Farmers’ Market Serves Up Top Chef Battle

The Westport Farmers’ Market is 12 years old — and wildly popular.

Every Thursday from May through November throngs fill the Imperial Avenue parking lot, on a hunt for fresh produce, meat and fish, baked goods, even pizza, tacos and dog food.

But the Market always looks to add spice to its spices, herbs and more.

So — even though the Westport Farmers’ Market is a community celebration, not a competition — they’re introducing a Chef of the Market contest.

Starting this Thursday — and running once a month through the fall — 12 well-known names battle it out through an opening round, semifinals and finals. The winner will be, I guess, the chief chef.

The brainchild of board member — and no-slouch-himself chef Bill Taibe — works like this.

On the 3rd Thursday of each month, 3 chefs go head-to-head-to-head.

At 10 a.m., they get $20. They have 45 minutes to shop for ingredients, cook, and present their appetizer-size dish to the judges. PS: Electricity is not allowed.

In keeping with the fun theme, judges are randomly selected from any shopper who wants to participate.

In 2015, chefs prepared a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. This year, they’ll compete against others. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

The first round runs through August. The winner of each group moves on to the semifinals, the 3rd Thursday in September.

Finals are set for “Fork it Over,” the Westport Farmers’ Market annual October fundraiser.

All chefs donate one $50 gift certificate from their restaurant. The winner gets every gift card — so he can enjoy his competitors’ meals yet not pay for them — along with other prizes.

The early chefs — particularly those tomorrow — have it tough. They can’t choose from flavorful snap peas, strawberries or squash. However, Taibe is sure they’ll do imaginative, tasty things with this month’s bounty, like radishes and kale.

Fresh produce is one of the Westport Farmer’s Market’s most popular attractions. Chefs competing in this year’s competition know exactly how to prepare it. But can they shop for it — and finish their dish — in just 45 minutes?

All 12 chefs gathered at the Market last week, to pick their dates out of a hat.

There was already smack talk — including between the chefs at Taibe’s own Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall, all of whom are competing. Other Westport chefs represent The Cottage, OKO, Match Lobster Burger and Amis.

There’s chatter on social media too.

Starting Thursday, the rest of us can see where it all leads.

Let the Chef of the Market games begin!

Chef competitors include: May 24, Geoff Lazlo, Ben Freemole, Christian Wilki; (June 21) Matt Storch, Jeff Taibe, Adam Roytman; (July 19), Jonas/Brad, Anthony Kostelis, Anthony Rinaldi; (August 16) Nick Martschenko, Dan Sabia, Carlos Baez.

14 responses to “Farmers’ Market Serves Up Top Chef Battle

  1. Adam Vengrow

    looks very cool! thanks Dan, so not tomorrow but Thursday right? awesome!

  2. Linda Stein

    Really Dan, no women on the list?

    • Linda, I did not make up the list of contestants. I just reported it.

    • Lori Cochran

      Hi Linda, Lori here. Director of WFM. Multiple women were asked and all declined to join this year. I bet with the success we will see them next season. We have many women chefs who support the market in so many ways and are equally celebrated. Hope to see you on Thursday.

  3. Eh, in a community where most are commuting to Manhattan I never understood why they would have the farmers market on a Thursday morning/afternoon.

    • Jean Marie Wiesen

      Nov to May, it’s on Saturday.

    • It’s packed every Thursday — plenty of people. And, interestingly, I’ve seen a statistic that more people now commute into Westport than commute out of here.

    • Lori Cochran

      Hi Seth. While we will miss you on Thursdays through Nov, we move to Saturdays and indoors through March. Hope to see you then! Also, New Canaan and Fairfield both have weekend markets. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Linda Stein

    Dan, I knew you hadn’t made up the list, I was just surprised that you hadn’t made note of that fact that there were no women

    • I was surprised myself. But this story was not the place to make note of it. I did figure that someone would, in the comments section!

      • Lori Cochran

        Hi Dan and Linda, just want to ensure you have read the above note from WFM. Multiple women chefs were invited to attend. They either did not respond or declined. With any luck, next year they will have more time to join in. Feel free to reach out to me directly for further details. See you on Thursday!

    • Robin Benson

      It’s hard to have room for women chefs when you need to set aside four slots for one restaurant proprietor, Linda!

      I’m still confused as to why the market hosts events at a nationally owned chain that doesn’t source locally. Though they tend to represent their preferred local restaurant proprietor at those events, too. (Given the politics of the Anthropologie/Terrain ownership, it is especially ironic.)

      • Lori Cochran

        Hi Robin, Lori here.

        I am not sure about the four slots you are referring to but yes, we did offer the cooking competition to both the Terrain Cafe chef and Amis among another 25 chefs. The Amis chef chose to participate.

        Terrain Cafe heavily supports our local farmers and this farmers market throughout the year. Amis has a new chef that I have personally seen buying from our farmers, as well. We appreciate the support and energy Terrain has put forth to help spread the word for our farmers and farmers’ market. We will continue to celebrate the growing community support both from residents, companies and organizations – it takes a village.