9 Farmer's Market Secrets From Top DC Chefs

By Rina Rapuano  |  April 21, 2014

When we imagine chefs, they're usually in crisp white jackets - and in the kitchen. But when there's a farmer's market right outside of your restaurant, no chef worth his or her salt could resist the allure of just-off-the-truck produce, meats and cheeses at their doorstep. And lucky for us, these ultrafresh ingredients are making their way onto some of the city's best menus.

In fact, chef Aaron McCloud of Cedar works Thursday evening's specials around what he finds at the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market - meaning Thursdays from now through November are perhaps the best night of the week to dine out in Penn Quarter. Here are nine ways local chefs are using their favorite farmer's market finds. 

  • Todd Gray, Chef-Owner of Equinox Restaurant

    Item: Radishes from Mount Pleasant Farmers Market
    Dish: Whitefish salad
    Cost: It's a happy-hour dish available from 5:30-8 PM weeknights for $5.
    Good to Know: Chef Gray loves how radishes give flavor to so many things, plus they store very well and look beautiful when you use a mandolin to make elegant matchsticks.

    818 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-331-8118

  • Michelle Poteaux (Center), Pastry Chef/Co-owner of Bastille

    Item: Blackberries from Westmoreland Berry Farm at Mount Vernon Farmers Market
    Dish: Blackberry bavarois with chocolate meringue, blackberry puree and housemade blackberry chocolate chip ice cream
    Cost:  $9
    Good to Know: Look for plump but firm berries. Washing them makes them spoil faster; instead, line a plate or sheet pan with a damp paper towel or cloth to prevent molding and crushing.

    1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria; 703-519-9110

  • Credit: Greg Powers

    Frederik De Pue, Chef-Owner of Table

    Item: Baby zucchini from Garner's Produce at the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market
    Dish: Baby zucchini stuffed with ratatouille served with Swiss chard and prosciutto
    Cost: $18 (when zucchini are in season later this summer)
    Good to Know: Always look for vibrantly colored zucchini that are nice and firm with no punctures.

    903 N St. NW; 202-588-5200

  • Credit: Scott Suchman

    Matthew Britt, Chef at Ceiba

    Item: Ramps from Ash Creek Farms at the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market
    Dish: Achiote-spiced gnocchi with ramps, goat cheese, pepitas and sage butter
    Cost: $17
    Good to Know: Buying in bulk allows you to negotiate the price. The ramps from Ash Creek Farm are harvested only when they are ready and perfect, and they sell them in wild form, so they haven't been peeled or altered.

    701 14th St. NW; 202-393-3983

  • Dimo Kolouas, Chef at Tel’veh Café & Wine Bar

    Item: Spring onions from Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market
    Dish: Eggplant spread
    Cost: $6
    Good to Know: Make sure to look for a vibrant, bright color, and a just-picked aroma. To store, wrap the entire thing in a slightly moist paper towel. 

    401 Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202-758-2929

  • Credit: Scott Suchman

    Chris Hutcheson, Pastry Chef at District Commons

    Item: Blueberries from Blueberry Hill at the Foggy Bottom FreshFarm Market
    Dish: Oatmeal Blueberry Pie (coming soon)
    Cost: $8
    Good to Know: Always ask to sample the produce before you buy, and never buy from someone who won't let you taste in advance. For storing, you want to minimize moisture as much as possible as that promotes mold growth with berries. Store the berries in a single layer in your fridge with a towel placed on top to absorb any excess moisture.

    2200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-587-8277

  • Credit: Jason Varney

    José Andrés, Executive Chef/Owner of Zaytinya

    Item: Shepherds Manor Creamery ewe crème from Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market
    Dish: Smoked fresh sheep’s milk cheese, Attiki honey, black pepper
    Cost: $9
    Good to Know: This cheese is only available from early spring until around Thanksgiving, and the aroma changes seasonally with the diet of the sheep. Andrés says you can use it like you would ricotta - “it makes an unbelievable lasagna with ground lamb” - and it can be frozen with minimal impact on its flavor.

    701 Ninth St. NW; 202-638-0800

  • Amy Brandwein, Chef de Cuisine at Alba Osteria

    Item: Blue Ridge Camembert-style cheese from Everona Dairy at Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market
    Dish: Panna cotta with saba and figs
    Cost: Part of the $80, six-course chef’s bar dinners on Thursdays
    Good to Know: Brandwein loves that it’s a blue cheese made of sheep’s milk, which is less common, and that it has good melting properties.

    425 I St. NW; 202-733-4454

  • Aaron McCloud, Chef of Cedar

    Item: Evensong Farm's spring chicken at Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market
    Dish: A Thursday special of roasted Evensong's spring poulet rouge with English pea puree, grilled asparagus and a salad of sorrel and roof herbs
    Cost: $28
    Good to Know: Talk to the farmer about what's going on at the farm - they can tell you the best items they have. (It's not always the expensive stuff, either.)

    425 I St. NW; 202-733-4454