Showcasing the goods
August 13, 2004
For most people, that would be a pleasant experience, but for Weaver it's frustrating.
"I see all that lovely fresh produce and I can't easily get my hands on it," said Weaver, executive chef and owner of Tre Piani Restaurant in Plainsboro.
Most farmers belong to co-ops, and their fresh fruit and vegetables are shipped from the Garden State to serve markets in New York and Philadelphia, Weaver said. Food markets closer to home often have difficulty getting their hands on fresh supplies. Recently, he and other restaurant owners met with farmers to discuss how they could better connect with one another.
They will come together again this weekend at the Jersey Fresh Wine and Food Festival at Mercer County College.
"This event is a celebration of our state's fresh produce," said Weaver, who coordinated the food aspect of the event that's co-sponsored by the Garden State Wine Growers Association, the New Jersey Restaurant Association, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, and the Central New Jersey Chapter of Slow Food.
"Last year, we only had four restaurants participating and this year we have 12 - all high-caliber with an interest in using fresh food," said Weaver, founder of the Central Jersey Slow Food Chapter, a non-profit organization that serves to promote and protect small food producers making quality products. The founding organization was established in Italy in 1986 in response to the opening of the first McDonald's in Rome.
The festival, held under tents rain or shine, offers visitors a chance to sample dishes prepared with fruit, vegetables, seafood, chicken, and meats all grown or raised locally. Most of the dishes will be available for purchase and chefs will give cooking demonstrations. Seminars and tastings conducted by 17 state wineries will feature award-winning wines.
Other highlights include presentations by the New Jersey Mycological Association as well as honey producers. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will sponsor fresh food tasting in one tent, while a neighboring canopy houses a farmers' market with plenty of produce for sale.
Book signings by cookbook authors will take place throughout the weekend. June Jacobs, chef and author from Hoboken, will serve bittersweet brownie bites featured in her book, "Feastivals Cooks at Home." Giovanna Bellia La Marca of Cliffside Park, author of "Sicilian Feasts," will demonstrate and talk about dishes from her native Sicily. La Marca, a big supporter of the slow food movement, will focus her presentation on cooking with fresh produce.
One recent morning at his restaurant, Weaver welcomed with open arms a local market gardener, Michael Brown, who was bearing a basket of heirloom tomatoes, basil, and mulberries.
"My maitre d' is from Naples, and when he saw the fresh produce he got so excited," Weaver said.
Brown, a middle school teacher, uses his free summers to pursue a passion for gardening and make a little extra cash on the side.
"I'm in a great position because I have a suburban back yard close to restaurants and organic stores," said Brown, who will sell figs and fig trees at the festival. "I can offer them food right from the garden."