Chef Karen Jurgensen learned the tools of her trade -- creative, seasonal cooking -- in rural Washington (where her grandmother taught her how to forage) and in Seattle's forward-thinking restaurants and catering kitchens in the 1980s. She now advocates for local food in restaurants and teaches chefs, culinary students, and average folks how to craft seasonal menus. You can get a taste of her cuisine by trying this seasonal dish, or the recipes in the recently released Chefs on the Farm (Mountaineers Books).
Q: How did you get into cooking with local ingredients?
A: In restaurants, you don't follow recipes all that often -- you find inspiration in what's available. It's much more flexible, which is what you need to run a seasonal kitchen.
Q: What's the first step in designing a green meal?
A: On the farm, we start the day with a list of what's in abundance, ripe, or ready for harvest -- a garden list -- and have a brainstorming session around that. Sometimes we also start with a recipe. Let's say I want to make falafel, and we don't have any chickpeas, but we have red kidney beans. If we know how to cook beans, then we can make something.
Q: What are your standby techniques for cooking seasonal foods?
A:You can do a lot if you know how to poach, braise, and saute. In the winter, I braise pork bellies with cider, onions, apples, and parsnips. For a lighter braise in the spring, I use chicken with white wine, stock, baby turnips and carrots, sunchokes, spring onions, and thyme.
Q: For people who can't make it to farm school, how can they live the lessons at home?
A:Tell a story about the food you buy, even if it's from the deli down the street and not a local farm. Find a connection to where the meat came from, or tell your family the history of chickpeas. It's not all about nutrition. Knowing the story of food makes you more aware.
Get an old-fashioned gobbler.
For Thanksgiving, consider ordering a heritage-breed turkey, one of the hardy, genetically diverse species bred before factory farms became the norm in the 1960s. When cooking a turkey raised free-range, as many heritage breeds are, Jurgensen suggests braising the legs (which are muscular and a little tough as a result of the bird's active life) to make them more tender and roasting the breast in the oven. For more information on heritage breeds, visit heritageturkeyfoundation.org.
Let nothing go to waste.
After the main event, Jurgensen suggests using turkey bones for a stock or soup, mashed potatoes for pancakes or shepherd's pie, and vegetables for a frittata (pictured above).