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Please pass the lavender
Special to the Sequim Gazette
Cooking shows today are hot (pardon the pun). Celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray are household names.
Not to be left out, Sequim has its own top chefs, some of whom will be cooking up a storm during the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire from July 15-17.
Lavender, of course, is the star ingredient for the culinary programs featured at the seven farms on tour.
Lavender, it turns out, isn’t just for perfumes, body lotions and pet products. Cooks frequently use the herb in favorite recipes, as will be demonstrated throughout the weekend.
Most folks who have visited Sequim during festivals celebrating lavender have ingested the herb, probably even without knowing it.
“Used in the right proportions and balance, lavender only enhances the flavor of dishes,” said Carmen Ragsdale, co-owner of Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm near Sequim, who admits to using lavender in “just about everything I cook.”
Ragsdale, one of the local “top chefs,” has written three cookbooks detailing how to cook with lavender. Ragsdale said she always cooked with herbs, and since lavender is an herb, she began experimenting with it in a variety of foods.
“My family were the guinea pigs; they would tell me if there was too much in the food,” she said.
A veritable walking encyclopedia regarding lavender, Ragsdale is quick to share what she knows and, during the Faire, will prepare lavender plank salmon and lavender focaccia bread.
What’s important, she said, is to make sure culinary grade lavender is used for cooking. This means the plant has been raised and harvested in a manner that makes it safe for human consumption, something that never has been treated with pesticides or other un-wanted chemicals.
Four types of lavender are used in cooking: Provence, Royal Velvet, Melissa and Munsteadt. All are grown on the farm, Ragsdale said, and “We make sure it is clean and safe for cooking.”
The farm tour culinary program isn’t limited to Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm. Five of the seven farms will host chefs for culinary demonstrations. Over at Olympic Lavender Farm, Sequim chefs John and David from the Garden Bistro will show visitors how they used lavender as a subtle ingredient in many of their dishes. Port Williams Lavender Farm hosts Bella Italia’s Chef Dave Senters, who will prepare lavender risotto featuring Port Williams’ own culinary lavender.
Other programs include Chef Dave Long of Oven Spoonful at Purple Haze Lavender Farm and at Cedarbrook Lavender & Herb Farm, chefs Shellie and Tracie will cook up a four-course lavender meal on the garden grill.
Back at Sunshine, two well-known chefs from the Seattle area will demonstrate the use of lavender in favorite dishes. Kathy Gehrt, author of “Discover Cooking with Lavender,” said she began using lavender in fresh foods in the summer of 2004.
“A chef I met that summer shared her enthusiasm for cooking with lavender,” Gehrt recalls. “Her inspiration set me off on an exploration of cooking with lavender that eventually resulted in publishing my book.”
Ragsdale began following Gerht’s success and eventually the two met, compared recipes and “hit it off.” Ragsdale said Gehrt is excited to come to Sequim to share her recipes using lavender.
Also appearing at Sunshine Farm is Chef Sarah Wong, a member of the staff of the Seattle Culinary Academy. Wong has a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a master’s degree in teaching from Seattle University and has worked as a sous chef at Café Flora, one of Seattle’s well-known vegetarian restaurants.
Working at Café Flora, she said, heightened her awareness of sustainable farming and the farm-to-chef connection, which she will share during her presentation.
“Cooking with lavender becomes a passion,” Ragsdale said. “It’s something everyone can enjoy.”
For a full schedule of the farm tour culinary program, see the official Sequim Lavender Farm Faire program or visit www.sequimlavenderfarms.org.
Mary Powell is the media coordinator for the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire.