The Four Seasons Chicago is offering a fun new excursion for foodie guests this summer. Bike with Chef Stephen Wambach to the Green City Market to shop for fresh local produce, and sit down later that evening to a romantic four-course dinner for two with wine pairings incorporating all of the day’s finds. Wambach loves working with local farmers and has accounts set up with several of the vendors at Green City. He is excited to bring guests closer to their food in an environmentally sustainable and fun way. “It’s almost like being on ‘Chopped,’” he says, of the chance to create personalized menus for each guest. The entire experience is $400 per couple if you’re looking for a foodie staycation this summer.
Even if you can’t make it to the Four Seasons or Green City Market, here are some of Chef Wambach’s farmers’ market shopping tips that you can apply to your own neighborhood market.
Recipes to make the most of your farmers’ market finds:
- Spicemode Spinach and Sweet Potato
- Red, White and Blue Shortcakes
- Grilled Vegetables Even Carnivores Will Love
It goes without saying, but the earlier you get to the market, the better your selection will be. Setting your alarm and rolling out of bed a couple hours earlier is worth it to get first pick of fresh produce from all the farmers. Green City Market is even more crowded on Saturdays than Wednesdays, so Chef Wambach tries to get there by 8 a.m. “Last week I missed out on purslane because I was a little late,” Wambach says.
“Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know what something is, or you aren’t sure how to use it,” Wambach says. All the vendors we met were friendly, vivacious and passionate about their products, and they love educating consumers and offering ideas for how to prepare different foods. “They’ll always have serving suggestions for you,” Wambach says. “After all, they want to sell it!”
Organic vs. no spray
Some farms are certified organic and will be labeled as such. The produce here is oftentimes much pricier than from farms that do not have organic certification. Decide if organic is something you are ready to commit to. If not, produce from some places like Leaning Shed Farm is labeled “no spray,” which means the farmers are not spraying their crops with chemical pesticides. There are no regulatory requirements for this label though, so ask the farmer questions. How does he or she keep pests under control?
Play with edible flowers
Colorful miniature blooms aren’t just for fine dining tweezer food. They can be an easy way to impress guests when you use them as a garnish on an otherwise simple dish. Wambach recommends chive blossoms for those new to the edible flower world. “Throw them on anything,” he says of their versatility. “I love them with watermelon and raw scallops.” He also likes flowering thyme. “It’s great with steak off the grill or a simple fish fillet.”
Try something new
The cool thing about farmers’ markets is that you’ll often find fruits, vegetables and other food that you can’t find in a regular grocery store. Challenge yourself to try something new. For example, we found beautiful stalks of purple asparagus at the same price point as green asparagus, so it’s an easy substitution. When Chef Wambach served it raw in a simple vegetable crudité, I discovered that the purple variety is sweeter and earthier than its green cousin.