BRADENTON -- For Jim Copening of Arts & Eats Restaurant and Gallery, the local farmers market does more than provide fresh ingredients.
It sparks culinary creativity.
"The market is my muse," the chef said while in the midst of morning prep work at his restaurant in the Village of the Arts. "There's no exact science to cooking, so you get inspiration from products that you see."
In keeping with that spirit, the Downtown Bradenton Farmers Market's organizers are introducing a free guest chef program starting Saturday. It will include tips on buying the best local ingredients for specialty dishes, as well as instruction on how to prepare them.
Some of the chefs from local restaurants will tour the market with attendees, demonstrating what to buy, why it's important to choose the correct ingredients, and how to create some of their favorite dishes.
The tours will begin 10 a.m. Saturdays at the Eat Well, Live Well booth on Old Main Street. After the tour, the chefs will prepare the dish, answer questions and provide samples.
Kevin Webb, creative services and market manager at Realize Bradenton, came up with the idea while hanging with his chef pals who operate eateries near his home in the Village of the Arts.
"It's an education thing, teaching people how to buy and cook healthy," Webb said. "It's about connecting the community to the restaurants that use really fresh, healthy ingredients. And it's good for the vendors, as people understand the importance of real fresh stuff straight from a local farm."
Copening will launch the series this Saturday with Asian vegetable fried rice -- or, as he calls it, "Burmese breakfast rice." Copening will use what he finds at the market, cook it in a wok and serve it up in a bowl with fresh citrus and a spice mixture.
"I'll go and look for greens and as many varieties, get some onions and all these things chopped into small pieces," Copening explained. "The wok is created to cook really fast and so you have to cut everything small. I'll be using canola oil. The basic seasoning is turmeric, salt and lime. The rest is about the vegetables.
"I want to make the onions really crisp, but also onions that are softer to cook into the rice mixture," he added. "Onions play a big part. I usually use shallot onions, but I'll get whatever they have at the market."
Copening will even make a concession to American breakfast traditionalists.
"I'll add an egg if people want," he said.
On Feb. 9, Marcus Anderson of the popular Farmers Market destination Split-Fire Grill, will be there at 10 a.m. to demonstrate how to make his famed grilled eggplant sandwich.
"We'll go to each vendor and pick out the ingredients and then go back to the tent, prep and cook it up for them," Anderson said. "The grilled eggplant sandwich features a half-dozen items from the market."
So, what inspired Anderson to create his grilled eggplant favorite?
"I came up with that sandwich just walking by the vendors at the market," he said.
Feb. 2: Asian Vegetable Fried Rice with Jim Copening from Arts & Eats
Feb. 9: Grilled Eggplant Sandwich with Marcus Anderson from Split-Fire Grill
Feb. 16: Stir Fry with Chef Schoonmaker from Second Street Bistro
March 2: Catch of the Day with Chef Gaetano Cannata from Ortygia Ristorante
March 16: Dublin Stir Fry and Corn Beef & Cabbage Roulades with Rom Marasinski, owner of Retro City
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057.Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.