With umbrellas unfurled, the group crept along like a giant turtle dropped in the middle of Arlington’s Farmers Market.
But at the center of the 20 or so shoppers, a woman wearing chef’s checked pants spoke quickly, dropping hints of food science, herbal history and kitchen wisdom.
Susan McCreight Lindeborg, head chef at the Majestic Café in Alexandria, came to Arlington Saturday morning, kicking off the Chef at the Market tours offered by the Arlington Farmers Market.
Future sessions will let shoppers watch chefs from Washington and Falls Church construct a meal out of ingredients available at the market. Lindeborg wasn’t offering cooking lessons Saturday morning, but she did offer shopping tips.
As the market tour began, Lindeborg pointed to a stall stocked with fresh herbs, singling out long stalks of rosemary. "It’s a very Mediterranean taste," she said. "The way we use rosemary in our kitchen is we marinate olive oil in it. Then we use it to cook tuna."
Rosemary sprigs steeped in olive oil lend their flavor to the oil, which is then heated over a flame. Then the chef turns the flame down and throws a tuna steak in the oil, letting the accumulated, not direct heat, cook the fish.
Vegetables attracted Lindeborg’s attention too, as she looked over the hothouse tomatoes available at some stalls. "In this part of the world, if you want corn or tomatoes, you have to wait for the Fourth of July," she told the crowd following her. "You’re coming to the farmers market to eat seasonally. So right now eat all the peas and strawberries you can."
<b>PEAS ARE A</b> market highlight at the moment. "Peas are one of the few vegetables – it’s not good to mention this at the farmers market – but peas are one of the few vegetables to freeze well," Lindeborg said. "Through most of their history, they were eaten dried."
She offered insights into the social code, as well. Looking at a bunch of asparagus, Lindeborg said the vegetable was especially wonderful. "It, along with bacon, is the food you can eat with your fingers. Emily Post says it’s OK."
But the walking tour wasn’t just a lecture. As Lindeborg discussed kohlrabi, a turnip-like vegetable, one woman posed a question: How would someone use the long, leafy greens atop the kohlrabi root? "You use the tops like any greens," Lindeborg said, wilted in a heavy pot and a little water.
There’s an explanation for some shoppers’ unfamiliarity with kohlrabi, the chef added. "I don’t use these very often in the restaurant because you, the customer, won’t eat them."
<b>SHOPPERS WALKED AWAY</b> from the tour with new knowledge of meats, cheeses and produce they might not have heard of, and Lindeborg’s recipe for poached asparagus.
But there were even more valuable tidbits, Dennis and Maura Powell said. The Alexandrians followed Lindeborg throughout the market, ignoring the rain, listening and asking questions.
The most important thing they learned, Dennis Powell said, was a piece of advice. "Don’t come to the market with an idea of what you’re going to buy," he said.
They’ll come back to the farmers market in July and August, when chefs from Equinox, in the District, and 2941, in Falls Church, will lead other tours through the market, said Maura Powell, and they’ll also likely head to cooking demonstrations as well.
"We know both those restaurants, and we want to hear what little tips on cooking they have to offer," she said.
<b>FOR LINDEBORG,</b> too, the farmers market tour offered a kind of revelation. She is usually too busy cooking for others to head to the market for herself.
She sometimes wanders through the Market Square market in Alexandria. But local markets pale beside the farmers market she discovered while working at a restaurant in Madison, Wisc., a market that filled the streets around the statehouse there for two blocks in all directions. "I would come to the farmers market to buy things to experiment," she said, which can sometimes lead her to a new farmer or merchant.
But she does follow the same advice at the Majestic that she gave the farmers market customers: Be ready to roll with the produce. "The menu is determined by what we can get," Lindeborg said. "I saw Swiss chard at a stall today, so I’m going to start asking for that."