This post comes to us courtesy of Monica Bennett, blogger at Just 5 More Minutes.
Here in Washington State you will find the San Juan Islands. Access to the islands is via ferry, and that experience is an adventure in and of itself — from the stunning archipelago landscape scenery to wildlife watching of porpoises, sea lions, eagles and if you are lucky, a pod of majestic Orca whales.
Not only are the San Juan Islands known as a paradise destination getaway, they are also known to many here in the Pacific Northwest as a farming mecca. The salty sea air and rich mineral laden soil create a harmonious environment for growing organic fruits and vegetables which are then harvested and brought to the markets, local restaurants and even schools.
Orcas Island (a.k.a. “The Rock”) is the biggest and hilliest of all of the islands and is where I met Farmer John of Maple Rock Farm one sunny and late afternoon. He was taking me on a personal tour of his farm, and I could hardly wait. The sun was beginning to set as we hopped into his white pickup truck and headed for one of his fields. Windows rolled down and country music playing from his radio, he began to tell me about his love for Orcas Island.
“It really doesn’t get any better than this,” he said, gesturing out the window at the beauty of the landscape. “The air, the environment, everything comes together to create the perfect place to grow.”
I couldn’t have agreed more. It was May, and rows upon rows I was greeted by the bright green colors of salad greens, spring garlic, fava beans and the like that were happily growing strong from the rich earth welcoming the warm setting sun. The fields were beautiful and impeccably maintained. No chemicals are used in these fields and for good reason. Organic is the only way to go here in the islands, and that’s something these farmers and locals are very proud of.
As we walked along the rows of vibrant veggies, Farmer John paused to pull up some salad greens straight from the ground and offered them up for tasting. I could immediately sense how proud he was of his fields and everything that goes into growing here on Orcas Island. It was also easy for me to see that providing the bounties of his farm to local restaurants, markets and schools made him very happy. Maple Rock Farm also operates a 60+ member CSA.
“We’re not striving to become a big production farm, but growth is inevitable as the community becomes increasingly aware of (and committed to) the benefits of eating locally, organically and seasonally,” he said.
When Farmer John and I said goodbye, I thanked him for showing me his fields and teaching me about Maple Rock Farm. It was truly an experience I will never forget. With that I left and headed into town to the New Leaf Café in the historic Outlook Inn for dinner.
I was very much looking forward to the “Farm to Fork” dining experience ahead of me, as the New Leaf Café sources their ingredients from Maple Rock Farm. Following my afternoon with Farmer John and seeing his beautiful fields full of vibrant green veggies, I could hardly wait to see what was on the menu.
During my travels some of my favorite people to meet are the talented chefs that source their ingredients from local farmers to create their masterpiece dishes. This evening I had the utmost honor to meet Chef Steve Debaste. Fortunate to live on beautiful Orcas Island with easy access to all varieties of fruits and veggies, he cooks with only the best-of-the best organic ingredients grown here.
To my surprise, the farmers here on Island are very much “plugged in,” meaning their organic fruits and veggies are all ordered online and either delivered by the farmers or picked up from the farms by the chefs themselves. Gone is the fairy tale vision in my mind of Chef Debaste leisurely perusing the veggie stands at the farmers market while happily and carefully picking out each veggie and gently placing his selections in his basket to be used in his menu that evening at the New Leaf Café.
Laughing, Chef Debaste said, “Oh Monica, but I still do that! It is just much easier for me to plan and prepare what our specials will be based on what the farms have available now or a week from now, and this is all found online.”
This evening Chef Debaste prepared locally caught and perfectly tender halibut with the most delicate and flavorful greens from Maple Rock Farm atop of bed of buttery, rich, fluffy whipped potatoes.
