Chef shows crowd benefits of cooking with local produce

As the cabbage crackled in Chef Michael Roddey’s saute pan at Saturday’s Central Kenai Peninsula Farmer’s Market, a crowd gathered.


Their eyes were on his pan because most had already had his pea and kohlrabi salad.

“Once they hear about the cabbage — oh my gosh — it’ll be pulling them off the street,” said the 41-year-old Roddey, of Fairbanks, from his cook tent.

Roddey, a professor of culinary arts and hospitality at University of Alaska Fairbanks, has been touring farmer’s markets on a USDA grant to promote local and sustainable produce. And he cooks solely with what he buys at the markets.

“The whole farm-to-table philosophy — that’s a big thing, that we start to lose touch with the farmers,” he said.

This approach to cooking, he said, encourages people to purchase their produce locally.

The only stipulation is people have to be satisfied eating what is in season, he said, that they can not have “raspberries 12 months out of the year.” 

“The wonderful grains that you’re seeing right behind you — they’re inherently great,” he said about the farmer’s market produce. “We don’t need to add a bunch of cream and a bunch of these seasonings and sauces to make it taste good. It already tastes good. All we need to do is emphasize that.”

When Roddey had finished cooking his sweet and sour cabbage, the crowd moved in for the free samples.

“I think whenever you add more local produce, it helps out everybody,” said Lloyd Schwartz, 40, of Soldotna, with an empty plate in his hand. “I’d love to see more events like this, so everybody can see how to cook like this.”

Before Roddey began cooking his cabbage, he toured the different vendors looking for produce that was in abundance, creating a menu as he went.

He only needed enough to cook samples for people; he wanted to leave the bulk of the produce for others to buy and cook at home. 

Aside from the cabbage, peas and kohlrabi, he also cooked a sweet onion and a jar of pesto from Mike O’Brien, 65, of Ninilchik; a jar of habanero apricot garlic sauce from Nicki Baier, 76, of Nikiski; and a bushel of kale and various smaller vegetables and spices from Carolyn Chapman, 69, of Soldotna.

“In some places where people have a warmer climate, it’s easy for them (to grow),” Chapman said. “They have this nice little micro environment where this little bubble of warmth is.”

Chapman, who has been involved with the farmer’s market for more than 21 years, said this is not the case for growing in Alaska — the long winter significantly shortens their growing season.

To solve this problem, she said she grows her produce in four whiskey barrels and two pop-up green houses.

To conclude Roddey’s farmer’s market tour, he will cook at the Willow Farmer’s Market on Aug. 10 and the Anchor Point farmer’s market Aug. 13 to demonstrate to others the versatility of local produce.

“We never know enough not to learn,” Roddey said.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at