front of people, and it totally works. Audra, the farms PR rep, runs to grab a few heads of broccoli rabe to be our trophies. Jason gets the best dish with two of the judges picking his farm omelet but I get the over-all win. This embarrasses me of course. I would rather have Jason win but whatever. We get our prizes and talk more with the people.
This has been a good day. A really good day.
And, wow, it is only May. This is going to be an amazing Summer. Backyard gardens. Real Food. Teaching. Inspiring parents to cook. Learning. Growing organic food and growing as a person…organically. Finding freedom and peace inside. Cooking with my kids. Living the food revolution. Farmer’s markets, cooking videos, and so much more. I am a new man and this is my Summer. My year.
I look forward to spending it with you. Us. We.
The Chef and Father Podcast (Subscribe and rate please!)
Also check out Rooted in the Valley by Audra Mulkern
Photography courtesy of the talented Robin Marie Photography