A Considerable Loss

In April of 1994, the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival featured some of the nation's top women on their annual panel of celebrity chefs. One of those women was Catherine Brandel, then executive chef at Berkeley's famous Chez Panisse restaurant. In the early days of that landmark American restaurant, Brandel created the job of forager, scouting out the best foodstuffs the San Francisco Bay Area had to offer. Along the way, she encouraged small family farmers to grow specialty produce for Chez Panisse and provided unwavering support for emerging farmers markets in California and around the nation. She progressed to the position of chef, creating many signature dishes at a restaurant that had an immeasurable impact on American dining in the1980s and 1990s. She was an early member of Chefs Collaborative 2000 and a tireless advocate for organic growers and small farmers. A consummate teacher, Brandel left Chez Panisse in 1994 to become a founding member of the faculty at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus in St. Helena, California, where she was able to share her passion for fresh, seasonal, locally grown organic produce with a generation of budding chefs.

During her visit 1994 visit to Austin, Catherine Brandel sought out some small Austin growers. I will never forget Brandel's joy and enthusiasm as she photographed the various projects at Carla Marshall's award-winning Green Classroom at Becker Elementary. At the time, she and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters were trying to get a garden project started on the campus of a junior high school in the neighborhood near the restaurant and Brandel wanted the photos for inspiration. Later that day, she walked the rows of Boggy Creek Farm with Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, asking questions about local crops and discussing the all-important farmer/chef connection. Larry Butler still quotes Brandel posing the question, "How can chefs prepare a great meal with produce that's one to two weeks old?" She made an indelible impression on all of us who met her on that visit. Catherine Brandel died of cancer two weeks ago at the young age of 56. At a time when too many food professionals merely pose as advocates for causes in order to build name identification, Brandel was the genuine article. Her early death represents a considerable loss.

Busy Farmers Markets

The best way to honor Catherine Brandel's memory would be to go out and shop at one of our many local farmers markets this weekend. There might still be some blackberries around, tomatoes are here in all their glory, and the first cling peaches are showing up. The five markets supported by the Sustainable Food Center (385-0080) in east and southeast Austin are open from now until September. Contact coordinator Efrain Alvarez for locations and hours of operations. The Westlake Farmers Market (Westlake High School parking lot) is open Saturday 10am-1pm, the Wednesday afternoon farmers market at the downtown Whole Foods store is open 2-6pm, the South Austin Farmers Market (2910 S. Congress) is open Saturday 9am-1pm, the farmers are back at Austin's Historic Farmers Market (6701 Burnet) on Saturdays and, as always, Boggy Creek's farmstand is open Wednesdays and Saturdays 9am-2pm.

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