Chef offers up advice on how to cook farmers market buys at home

Altoona dad and resident Ryan Michaels was pretty sure he wasn’t a fan of spinach, but he quickly became a convert during a cooking demonstration on a recent afternoon at the Altoona Housing Authority’s Pleasant Village pavilion, thanks to Chef Michael Roddey and the Juniata Farmers Market.

“All right, I like it,” Michaels said after tasting the spinach, noting he keeps an open mind and his palate has matured over the years. “There’s no bitter, which is what usually steers me away from spinach.”

Roddey, an Altoona native and an executive chef, lecturer and industry and educational consultant who has his own business, Gastronomic Services & Consulting, Duncansville, led three cooking demonstrations in Altoona last week as part of an outreach of the farmers market.

The goal was “trying to promote health and increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and support the local farmers,” said Pennsylvania Agriculture ombudsman Beth Futrick, who coordinates the Juniata Farmers Market.

The accomplished chef will also visit the market this season, she said. For updates on the market, check out its Facebook page.

Roddey’s food service career has taken him to different parts of the country, including New York and Alaska. He has also cooked for celebrities such as Kathy Bates, Chris Pratt and Jane Krakowski, and music legends The Beastie Boys, according to his website,

The demonstrations were a new endeavor this year, Futrick said.

Market customers will often ask vendors about what to do with a product, and while recipe cards are available, cooking “whole food we thought was a lost art,” with people, including the younger generation, not “cooking like they used to,” Futrick said.

The outreach was already on their mind when Roddey walked in a couple weeks ago offering up his services, Futrick said. He did similar demonstrations in Alaska.

Roddey brought a small pantry to the demonstration that included vinegar, oil, chipotle tabasco sauce, raspberry preserves, locally-made Clover Creek cheese, honey, Mrs. Dash for low salt or no salt flavoring, and salt and pepper; and fresh vegetables from the farmers market, including rhubarb, collard greens, leaf lettuce, scallion, and garlic scapes, which are the green stalks of garlic.

During the demonstration, Roddey offered up cooking knowledge and tips.

Produce from the market has a longer shelf life because it goes directly to the consumer, he said. Pantry staples don’t have to cost a lot either. Roddey bought his at a local discount store.

Roddey suggested taking a root-to-stalk philosophy, meaning using the whole vegetable such as with an onion that still has the green stalk on it. The greens can also add flavor to a dish, and throwing away part of the product is an unfortunate waste of money and food, he said.

The leaves of rhubarb are poisonous, however, and should not be eaten.

Roddey used oil sparingly during the demonstration.

Depending on what oil one uses, two tablespoons can add about 180 calories to a dish, he said. He suggested using condiments such as olives to add flavor to a salad instead of depending solely on dressing.

He didn’t cook any of the greens too long, lightly sauteeing them in order to keep the vegetables from turning mushy. The spinach he covered for a couple minutes to steam them, too.

He added seasonings in layers along the way to develop the flavor he wanted and before serving tasted the food to make sure it was where he wanted it. He suggested classic flavor profiles such as sweet and sour and sweet and spicy.

“You can always add, you can’t ever take it out” he said of seasoning the food.

Roddey wanted to take the fear out of cooking.

“You shouldn’t be scared,” he said. “If you have three (pantry staples) that go together, you can’t go wrong.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.