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ICT Foodshed Blog

Featuring articles and information about Wichita's local food scene.  

July 8 Market-to-Table Culinary Experience

Join us this Saturday, July 8 at 9:00 am for another culinary experience hosted by Krista of Eat REAL America and featuring Chef Bill Crites.

July 8 Menu

This week's Market-to-Table menu consists of: Simple Tomato and Mixed Herb Salad, Grilled Peach Panzanella, and Farmers’ Market Frittata. The Market will purchase most of the ingredients from vendors at the Market.

July 8 Guest Chef

We are excited to be cooking with Chef Bill Crites this week. Bill is the executive chef at 37West Café at Koch Industries global headquarters in Wichita, KS. Be sure to ask Bill about his signature recipe "Instant Karma" hot sauce! We visited with Bill about his perspectives on food. Check out his answers below:

What is your philosophy on food?

I really love the way that food is able to bring together diverse groups of people, how they can connect over a shared idea that something is good.  From a cooking standpoint, I'm conscious everyday of what I "think" I know, and what I know that I DON'T know.  I strive to stay as curious as possible, and push my own boundaries.  I think it's so important to always keep learning, and always keep questioning why it is that we perform certain tasks the way we do.  It's important to ask yourself if there is a better way, or a different way to achieve what you're trying to do.  From a culinary standpoint, I suppose my philosophy is this one simple distinction between flavor and taste.  Everything has it's own particular flavor; coffee has a flavor, granny smith apples have a flavor and it's different than a Fuji apple.  A lead pencil has a flavor.  The petal of a rose has a flavor.  When it comes to tastes however, there are only 4, or arguably 5... but we're all aware of salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.  When you are cooking, or creating, or dreaming up a new dish, you as the cook should know that what is truly important is the BALANCE of these tastes.  Textural contrast is important as well, but ultimately your goal should be on achieving a nice balance between salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.  Flavor-wise, you can almost go as crazy as you want... if you balance the TASTES, you'll find you can combine almost any flavors you dream of and be successful.  Balance is the key.

Where did your culinary passion come from?

It's difficult to say, but I have distinct memories from my childhood where I was strangely obsessed with food.  The first time I had a "French bread pizza" at age 5, I was blown away!  At the age of 6 on a trip to Chicago to visit my grandparents I was FAR more into the idea of staying home to watch grandma make macaroni and cheese than I was in going to a Cubs game.  It wasn't so much that hers was "better" than the stuff out of a blue box that my mom would make, it was just that it was "different", and I REALLY needed to know why it was different... why did Grandma's have a different shaped noodle, and different color cheese sauce, and why did the corners get so nice and crunchy and brown, and why did she cook it IN the oven, instead of on top like Mom did?  These thoughts weighed heavily on my mind!

When I was 12, we had a "career day" where you choose a profession you are interested in and spend the day following someone in that field... well I chose to follow a chef.  There wasn't a great deal of cooking going on at home, and I wasn't really "into" food by any means at all.  I was a very picky eater in fact, and most of the cooking at home was hamburger helper or other frozen quickly prepared meals.  I just loved "cooking"... not really eating.  I think I was drawn to the idea of making something special for people, and having them enjoy it.

What benefits do you see in using local ingredients?

First and foremost, usually the shorter the trip from the ground (or tree, or pasture, or bush, etc) to my cutting board, the better.  Most foods are full of volatile compounds that are literally just "lost" into the air over time... this is very evident with fresh herbs, and many other ingredients as well.  It's the nature of life that things break down over time, so the sooner I get my hands on it, the better.  I prefer to treat most fruits and vegetables simply... if I cook them, I tend to do so quickly and lightly in order to preserve their freshness and liveliness.  I like to retain some vibrant color, and also a pleasing texture if it's possible.  And on a broader level, using local ingredients means supporting local farmers, ranchers, and craftsmen.  Most cities have tight-knit bonds between those who cook, and those who supply the products, and in my experience (with literally no exceptions) the best food coming from the best chefs is ALWAYS from the people making a real effort to buy and use as much locally grown goods as possible.  If you start with mediocre ingredients, the best you could ever hope to end up with is a mediocre end product.  So it stands to reason that if you have the best ingredients you can procure (which is almost always going to be what you can buy locally... the best tomatoes don't come from Chile, they come from your backyard!) then all you have to do as the cook is not mess them up.  They're already great... just treat them simply and balance the tastes... you'll be golden!

 What inspires you about the local food and/or Farm to Table movement?

I've seen this scenario play out in a few cities now, and it's thrilling to watch Wichitans get excited and curious about the food scene, about the farmers producing in the area, and about the chef's trying to help tell that story.  It's always a slow game to play, and it takes a lot of work from a lot of people coming from different paths, but persistence and patience both pay off in the long run.  What we need are farmers who are passionate about what they do.  This isn't generally too hard to find... farming is hard, hard work.  I worked on and managed a farm in Austin for a year, so I've got first hand experience... but it is rewarding work as well.  We also need chefs to bring the same level of passion.  I hope that we are in the midst of a new generation of cooks who understand this ethos, and will truly apply it to the work we do.  If we are the example, and we make our food and ideas available to the public, and we put these hardworking farmers up on a pedestal and help spread their names... that's when you start building bigger crowds at the market.  People get inspired.  People get genuinely interested once they simply see how much better good local products can be.  We need to be the leaders, the teachers, and the ones setting the example, and it takes a lot of teamwork but I think we are moving that way, and I'm very excited to see this food community take shape and grow.

 What is your favorite in-season Market vegetable and how do you like to prepare it?

We're just getting into tomato season and I like to start playing around with those as soon as they pop up... I'm not particularly concerned with whether they are ripe or not.  Green tomatoes are excellent for making different condiments (I sometimes ferment them and turn them into a hot sauce, or make chow-chow, or pickled green tomatoes which are a real favorite of mine).  When they start to ripen, I like to cut asymmetrical shapes and make the simplest salad possible; salt the tomatoes with a nice flaky sea salt (I prefer Maldon brand) drizzle with a high quality extra virgin olive oil, a few drops of any vinegar (I'm partial to Sherry), and some small basil leaves (but right now you can use the flowers of your basil plants, or flowering parsley, or dill...)  Literally any herb you are growing or finding at the market right now would work very well with beautiful ripe tomatoes.  If  you are lucky enough to have too many tomatoes to handle there are some other clever things to do with them.  You can slice them in half and slowly dry them in the oven (or the sun) to put away in the pantry for later use, they can be smoked and made into a great salad dressing of their own (tomato salad with smoked tomato dressing?) or you can always find someone who wouldn't mind a bloody mary!  Seriously though, you can ask me to name my favorite vegetable... a truly impossible question for me!

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