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'Chef Pairings' series to debut at St. Paul Farmers' Market on Saturday

The chefs' potential supplies, provided by the bounty of local farms at the market

The chefs' potential supplies, provided by the bounty of local farms at the market David Hunter

After priming our collective palates when summer was still gearing up, the first “Chef Pairings” installment will begin at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market this Saturday, July 20, helmed by chefs Yia Vang (of Union Kitchen) and J.J. Cachuela (of Parlour). 

In advance of the event’s debut, we spoke with market collaborator, chef and restaurateur Tim McKee about his brainchild. “I wanted to highlight the offerings at the farmers market and get a couple chefs who haven’t worked together [before] and see what they come up with in a collaboration, using the farmers market products,” he explained.

The farmers’ market got a new grill this year, and Chef Pairings will find some of the Cities’ most respected culinary artists putting it through the ringer. Everything at the event is cooked on-site, at the market itself – not par-baked or hauled-in. Right then and there, farmers’ market customers will be able to purchase and consume dishes as fresh as the produce used in their creation.

Just a few days beforehand, the chefs’ plan was still coming together. “We don’t have all the details… But they’re going to use some flank steak from Grass Run Farms, grill that in Sichuan peppercorns and an assortment of vegetables from the market,” said McKee on Wednesday afternoon. He also mentioned a dill and mint yoghurt, as well as a vegetarian option still in the works. Radishes, onions, cilantro, and basil from farmers Max Vang and Vue Xiong were expected, but not certain, ingredients to this week’s feast.   

More than testing out the market’s brand new grill, using the freshest ingredients in the hands of the Cities’ most skilled chefs, McKee sees the tag team approach to cooking at the farmers’ market as providing an unexpected opportunity for a boundary-pushing.

“When you’re collaborating with someone else, it sort of forces you to think differently. It changes the way you do things in a cool way, and I love to see that from chefs.” McKee was talking about how, at some point, the kitchen becomes its own comfort zone, with a built-in sense of control. “Plus, maybe some of the people who go there follow what Yia does and maybe don’t know what JJ does. So a lot of doors get opened.”

The market's first Chefs Pairing features J.J. Cachuela of Parlour and Yia Vang of Union Kitchen

The market's first Chefs Pairing features J.J. Cachuela of Parlour and Yia Vang of Union Kitchen instagram/ @stpaulfarmersmarket

Though the roster of guest chefs isn’t set in stone for the future, Minnesota’s growing season still has a lot of life left in it. “We should definitely be able to through September.” That means a lot of (tasty) innovation and boundary-pushing, even as the seasons begin to change. 

St. Paul Farmers’ Market
290 5th Street E., St. Paul
July 20, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. + every third Saturday monthly