Emeril started it, Paula Deen and Rachel Ray expanded it and now the Salem Farmers Market is getting involved with it. “It” is the demonstration style cooking craze that has sent the Food Network’s viewership through the roof and will now hopefully make the Market a must visit each Saturday morning in the summer.
Starting June 6 and continuing each Saturday morning through the end of August, patrons at The Market will be able to watch chefs from local restaurants whip up dishes made almost exclusively with fresh ingredients purchased from the Farmers Market’s very own vendors.
“I think the public is really going to have a chance to benefit from this,” says Beth Carson of the Salem Farmers Market. “Cooking shows are really popular now and this is our chance to have our own cooking sensations right here in Salem.”
Carson came up with what will be known as “The Chef’s Circle” while she was checking out other Farmers Markets around the country on the internet. She stumbled upon one in Austin, Texas that has a similar program and thought it might be just the ticket for Salem.
“The term that has been floating around so much lately is ‘locavore’ and we certainly would like to develop some folks who take a special interest in eating food that is grown and sold locally,” she says.
The list of individuals who have committed to be a part of the culinary program each week is as diverse as it is impressive.
The Hotel Roanoke, 202 Market, Local Roots Café, Café Madrid and U.S. Food Service are just a sampling of the establishments that will be represented.
Attracting what she thought would be the “gastronomical elite” was easier than expected, but finding a kitchen was still a mystery. She wanted more than a couple of folding tables and a hot plate, but she knew there was no way her budget could absorb this type of project.
That’s when her boss, Streets and Maintenance Director Mike Tyler, offered up a suggestion that was harder to imagine than Paul Deen cooking without butter. He told her that his crew was going to literally cut a kitchen out of a house and make it “market ready” by the summer.
“My original thought was that he was absolutely crazy,” says Carson. “I really thought he was just pulling my leg when he first told me, but it came out just as pretty as can be.”
City employees were tasked this winter with tearing down a number of homes that the city had acquired through FEMA’s severe repetitive loss program. One such home on Chamberlain Lane featured a kitchen that not only caught Tyler’s eye, but gave him the idea that it could be extracted intact before the home was destroyed.
“We had a few obstacles, but the process really went better than we expected,” says Tyler. “Truthfully, we really didn’t know if we were going to have a kitchen or a pile of sticks.”
A crane slowly lifted the kitchen outside of the main frame of the house and then placed it on a wide load trailer. At this point it was 10 feet wide, but over 16 feet high, meaning the only way to get it back to the Street Department garage was a trip right down Route 419, complete with a police escort.
Other than a few drawers flying open the move was without incident and since landing in its new home the kitchen has been streamlined. It’s now only 8 feet wide which allows it to fit on the customized trailer that will transport it back and forth to the Market each week. When it makes its debut in June, the kitchen will feature a refrigerator, a gas cook top stove and various sinks complete with hot water to handle everything from food preparation to hand washing.
“People in Salem expect great things and we really wanted to make this something all of us could be proud of and something that the chefs would enjoy working in,” says Carson. “I just appreciate all of the support we’ve gotten for this project.”
The kitchen also will be equipped with a hydraulic system, so it can be lowered down to ground level to make the patrons feel like they’re part of the show. “I think that is a key part of the whole concept,’ says Tyler. “We want the chef and the audience to feel like they’re on the same level to enhance the experience.”
Being able to start out with a readymade kitchen and do all of the remodeling work in-house enabled the project to save a great deal of money from the start. The hope now is that the return on investment will be solid for a number of groups.
“Even though we’re looking at hard economic times you can’t simply stop everything you’re doing,” says Tyler. “This is just a win-win situation for our Market, the restaurants that are participating, our vendors and our downtown Salem merchants.”
Not to mention our taste buds!