I am proud to share the recipe with you. Thank you, Chef Debaste! Of course, the ingredients mentioned below are from Maple Rock Farms; however, they are easily substituted with the veggies from your local farm. Here is a great resource to help you find a farm near you.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Steve Debaste, New Leaf Café at The Outlook Inn; Orcas Island, Washington
Grilled Halibut with Maple Rock Farm Greens and a Verjus, White Truffle Vinaigrette
4 each, 6 oz. halibut fillets
8 oz. Maple Rock Farm salad greens
Verjus vinaigrette (recipe follows below)
2 Tbs. melted butter
2 Tbs. toasted pine nuts
1 Tbs. chopped parsley
4 cups prepared whipped potatoes or wild rice
- Season the halibut with salt and pepper.
- Over medium high heat, grill four to five minutes per side (or until your preferred doneness) and set aside.
- Gently toss the salad greens in enough vinaigrette to coat the greens liberally.
- Plate 1 cup of whipped potatoes or rice in the center of your dinner plate.
- Place the dressed greens on the potatoes or rice.
- Place the grilled halibut on the salad greens and brush with melted butter.
- Garnish the plate with a circle of vinaigrette around the potatoes or rice.
- Garnish the halibut with pine nuts and chopped parsley.
Verjus, White Truffle Vinaigrette
2 cloves garlic
½ cup local Mt. Baker Vineyards Verjus
2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 cup canola oil
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white truffle oil
4 Tbs. chopped parsley
- Place all ingredients above into a blender and process until smooth.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
If you do visit the San Juan Islands, I highly recommend a visit to Orcas Island. The lifestyle of sustainable agriculture is felt throughout the air here, and the local folk are kind and helpful. Smiles are everywhere to be found; it is a place like no other. I promise you that.
About Farmer John:
After selling produce at the Orcas Island Farmers market over a decade ago, Farmer John realized his true passion for growing organic and beautiful fruits and vegetables was here to stay. He became inspired to start Maple Rock Farm, where he and his farming team enjoy growing and selling at the farmers’ market while mingling with the local folk here. He has cooked for the children of the Orcas Island with the “Farm to Cafeteria” program as one of their guest “Celebrity Chefs” and provides his goods to many of the local restaurants, markets and schools. You can find Farmer John every Saturday at the outdoor Orcas Island Farmers’ Market located in the quaint and beautiful town of Eastsound. Learn more about Maple Rock Farm.
About Chef Steve Debaste:
Spending almost every summer and holiday as a youngster in France with his parents, Chef Debaste holds fond memories revolving around the love of good food — from the Loire Valley in central France to La Rochelle along the Atlantic Coast and then to Paris.
His mother, a gourmet cook and nurse at the University of Washington’s Medical Department, held gourmet cooking classes in her home for fellow colleagues and doctors, with Steve always assisting. She also participated in several fundraising charity events where she prepared main entrees side-by-side world-renowned chef Julia Child. Steve was, again, right there by their sides.
“Being able to meet Julia Child was an incredible experience for me,” he says. “We made paella one evening for over 300 people, and it was amazing. After the event my mother was featured in the food section of the Seattle Times on the front page. I will never forget the experience.”
As for knowing what he wanted to be when he grew up? “I knew at a very early age that I would be in the restaurant business.” Chef Debaste says. “With all of my experience in my home kitchen or abroad in France with my parents, I had no problem at the age of eight handling a knife and sauté pan.”
Chef Debaste’s rich cultural background and culinary history clearly shows itself in the dishes he prepares. What a delight it was for me to be able to meet him and to be able to share his recipe.
About the author: Monica Bennett is the writer and photographer behind “Just 5 More Minutes – An Outdoor & Epicurean Travelogue,” in Seattle, WA. On weekends and holidays she and her family travel the Pacific Northwest via their beloved Airstream travel trailer experiencing outdoor and epicurean adventures. She enjoys meeting the local farmers in the areas she visits and then continues on to meet the talented chefs that source their ingredients from the local farms. She then learns the method and recipe behind the masterpiece dishes the chef’s create and shares them with her readers on J5MM. She also enjoys developing recipes of her own and sharing them as well using organic produce from the local farms in her area. Educating her readers about non-stop outdoor adventures and epicurean cuisine here in the Pacific Northwest through J5MM is her true passion.