Not a fan of tomatoes? Then you’ll want to turn the page, as this article is, unabashedly, one giant love letter to the summer staple.
“Local tomatoes are the quintessential ingredient to the summer season,” says William Dissen, executive chef and owner of the Market Place. “They’re bright, juicy, sweet and help make any dish more exciting.”
Dissen has teamed up with ASAP to throw a party complete with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a homegrown tomato contest this month, when ‘maters get the spotlight in ASAP’s Get Local campaign.
“This ingredient is my favorite to celebrate with Get Local because it’s an ingredient that everyone can relate to,” he says. “At some point in your life, you can remember that first time you sank your teeth into a fresh, ripe, heirloom tomato and it set you free.”
Phillip Gibson sure can remember. “My grandfather had roughly 3 acres right in downtown Louisville,” he says. “He had the best tomatoes. They were just incredible!”
That experience growing up, coupled with a realization that tomatoes are a constant in his family’s diet — from marinara sauce to salsa — led Gibson to start his own home garden in Candler.
“I’m taking some risks in my subdivision where there are typical manicured lots,” he says. “I’m really stretching the concept of what our neighborhood should be.” On a little less than 1 acre, he’s got 500 square feet of veggies from broccoli to squash planted. And, of course, tomatoes.
“I got my tomatoes from Red Wing Farm,” an Appalachian Grown certified farm in Swannanoa, he says. “I have seven different varieties — with a focus on ones to can, like Romas and Pearls — and 25 plants in total.” He’s pretty confident those plants are producing the best homegrown tomatoes, which is why he has already reserved his spot in the contest.
He shares all this not to intimidate other contestants — well maybe a little. But, he’s quick to point out that he’s new to gardening.
“Roughly a year ago, I started my planning and planting for the garden,” he says. He talked with local farmers, attended the Organic Growers School, and learned from websites, including the site of John Jeavons, author of the primer on Biointensive Mini-Farming. “His site helped me identify how many plants and what kind of space is needed for a family of four.”
Now, Gibson is already thinking of expanding his 500-square-foot growing space to around 2,000, and possibly offering a CSA or selling at local farmers markets.
How does your garden grow?
Whether your garden is where Gibson’s began or is headed, ASAP and the Market Place invite you to show off your tomatoes in their Homegrown Tomato Contest — held at the restaurant on Aug. 11, from 2 until 5 p.m. “We want to show reverence to the home gardener who toils in the soil before or after work just so they can taste the freshness of a homegrown tomato,” says Dissen. “We know there are special folks who are certainly growing tomatoes deserving of the crown of Best Homegrown Tomato!”
Contestants are invited to bring two of their very best tomatoes to be judged by a panel of local celebrities, including Leah McGrath of Ingles and a representative from local seed company Sow True Seed. Contestants can also bring a tomato gone slightly awry for judging in the all-in-good-fun ugly tomato contest. Tomatoes will be judged in categories from color to appearance, with taste carrying the most weight.
Prizes include a $100 gift certificate to the Market Place, $25 in Market Bucks to Asheville City Market, a pass for ASAP’s Farm Tour in September and more. Sow True Seed will also be on hand to provide gardening tips and resources.
Heirloom hors d’oeuvres
The entry fee for contestants is $10, but everyone is invited to join in and celebrate Get Local tomato month. Tickets for the general public are $20. A portion of proceeds will benefit ASAP.
What’s on the menu? Dissen plans to serve up tomato bruschetta with housemade ciabatta crostinis, local goat cheese tartlets with tomato jam and roasted red onion, gazpacho shooters with garden basil, and a tomato “eau de vie” cocktail. He’s got lots more up his sleeve, but “you’ll have to make it out to support local, homegrown tomatoes to see!” Dissen is currently serving local tomatoes on his menu from farms like Gaining Ground Farm, Green Toe Ground Farm, Firefly Farm, Full Sun Farm and Ten Mile Farm.
A spot in the contest and/or tickets must be reserved/purchased in advance. Contact the Market Place at 252-4162 or email@example.com.
The Market Place is located at 20 Wall St. in downtown Asheville; http://www.marketplace-restaurant.com. For Dissen’s tomato “eau de vie” cocktail recipe, visit ASAP’s community website FromHere.org. There, also find more details about Get Local. For farmers growing tomatoes and more restaurants serving them, browse ASAP’s Local Food Guide at http://www.appalachiangrown.org.
——Maggie Cramer is ASAPs communications manager; she can be reached at 828-236-1282 ext. 113 or Maggie@asapconnections.org.