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NEW YORK — For a green market chef in New York, come summertime, the living is easy.
Who wouldn’t choose a plump, resplendent tomato picked on Long Island and rushed to Manhattan over its fading cousin from a hot house? And who could argue with cooking seasonally and buying locally during blueberry season? While uber-chef Alice Waters and her ilk indulge their market politics year-round on the West Coast, those like Sara Jenkins, the innovative new chef at Patio Dining in the East Village, find shopping the farmer’s market throughout a northeastern winter to be anything but easy.
“This summer, I went through five pounds of asparagus a day,” says Jenkins, on a bone-numbing, hand-chapping December afternoon in Union Square. “I had to be careful not to come in here and buy everything.”
Where once there were perfect fava beans and tantalizing corn, now the stands are full of evergreen fronds and loads of apples from Red Delicious to Cortland to Fortune to Spigold to Mutsu.
“It makes it more challenging,” says Jenkins, who has been shopping the local markets three times a week since she came to Patio in March from Il Buco. She chooses buttercup squash and brussels sprouts to serve with baby shell pasta.
At the Blue Moon fish stand, 20 customers line up for the last of the striped sea bass. Stephanie Villani, who drives in at 4 a.m. from Mattituck to sell fish caught on her family’s boat, is headed South until March. “It’s your hands and feet that get cold,” she says, bagging fresh herring fillets, a huge piece of tuna, four pounds of monkfish liver, seven pounds of striped bass and four dozen Robin’s Island oysters for the chef.
Across the aisle at Violet Hill Farms, Jenkins’ “goose man” plans to stick it out in any weather. From the back of his truck he pulls out her two geese and two dozen eggs — his only eggs. “My chickens are on strike,” he says. “But I’ll be coming back every week if my truck doesn’t die, and I don’t get frostbite.”
The foodies hang out at the Cato Corners cheese tent and Rick Bishop’s potato stand next door. “You want to buy half a deer?” Colin Alevras, the chef at the Tasting Room, calls out to Jenkins. The two chefs sort through the ruby crescents and purple Peruvians that Jenkins will serve fork-smashed under the Long Island tuna with a cucumber and turnip salad. “You should have seen the looks I got last week stuffing a goat into my messenger bag,” says Alevras.
Jenkins, who describes her food as New American with a Tuscan flair, passes on the venison, picks up quince and heads to the Ronneybrook farm stand for butter to make a quince tart. “They keep saying it’s the last of the quince, but then they show up with more.” But it can’t last. What will the chef do when it all runs out?
“Well,” she says, “one of my thoughts is to drive up to Fairway.”