WHEN: Thurs, Oct 21st, 6–8pm
WHERE: Purcell Murray’s Southern California kitchen
Amelia took a break from perusing the market to answer some of Purcell Murray’s burning questions.
PM: What initially sparked your interest in culinary history? Was cooking/the stories behind food a big part of your early life?
SALTSMAN: I’ve always been interested in the roots of a recipe. Culinary history is like family traditions on steroids; not only do you get a sense of what your own family has cooked through the generations and why, you also come to understand how those traditions fit into the bigger picture, historically, geographically, and culturally. Any time we add context to our food, we enrich our cooking experience. This is certainly true when we connect with the people who grow our food. Simply roasting a deep orange, sweet-as-candy carrot can be a richer dish when we take a moment to think about the passion and hard work that went into giving us something so delicious.
PM: What was it about the Santa Monica farmer’s market that inspired you to write a cookbook?
SALTSMAN: So many people are enthusiastic about the idea of shopping at farmers’ markets but overwhelmed by all the choices and wondering how to shop, choose, prepare what they find there. The market experience has changed my own (and my family’s) life for the better—easier, healthier, more delicious and exciting cooking, creating a sense of community, and the opportunity to connect with the people who grow our food. Those things enrich all our lives in so many ways. I wanted to share that with readers. I wrote the book to celebrate the farmers, and the amazing produce, meats, poultry, eggs, and cheeses they produce, and to encourage readers everywhere to tap into their local markets.
PM: Why is it important for people to take advantage of fresh/seasonal/local ingredients?
SALTSMAN: Simply put: Flavor, health, price point, value for dollar, supporting our local economies, and supporting and protecting the environment, farmland and biodiversity.
PM: What’s your general M.O. when you head to a farmer’s market? Do you have a system? In other words, do you look for staple ingredients first and then search for ‘goodies’? Or do you have certain vendors that you always look for?
SALTSMAN: Everything at the market is a goodie; that’s what’s so great about it. Even humble ingredients like potatoes, carrots, and broccoli really sing when they have been grown for flavor first and picked at peak. I don’t come with a firm list, but have learned what to expect is in season. Over the years, I’ve learned where I can expect to find maximum flavor. If I know something might sell out quickly, I’ll make a beeline there first, otherwise I head for various stalls but keep an eye out for unexpected surprises.
PM: How can people who don’t have access to farmer’s markets still model their cooking after those who do?
SALTSMAN: Cook what’s in season. Relearn what’s in season and buy that—it will be best-priced and best-tasting. At the back of my book, I’ve included a list of crops by the season to make it easier to know what to look for. Here’s a tip: ‘Locally grown’ means in it’s in season; start reading the produce ‘labels’ at your supermarket to see where and how things are grown. We’ve gotten used to reading labels on packaged goods; I think it’s a good thing that larger stores are working to better inform their customers about fresh foods as well.
PM: Who and what inspires you, both in the kitchen and just in general?
SALTSMAN: My family and friends inspire me—I love to cook for people, and I also love “channeling” my grandmothers’ great cooking abilities. I like to think I’m a link in that culinary chain. As for what inspires me, no question; the amazing fruits, vegetables, meats, etc I find at my farmers’ market. The ingredients tell me what to do; I just listen and try to keep things as simple as possible to let their terrific flavors shine through. Those are the kinds of recipes we all need in this busy world of ours—easy and full of flavor.
PM: Describe your dream kitchen.
SALTSMAN: I’m lucky enough to have it: good work triangles; lots of drawers that I can look down into to reach what I need at a glance instead of having to poke around in a deep dark cupboard; high BTU burners, dependable ovens (I love my convection oven!) indoor grilling capability, strong ventilation, and lots of natural light. But the most important thing to me is having a communal work and gathering space; I love to cook with friends or at least have friends gather around my work space while I cook and we chat and sip wine.