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Thursday, August 28, 2008

A meeting of the pastry and agricultural minds: Yard, Nathan and Pudwell stir our food passions

I recently attended a Farmer's Market lecture at the Santa Monica public library that featured pastry chefs Sherry Yard of Spago, Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon, and farmer's market vendor Py Pudwell of Pudwell Farms. It's difficult to put into words the amount of genuine energy and life that surrounded these people. Perhaps my perception had to do with the fact that two of my most favorite worlds, the farmer's market and the world of baked goods, were being celebrated in union-- a great meeting of the pastry and agricultural minds. But just as I was accusing myself of having overly romanticized notions about the entire event, Yard, Pudwell, and Nathan started to define for me, in their own words, how they wholeheartedly appreciate the intangible "magic" that is the farmer's market community. Between the panel of food lovers, they all described the genuine relationships built between farmer's and chefs. They talked about buying local from good people, people whose kids you see running around the market, people who can give you a vision of where the food you are buying originated--and then transforming ingredients from the market into a dish with real heart behind it.

Since working a stint at the Laguna Beach Farmer's Market, I had felt a sense of this farmer's market family, an idea of what goes on behind the scenes of a market and of the relationships that are built between local families, farmers, and chefs. It is something that seems both familiar and essential to me, but something I have never heard verbalized with such respect and reverence. Perhaps the most inspiring parts of the lecture surfaced when the three speakers reached harmonious agreement over the joys of their work: the satisfaction of making something with your hands, whether this meant growing nourishment in the soil you own, or taking the simplicity of a flour, sugar, and butter trio and transforming it into a complex and beautiful creation.

Perhaps the reason Pudwell, Yard, and Nathan were so engaging has to do with the fact that it is undeniably apparent they are in love with what they do-- they are busy, hard- working individuals, excited about the collaborations and creations of life and with good intentions for those around them. For example, one woman in the audience asked Yard how she would go about accommodating a dessert request for someone with a severe food allergy. Yard talked a lot about a la minute cooking, about the spontaneity and quick actions that are a part of her style-- and expressed a willingness to adapt her creations with this light-hearted response: "For the difficult, give me a second, for the impossible, give me a few minutes."

They all talked about how building relationships through the farmer's market has helped them at different times in their careers. It was inspiring to hear Pudwill talk about the success he has found as a farmer, starting out with a few acres of land and growing it into a thriving business supported by the Santa Monica community. In particular, he expressed his gratitude towards chefs such as Nathan and Yard that have continued to support his business and champion the farming community.

Yard, as down-to-earth as can be even with a few James Beard awards under her belt, reminisced humorously about her Brooklyn childhood during the lecture and stayed after to answer as many questions as possible, to the point that library officials ushered both her and adoring fans out the door-- including the book signature request fan, the very persistent pastry student seeking reassurance in her profession, and yes, even the bakery blogger that simply observed and took it all in while keeping her identity a secret!

While Yard had a magnetic draw, Nathan was equally as charming as she described her beginnings in the pastry world, her love for butchering in the early stages of her culinary career ("I loved butchering, and I was fast. If they could cut a chicken as fast as me, they got the job"), and her love for the market. According to Yard, Nathan's baked goods during Rustic Canyon's Saturday morning cafe style breakfast is a best kept secret in town. Fun, spunky, and passionate about food, it was fun to watch Nathan and imagine how it felt to sit on a panel with Sherry Yard, who it seems she admired from afar early on in her pastry days.

The only downside is that, for the good of the blog, I was so intrigued to observe the conversations happening around me that I missed the boat on most of the samples outside afterwards. I was hoping to try the cookies Yard mentioned but I should have known better, considering the audience at an event like this, that sampling ethics or niceties of any kind were out the window. I can't blame them for feasting...
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