My presentation last Friday at Farm & Coast Market in Padanaram Village in South Dartmouth gave me an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before: reflect on my research in both Paris and Provence and—I know it might seem like a strange comparison—also to consider how the south coast of Massachusetts compares.
A highly engaged audience willingly followed along on this trifurcated path. Turnout was terrific, as were the questions and comments. The indoor market is a recent addition to the community, and it’s not only a source of breads and pastries, prepared foods, freshly butchered local meats, wines and cheeses, but it’s also a gathering spot for coffee or a full meal as well as events such as these. I was delighted to be invited to present.
Here are some themes that emerged:
- Farmers and chefs are developing closer ties, leading to more innovative farming and cooking. Chef Chris Cronin says that direct contact with farmers and fishermen is the biggest tool in kit. He gets inspiration from visiting farms where he sources goods. His kitchen staff got to appreciate an entire growing season—“from rhubarb to pumpkins”—while staying in a cabin at Eva’s Garden in South Dartmouth. She grows organic herbs and greens and her small (2.5 acre) farm has an outsized impact on the culinary world. Chefs make pilgrimages to sample Eva’s flavorful wild edibles, and others she educates from a distance. This resonated with conversations I’ve had with farmers and chefs in France who push each other to experiment and innovate and who share great mutual respect. Eva has long reminded me of the “farmer to the chefs” Joël Thiébault who sells at Marché Avenue du Président Wilson in Paris (though soon retiring).
- There is high value being placed on knowing and trusting our food sources. Chefs care because it affects flavor. Shoppers are more attuned. There’s demand for transparency. Chef Cronin said, “that’s one of my jobs as chef: to know every source of meat, to have visited the farms.”
- Food should taste like what it is. Fish, for example, should taste like fish and not (as many Americans have been trained to think) as a vehicle for breaded toppings that make it taste like Ritz crackers. The more daring chefs and consumers in France and the south coast of Massachusetts are open to preparations that honor, rather than disguise, the food’s natural flavor.
- It takes a community to sustain a vibrant food system. Shoppers turn out in droves for les marchés paysans (farmers’ markets) in Provence. Farmers’ markets along the south coast of Massachusetts lack the deep historical tradition, but they continue to grow in popularity. People are appreciating local products—whether it be the Mediterranean fishes in Provence, or the scallops and other catch from the New Bedford fishing port. There’s strong support for a new slaughterhouse in the neighboring town of Westport. No longer will farmers face so many challenges associated with hauling animals a long distance, nor will the animals themselves have to endure the trauma of transport.
I wish we could have had more time to delve into these important topics. The consensus was that there IS a food revolution going on, and that the south coast is not at the fringes but at the forefront of some exciting developments.
For those in the audience who expressed interest in when I’m next going to Provence, the answer is June 11-18, 2017—and you’re welcome to come along! I’ll be a featured expert on the New York Times’ Times Journey Flavors of Provence tour. Come see for yourself the similarities and differences between Provence and wherever you call home.
Farm & Coast Market is at 7 Bridge Street in Padanaram Village, South Dartmouth, MA. 02748. Upcoming programming events are posted on their website. For reservations, email email@example.com.
Eva’s wild edibles are well described with recipes and stories in the excellent book Wild Flavors: One Chef’s Transformative Year Cooking From the Farm, written by Chef Didi Emmons.