This week diners will have the opportunity to sample Philip Speer's innovative strawberry sorbet that he is prepping for the upcoming Austin Food & Wine Festival. And while many Austin chefs flock to farmers markets to purchase plump, ruby-red strawberries, Philip Speer likes 'em green.
It is a rare happenstance to find a farmer who will pick strawberries — or virtually any fruit — prematurely. Most await the day when the berry's pale shade of green ripens into a luscious red. But when a famed pastry chef like Philip Speer makes a product request, suppliers and farmers listen.
John Lash, owner of Farm to Table, recalls the day Speer approached him with an odd ingredient request from Oak Hill Farms. "He asked, 'Can you get me green strawberries,' and I was like, 'I've never had that request before,'" Lash says.
"The farmers I talked to had been raising strawberries for twenty, thirty years. I was the first — and the last — person that ever asked for green strawberries. It isn't in a farmer's nature to pick a green strawberry because it's almost like cooking a meal, but not finishing it. You really have to push them to do something like that."
When a famed pastry chef like Philip Speer makes a product request, suppliers and farmers listen.
A green strawberry is similar to a green tomato, in that it's naturally green before transforming into a deep red. These fruits are often referred to by farmers as "breakers" because they are two or three days away from changing their color. A few days after Lash delivered the green fruit to Speer last spring, he inquired what odd dessert Speer had created with the premature fruit. That's when the pastry chef handed Lash a serving of the strawberry sorbet.
"I remember going, 'Holy moly! That's really something,'" he says.
Lash and Speer first encountered each other when Speer was employed as the pastry chef of Parkside. He says his relationship with chefs like Speer and Paul Qui have completely transformed the way farmers go about choosing what types of produce and products to plant and sell to him, since chefs are now using odd ingredients like cilantro flowers and garlic scapes.
"Philip and Paul [Qui] are always looking for the weird, hard-to-find stuff," he admits. "Farmers have wanted the opportunity to do something different. It's gotten to the point now where you can approach the farmers and ask them to grow something and they'll likely do it for you."
The choice to use green strawberries was mostly an aesthetic decision for Speer. "The green strawberry has a neat flavor that isn't that normal super-intense strawberry flavor," he says. "I thought more along the lines of its great color palette when I put it together. It's a very white-and-black dish."
Speer will have his fill of the green strawberry sorbet this week, since he is serving it in the restaurant and at the highly anticipated festival. This weekend, however, the one thing Speer is most looking forward to is highlighting the great cuisine of Austin, which includes the produce of its local farmers.
"These farmers really bring us what we need," Speer says. "I've personally become friends with John and the people he works with. I can't wait to show off how great their stuff is."
Recipe for Strawberry Sorbet
4g sorbet stabilizer
400g green strawberry puree
Combine sugar and sorbet stabilizer, mix well. In a large pot, combine water, trimoline and sugar and stabilizer mixture. mix well to ensure no clumps. Bring mixture to a boil and remove from heat. Once mixture has cooled, add pureed green strawberry. Freeze according to ice-cream machine manufacturer's directions.