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I start making regular field trips to the Farmers Market at the end of May. The market soothes my impatience after a winter of eating and working with force-ripened fruits and vegetables. As soon as the weather starts to warm up and the air has the smell of things growing again. I am beginning to anticipate the exquisite flavors of summer. In late spring, when the market gets ready, I can find, among other things, wild ramps, morels, and the first pencil-thin asparagus at the Farmer’s Market. When the tiny, sweet strawberries from western Wisconsin arrive. I know we’re well on our way to full-blown summer bounty.

I find myself producing and smelling the myriad shapes and sizes of deep red and golden heirloom tomatoes. Sweet-smelling, musty melons seep into my plastic shopping bag like cannonballs. The market air is thick with aromas of basil, kohlrabi, fennel, gan-lai, bok choy, peaches, blackberries, and all the substances that I, and anyone who cooks (or eats, for that matter), has been waiting for.

Similar to the busy Marktplatz outside Orchestra Hall during Summerfest, the Farmer’s Market is a testament to Minnesota’s love of summer and its rich culinary delights. Whether you’re enjoying a grilled sausage savored to the beat of Mozart in the square or a fancy meal made up of all my Farmer’s Market finds, food is the ultimate celebration of summer. I know I wasn’t alone in thinking this way, and I was curious how other fellow chefs in the business felt about summer and their too-short palette of ingredients.

Ken Goff, Executive Chef of The Dakota Bar and Grill.

The Dakota Bar and Grill has long been known for both its premiere spot on the Twin Cities jazz scene and for Ken Goff’s unique, locally-inspired cuisine. When I asked Ken about the summer meals he looks forward to, he gave me an answer befitting his unique style. “After the first locally grown spring onions and sorrel, I look for fava beans,” he said. I found this to be a curious and rather unusual response for a Midwestern chef. This lima bean-like vegetable is most commonly associated with Middle Eastern cuisine. Ken is looking forward to a local product grown for him by farmer Ulrich Blocher. The broad beans don’t taste as starchy as Lima beans and surprisingly pair well with a good Chianti. Ken uses these fresh beans in a vegetable soup. He simmers them, along with sweet corn and smoked trout, to serve on their own as a soup or sometimes as a dip with roasted walleye.

Jacquelyn Hopkins, Pastry Chef The Saint Paul Hotel

“I know iced tea isn’t technically a food, but it’s what I immediately think of when you mention summer.” Jacquelyn grew up in the South and memories of her sweating glasses of sweet tea are what summer is all about. It was a spell right-of-way at five; they offered him his first glass of iced tea to drink with the adults. This memory was incorporated into a tea-flavored ice cream she created for the tea service at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia. For this, she infused Earl Gray in milk and then used this milk to make the fudge and served it as the final course for the mid-afternoon break. As a pastry chef with an inherited sweet tooth, she craves the fruit of summer. Her favorite summer dessert, or as she put it “We sometimes had this for our dinner when I was a kid,” is summer pudding, a southern biscuit of cake, custard, and fresh-picked fruit. Jackie recommends complementing the summer pudding with a spinach salad for a fresh and flavorful dinner on a warm summer night.

Lenny Russo, Executive Chef, WA Frost

Lenny’s outlook for the summer is as expansive as the season itself. “I grew up as part of a big Italian family with a big garden.” His summer treasure list reads like a seed catalog. However, he spent more time talking about heirloom tomatoes than anything else, those homegrown varieties, particularly with traceable lineages. The combination of small restaurant kitchen space and tables full of him has forced Lenny to refine his dishes so that they are quick and comprised of no more than three flavors. So “these flavors need to be bold and vibrant,” he said. So he uses organic greens, farmhouse cheese from Love Tree Farms, heirloom tomatoes, and sometimes even garden-grown periwinkle roses. Among his summer favorites is a chilled cucumber soup served with fresh cream of celery seed and fresh dill, part of what he calls his backyard barbecue with a twist.

Lucia Watson, Chef/Owner, Lucia’s Restaurant and Wine Bar

“The flavors of summer are unlike any other season,” said Lucía. Expect the intense flavors of local produce, especially organic, just as much as any chef I spoke to. Their menus always reflect the season. So when it comes to summer, you can really see her love for seasonal produce and her behavior in the selection of dishes she offers. She personally is looking forward to the sweet corn in July and August. She told me that one summer she found a little roadside stand near Afton with the best corn she had ever tasted. When she returned to buy a bushel for her restaurant, the farmer and the stall were gone, never to be found again. This urban legend as a tale embodies her desire to work with the best available of the season. She uses sweet corn, from more reliable sources, to make a sauce with chives and cream to serve over grilled catfish. Her favorite summer dish is a gazpacho salad that combines red and yellow bell peppers with cucumber, chives, tomatoes, avocado and feta cheese dressed with a garlic-infused vinaigrette and cumin. This dish epitomizes the season with its fresh flavors and vibrant colors. I myself enjoyed this dish at one of Lucia’s sidewalk tables with some crusty homemade bread while watching the Uptown natives go by.

Mark Haugen, Chef/Co-Owner of Tejas and Bar Abilene

“There’s nothing like biting into a warm fresh tomato from the garden,” he said. As soon as Mark said this, I was instantly transported back to a hot summer’s day when he was a child in our family’s own garden. Mark grows tomatoes for himself and his family in his own garden at home to savor with the spicy basil planted nearby. But at his restaurants, he expects something a little more exotic to spice up his Southwestern-flavored menus. To do this he has found local growers of heirloom tomatillos and chiles. In fact, some of these hybrid varieties of scotch bonnets and jalapeños come from a gentleman who grows them for competition and then sends the plants back to the restaurant to use in both decorations and recipes. I was particularly interested in Mark’s way of using my favorite summer vegetable, fresh sweet corn. One dish that really intrigued me was their exquisite handmade tamales. These are made by combining masa, ground corn paste, with fresh corn, seasoning with roast pork, wild mushrooms, or spicy shrimp, then steaming them in a corn husk wrapper.

We all look forward to locally grown produce in the height of summer for restaurant menus or home entertaining. Whether it’s the Farmer’s Market or a special experience with a roadside stall selling sun-kissed yet warm produce from the fields. There are no other places I can think of, short of growing it yourself, that provide the serious cook with the stuff of which summer memories are made.

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