Posted on Tue, March 24, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
1 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Books, Farms and Farming,
Today I’m interviewing Poppy Tooker. Poppy is the founder of Slow Food New Orleans, a chef, a food activist, the chair emeritus of Slow Food USAs Ark of Taste Committee, and the author of the just-released Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook
among other things. I mean, what hasn’t this woman done?
The book is self-published by marketumbrella.org, an independent New Orleans-based non-profit that brings vendors and shoppers together to preserve local culture, generate wealth and support the local economy, with its central axis being the Crescent City Farmers Market. When you buy your copy of the book from marketumbrella.org, not only will 100% of net proceeds go to benefit the work of marketumbrella.org; in addition, you can request that Poppy personalize your book with a message!
Q: Reading the cookbook, I was struck that what you have there in New Orleans is not just a market, but a community built around food. Can you tell us a bit about that community, and how it came to be?
Tooker: People in New Orleans truly live to eat. When visitors come to the city they find that hard to believe…Ive had people say that they just stand still on a street corner and listen to the conversations of people as they walk by and what they are all talking about is food. As arguably the greatest food city in the US, it goes hand in hand that we would also care about where our food comes from.
Richard McCarthy [Executive Director of marketumbrella.org] knew that we needed a real food market that could create a real sense of community, more than a place to just buy food. We created guidelines that in order to be part of our market, you have to produce the food that you bring, and we only sell food at our market. The farmers from the Northshore were very suspicious about coming across the lake, but Richard sweet-talked them and that is how our little food community began.
Marketumbrella is a social justice program that reaches out to care for and tend to any one who needs it, from the cradle to the grave. Our motto is: Market. Mentor. Mobilize. The thing that I am most proud of is our alternative currency systemour wooden token system that turns plastic EBT into wooden tokens that are easy to use and easy for farmers. We are constantly innovating new ways to reach the community. We have a sort of food Bingo that is a gentle way of talking about food and health for senior citizens that we take into a lot of the retirement homes, encouraging them to come to the Crescent City Market. On Tuesdays we have buses of senior citizens who come. They, and low-income people, can use their government dollars there with no stigma.
Even now we are signing up babieswe are getting them from birth! We have a marketeers bib for community members who have babies, making them a part of the community right from birth.
Q: You are a chef, and there are several recipes in the book that you have contributed. How did you decide which dishes you would weigh in on and when you would step back and let others take the reins?
Tooker: This book is a 13 year collaborative effort. From the earliest days, we had a Chefs Corner sponsored by the Tabasco company. All of the best chefs in the city wanted to come and be a part of the Chefs Corners, and John Abajian made sure that he got a written copy of the recipe and a signed permission slip. Consequentlythere were things that had never been transcribed electronicallyand when I started this book I got a huge file box from the market full of recipes from people, even dead chefs, who we really, really loved, like Jamie Shannon, who followed Emeril into the Commander’s Palace kitchenhis Gumbo Ya Ya recipe was actually written out longhand. It was such a bitterwsweet trip down memory lane. There are a lot of recipes by market shopperswe dont even know who wrote them! So much recipe talk gets done between shoppers and vendors, shoppers and volunteers, shoppers and shoppers.
This book is not about Poppy Tookers food, its about Poppy Tookers market. I have about a dozen recipes in there, and they are in there because it is directly tied to an event that happened at the market. For example the callas recipe. Jim Core was one of our original vendorsthe first time the market came together to help one of our own was when Jim nearly severed his foot with a horse drawn plough, and chefs from all over the city came and sold their food at the market for a day and raised 20K to help Jim with his medical expenses, and I was there making callasand thats why that recipe is in the book.
Its not just he history of our marketand the stories of our 65 vendorswhen you tell those stories you find that there is great tragedy and pathos. This is the cookbook that will make you cry without onions. But it all ends happily with 125 recipes that work!