Chef Jack MacMurray, a West County resident, was the featured speaker in the most recent Wildwood Farms speaker series. Sponsored by the Wildwood “Tuesday Club,” this series aims to help residents be more effective gardeners. The Aug. 27 session, “Bounty from the Garden” featured dishes using squash, tomatoes, zucchini, corn and herbs that are plentiful this time of year.
Attendees said they felt lucky to see a chef with such fine credentials in this free lecture series. His presentation had been rescheduled from the prior Saturday, due to rain. MacMurray, the executive chef at Highlands Brewery in Kirkwood, is the former owner of Sage Restaurant in Soulard. He also owns his own catering company. He was the Master Chef winner at the Taste of St. Louis last year, and he is preparing for this year’s competition in late September. He has been featured in cooking publications, including the St. Louis magazine, Sauce. He is a cooking instructor at many area Dierberg’s stores, including the Ellisville location. He is also an instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory in Clayton.
MacMurray shares a garden plot at Wildwood Farms, along with some friends from 212 Degrees of Wellness in Wildwood. “I’m proud to be a part of this community garden. I’m an amateur at gardening, so I’ve learned a lot from the other residents who have plots here,” he said.
“By eating more fresh vegetable dishes, like the ones I’m preparing today, I’m happy to say that I’ve lost 27 pounds. It’s a healthy way to eat.”
As MacMurray stirred the vegetables with a plastic fork, he admitted that cooking “al fresco” without all of his equipment had some challenges. “I’ve catered at the top of a 12,000 foot mountain and on the ocean, but this is my first time cooking in a garden,” he laughed.
As MacMurray started chopping and dicing, some of the attendees pointed to items in their garden. “Can you use some okra? I have lots of it,” said Wildwood resident Veronica Leach. “Sure,” said MacMurray. He added it to his vegetable stir-fry, along with some basil donated by Steve Seneczyn, also of Wildwood.
“This is a chef’s job, to improvise and create!” said MacMurray, and his enthusiasm for cooking was contagious.
“I can’t wait to get home and make this dish for my family,” said one attendee.
In addition to the vegetables donated by plot owners, the cooking demo became even more of a collective effort when Carol Craig of Wildwood helped shuck sweet corn for the stir fry. The resulting dish, quickly dubbed “Mexican Madness Squash and Corn Hash,” was a stunning mix of colors and spices, with gold bar zucchini adding a rich color.
MacMurray made three dishes for the demonstration, including pork burgers purchased from a Wildwood Farmers' Market favorite vendor, Sunny Creek Farms. "Their ground pork is amazing," said MacMurray. "It's all organically produced." Topping the burgers was a mixture of tomatoes and bacon that made it an immediate favorite.
In all three of the demos, he used several of his special herb and spice mixtures. The spices are available locally at St. Louis Home Fires, 15053 Manchester Rd. in Ballwin and also online.
Editor's Note: The last speaker for this year in the Wildwood Farms series is scheduled for Sept 17 at 10 a.m.: "The Basics of Square-Foot Gardening." The session will about productive methods for getting the most from raised-bed gardens. It will be presented by Cindy Wright and Steve Seneczyn.