Taste of the Market Breakfasts Ease Winter’s Wrath

Taste of the Market Breakfasts Ease Winter’s Wrath
Last weekend's Taste of the Market Breakfast was a benefit for REAP Food Group. It was prepared by Chef Tory Miller, Chef Lisa Jacobson and students from Sherman Middle School and East High School.

Madison is known for its burgeoning restaurant scene, but some of Madison’s best culinary secrets are tucked away in the least likely places. Every Saturday morning from January through mid-April, the Madison Senior Center is home to the late winter Dane County Farmers’ Market. The Taste of the Market Breakfast has been a late winter market tradition since 2003. Volunteers, chefs and cooking groups take over the center’s kitchen to cook up a delicious vendor-to-table breakfast for the public. 

The breakfast has evolved from a meal whipped up by the vendors themselves to a meal crafted by volunteers, local food groups and Madison’s star-studded chefs. “Many people still don’t know that we serve breakfast here,” says Dane County Farmers’ Market breakfast coordinator Liz Barley.

The meals feature seasonal ingredients available from the vendors. And the results are incredible. So far this year, the menu has ranged from big-as-your-plate pancakes with a side of cottage bacon and local syrup, to braised bison with a poached egg and mole, from breakfast burritos bursting with ground beef and eggs, topped with local salsa, to rice crepes with lemongrass pork, local slaw and kimchi potato pancakes.

“The breakfast gives chefs who cannot source locally in their restaurants an opportunity to do so,” says Barley. “It also creates an opportunity for chefs who don’t have a storefront to cook, and gives chefs a chance to create a meal from the farmers’ offerings, and to build relationships with farmers.”

The breakfast line forms early, when the market opens at 8 a.m., and meal service begins around 8:30. About three hundred meals are served each week, and some market goers come to every breakfast served. “We come every week that we are home,” says Carolyn, who sits next to her husband at one of the round tables placed between vendors’ stands. “We love it, we get ideas about what to make for breakfast—I never would have thought to have salad for breakfast.” She pauses, stabs a pile of dressed greens and then asks, “Could you give us some of these recipes?”

Casey, a diner seated next to them, comments, “This is a wonderful place to meet people. I have made many friends here. These are my market friends.” She adds, “In Europe it is very common to eat ‘family style’ but less common here.” Cathy and Dan are seated in the quieter eating area upstairs. They watch their son Jesse hide behind tables in between bites of his breakfast. “We come for the breakfast. You get meals here you can’t get anywhere else. The chefs cook the meal just for that day. It’s food you can’t get at their restaurants.” Does Jesse like the meals as much as his parents? “I like cookies,” Jesse says, munching on one made with lavender.

The aim of the market breakfast is not to make money—in fact it is supposed to just break even. The goal is multi-faceted: to introduce chefs to farmers, to offer the public a great locally sourced meal, to bring people out of the cold to our amazing winter market, and to give community members a chance to be involved in producing a great meal. And through all of this, there is one amazing outcome. Our community connections grow stronger. Children work with inspiring chefs, strangers become friends, chefs meet farmers, farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor, and customers are literally in the thick of the farm-to-table movement.

You can enjoy the late winter market breakfast for a few more weeks (the ONLY good thing about winter at this point!). Chef Dan Fox is cooking up a meal celebrating “National Pig Day” this weekend (March 1). His menu includes: “Pigs in a Blanket”—Boudin blanc et noir (French sausage) in a pastry served with a fried poached egg, hollandaise sauce and pickled beet potato salad, or, for vegetarians, a baked spinach tart served with fried poached egg and pickled beet potato salad. Following him will be chefs from the Willy Street Coop, Fresco, a local snack group, Mermaid Cafe, Merchant and Brasserie V. Hope to see you there!

Dane County Farmers’ Market:
Madison Senior Center
8 a.m.–noon