SIOUX CITY | Even though the food world changes constantly, Chef Brett McCarthy is happy some things remain the same.
"In the old days, chefs didn't have set menus," he said. "Instead, they created their menus based upon what was fresh, plentiful and available to them on a particular day."
"That made food preparation more creative and challenging to chefs," McCarthy added. "It also made meals healthier and more delicious."
These are the types of tips that the Western Iowa Tech Community College culinary arts program coordinator shares with his students. But they are also rules that he lives by.
McCarthy said he regularly shops at Sioux City Farmers Market in order to spur his creativity.
"I come out there as many Wednesdays and Saturdays as I can," he said, perusing the various booths lined up in the Tyson Events Center's west parking lot. "You never know what you'll find from one week to the next."
On this particular visit, McCarthy found plenty of squash bottoms that he will use as an appetizer. He also purchased baby kale for a summer salad.
"You're also looking for great flavor combinations," he said. "For instance, I love pairing squash bottoms with ricotta cheese. In addition, kale and bacon play off each other well."
Always inquisitive, McCarthy said he asks growers about their produce.
"I'm from the East Coast but much my culinary tastes came from living down south," the Johnson & Wales University graduate said. "I love rhubarb but seldom saw it grown in the South. Yet, it seems to be in good supply in the Midwest."
McCarthy was told by the vendor that rhubarb grows best in the Midwest because it won't survive the hot, dry summers in the southern part of the country.
"That's another fun thing about coming to the farmers market," he noted. "You're talking to people who know their crops better than anyone else."
Plus you're able to save money when purchasing from the growers themselves.
"If you're buying butterhead lettuce from a store, you never really know where it came from," McCarthy said. "At a farmers market, you know exactly where the lettuce came from since you're talking to the people who grew it."
However, he's picking up much more than fresh produce.
"I come out here for eggs, honey, even dog treats," McCarthy said, putting products into an Iowa State University tote bag.
Indeed, many of his favorite farmers market stops include stands that sell homemade pastries as well as a food truck which had a lavender smoothie on its menu.
"I'm so happy to see how well the farmers market does every summer," McCarthy said. "We live in the heartland of the country and I'm pleased people are taking advantage of everything the Midwest has to offer."
He smiled while picking up his now overstuffed tote bag.
"It's easy to go overboard when making your purchases," McCarthy said. "But that's OK because nothing ever seems to go to waste."
Plus the fresh finds always provide food for thought for an inventive chef.
"One ingredient leads you to another ingredient which leads you to create another recipe," McCarthy said. "That's the fun part about going to a farmers market."