by Steven Doyle
Crave was happily invited to join a band of chefs in an excursion just past Canton, Texas to the happiest tomato farm in the Lone Star state, JT Lemley’s Produce and Plants.
Early yesterday morning about 24 chefs and a few journalists including one of Lemley’s best admirers, Kim Pierce, hopped aboard 2 vans led by Chef’s Produce manager Richard Torres to visit the farm for a day of discovery. For many of the chefs using local produce such as Lemley’s has been an important aspect to their business plan.
Some of the chefs in tow included Janice Provost from Parigi, Jeffrey Hobbs from Suze, Anastacia Quinones from Alma, Chad Bowden from Culpepper Steakhouse in Rockwall, Estevan Galindo from Hattie’s in Bishop Arts, Matt McCallister and many others.
Lemley played the consummate host offering a tour of his acreage that included more than several beautiful tomato fields where he grows four varieties that he sells direct to restaurants and for the home cook, the Dallas Farmers market where you will often see the over-all clad farmer who speaks in soft and steady tones. Lemley is quick to offer his advice on how to grow the perfect tomato, but our advice is to leave this to the farmer’s expertise.
In scouring the grounds the chef’s sampled a good amount of tomatoes off the vine, but also visited the Lemley peach orchard where he grows four different types in order to maximize the season and to bring a variety of flavors to market. Pulling straight from the trees the peaches were ripe and succulent as they have been kissed by the Spring air and sunshine.
Other important crops we visited that day included Lemley’s peppers, a host of squash and the precious 1-ball and 8-ball squash. If you were fortunate enough to visit Parigi last evening you might have tasted Provost’s bounty from the day as she spent considerable time plucking fresh squash blossoms and carefully guarded the plants for the remainder of the day stating that they were to be served within hours at her restaurant.
The day ended with a BBQ luncheon served alfresco with a view of the orchard and plenty of fresh sliced tomatoes.
Thank you Chef’s Produce for including us in your plans for the day. You may visit the Lemley Farm on your own where a staff of his relatives run a tiny country store that offers a variety of his fresh produce, jams and jellies and home made peach ice cream.