Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chef Mark Picone

When I first started selling my vegetables some 13 years ago in CSA fashion, I heard other growers I encounter talk about the difficulty of dealing with chefs. You know. The tempers, the egos, the...well....cheapness. They wouldn't pay, they wouldn't buy from you reliably, so you really couldn't make any money.
I thought that was really something I needed to avoid. After a career as a social worker dealing with difficult people, I just didn't need it. Been there and done that. I just wanted to feel the love.
I guess the thing is, no matter what you do, it isn't always right for everybody. I had people join the CSA and love it, and some didn't find it fit their needs or lifestyle.
What I have found out is that chefs are really not that horrible or difficult, and some of them are actually just darn nice people.
Pictured above inspecting the greens with students from Niagara College is Mark Picone. He is one darn nice guy.
We have things in common, he and I. He grew up in Dundas. I grew up not far from there, and went to high school in the Valley Town.
I often remember popping into his family's specialty food store in Dundas and buying some delectable treats. Amazing quality. It is still there.
Mark is always enthused when I talk to him. He is a professor at Niagara College in the Culinary Arts program, but also operates an exclusive culinary studio for intimate meals at his country home in Vineland.
He was for years the executive chef at Vineland Estates Winery in Niagara. Mark is an extremely talented and knowledgeable chef.
He often will send along an email asking if I know of a certain fruit, vegetable or even edible flower. So the search begins to find seed for it and see if I can grow it. Sometimes it works! To wit: this year I have Schezuan Buttons! But that, of course , is another story. (NOT what Mark expected, but a curiosity all the same).
He loves walking through the garden, tasting and commenting, always imaging how he can use whatever he finds that he enjoys. His enthusiasm for what he does stands out.
But really from my point of view, his respect for what I do honours me and humbles me. We learn from each other and it has become a relationship that I value greatly.
If you are in Niagara, or planning a visit soon, book a visit to Mark well in advance.
Be prepared for the meal of a lifetime. And an amazing education!


inhabiting_trees said...

He's a cool dude, I've seen him around the school. I didn't know the NC students came to your place, do the greenhouse or hort students ever visit?

Linda said...

No, they don't...I think that would be cool if they did.
I also go into the College to speak to the 2nd yr Culinary Arts students.
Yup...Mark is great.