indie farmer: tim stark
location: eckerton hill farm - lenhartsville,pa
recipe: farmer's tomato sauce
When I started growing chilis I remember reading Bobby Flay's cookbook and seeing all the things I could do with my poblano and serrano peppers. Roger Verge's cookbook was influential, he had a big garden in Provence, France. I just had this notion, I think it was sort of an autistic idea, of growing all these different colored tomatoes. I never knew they would be as popular as they have become.
Walter, my landlord in Brooklyn was a major culinary influence. He had this kitchen with all these utensils to cook with and I started making pesto...jellies...red pepper sauce. I would can chutneys.
What made you want to plant your very first heirloom tomato?
I planted this one called a Yellow Bell. I was making this red pepper sauce...it was a sweet pepper sauce, a spaghetti sauce. It had a lot of red, sweet, bell peppers in it. Then, I had these yellow bell peppers, too, that I was growing and I wanted to do a yellow pepper sauce so I grew a yellow paste tomato called Yellow Bell. I could mix them together and make a yellow pepper sauce. It was really unique. It was different. So, that's how I did the first ones.
It's kind of pitiful. I don't cook that much. I haven't for quite some time. There are recipes...I liked Deborah Madison'sGreens Cookbook. Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian is good. Madhur Jaffreys buys ají dulce peppers from me at my stand in Union Square. She calls this pepper the 'chili cachucha', which is the Cuban name. I know them as ají dulce, which is what they call it in Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
What is your favorite variety of tomato?
I love Sun Golds, a little cherry tomato. Cherokee Purple. Aunt Ruby's German Green is really awesome. I like Green Zebra a lot. At the right time, certain ones are good, the Striped German or the Hillbilly Tomato.
Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
I listen to a lot of classical music. Bach or Mendelssohn, occasionally The Pogues.
Favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
I always liked Stoudt's microbrews. Wine? I really like the Brunellos --the Sangiovese grape is good.
Favorite type of food?
I really like vegetables when they are done well. I really like something where they showcase the flavor of a vegetable, an excellent pea soup for instance. I've always liked Italian food. A good, well-made Parmesan of some kind, good tomato sauces. I love that Vietnamese restaurant in Reading, Hong Thanh, with the duck they do there.
Most memorable meal?
My wife and I and her parents, at the skybox in the kitchen at restaurant Daniel in New York. It was really nice. Alex Lee was the chef de cuisine there and I remember him coming over and shaving these white truffles over risotto. It was a seven-course meal with wine for each course. It made you feel really good.
Most memorable visitor at the Union Square market?
Lauren Hutton came to the stand. She was very energetic, really curious about the chili peppers. She went away and left her bags. She was very down to earth. I wanted her to try one of the Grenada seasoning peppers, I said you should really try this one, too, and she said..."just put it in my mouth"...I put it in her mouth and she ran away with her bags in her hands and this pepper in her mouth.
What makes indie food better?
That's what I'm all about, I think. If food doesn't have character, it's standardized whatever. Character comes from interpersonal relationships between chefs, farmers, workers —the restaurants I do business with, they tell me what they're doing with the stuff, they let me try it. I cut my zucchinis really small, I have to get more money for doing that. If you cut them big, you can earn more. In half a day they grow a lot. I cut them twice a day, in the morning and the evening. They are smaller but they're better...more tender...that's how they like 'em.
Tim Stark's memoir, Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer (Doubleday Press), will be out in June 2008. Click here to order the book on Amazon