A Caramelized Conversation with Allison Cook

The Memphis Farmers Market marks the first step of my Saturday mornings in Memphis, as I'm lucky enough to now live one block away. The market's variety of produce, vibe of people from all over Memphis, and visibility of true, authentic produce, protein and plants are phenomenal and, frankly, unmatched. Whether or not you're in need of groceries, I always urge visitors and Memphians alike to simply walk through the Market and take in the atmosphere. It's wonderful, and lively, and reflective of our overgrown small town community.

The Market is celebrating its tenth year with a full food and drink fête at the Tennessee Brewery on September 20. Market director Allison Cook, whose passion is evident through every word of our Caramelized Conversation, is here to spread the word. Allison and I look forward to seeing all of you on the 20th!


What do you most look forward to cooking with summer produce?

Tomatoes. Hands down. There is nothing better than in-season, locally grown tomatoes. Those things they call tomatoes in grocery stores in the winter just don’t count. One of the best things about tomatoes is that they are easy to enjoy. You don’t have to actually heat them in some way for them to be delicious. They are amazing raw in lots of recipes like tomato and watermelon salad, the classic Caprese salad and simply dressed with a good olive oil, salt and a leaf or two of basil. Of course, cooking with them only makes homemade pasta sauces, and the alike, even better.

Your most recent favorite farmers market find?

Steve Richardson’s orange watermelons are divine. He knows some secret about growing melons of all varieties. I’ve had his orange variety most recently, and I wanted to stick a straw in it and drink it. They are naturally sweet without being sugary, and there’s a depth to the flavor that is truly unique.

Your most unforgettable restaurant experience?

In July of this year, my husband and I traveled to Chicago for our 10th wedding anniversary. We ate at Girl & The Goat at their chef’s table that jutted in to their cooking area. It was so exciting to watch all the food being prepared and having the opportunity to talk about the food with the ones who were preparing it. Not to mention, the food was mind blowing. The duck tongues and grilled baby octopus were good enough I could justify hopping on a plane right now.


What do you love most about Memphis?

The best thing about Memphis is its people. People in this city are not afraid to take leaps of faith. They passionately envision and create ways to better our city and the lives of everyone in it. Whether its through food access, neighborhood beautification, strengthening schools and youth programs, or increasing our healthcare system, I feel that most people in Memphis are intentionally doing good for our community. You don’t get that in a lot of places.

Every home cook needs…

A good quality knife AND a sharpener. A dull knife is the cause of lots of injuries, squashed fruits and ugly meats. Invest in a real knife and keep it sharp.

Looking back on ten successful years of the Downtown Farmers Market, when was your proudest moment?

My proudest moment is when one of our vendors is able to take their business to the next level because of the growth and success they’ve had at the market. Some have opened their own storefronts, others have increased their customer base, purchased more land to farm or upgraded their kiln. Watching people work their dreams and succeed is amazing. Knowing that MFM had a part in this through helping them build a customer base, raising awareness about their business through MFM’s marketing efforts and offering them a safe place to try new products is very rewarding. Thanks to our customers and community support, this experience is not a one-time moment. I get to see it time and time again.

What can we expect at the Brewery on September 20?

September 20 is our MFM@TEN party, celebrating 10 years of Memphis Farmers Market. We are very excited to be hosting this party at the Tennessee Brewery. It’s the last time folks will get a look at the building before it goes through its huge renovation. People so enjoyed all of the Revival parties there that I think they will love one final chance to enjoy the space as it is now.

Guests to the party will receive their choice of a wine or beer MFM@TEN glass with their ticket, and Star and Micey is playing. We will also have silent and live auctions where guests can bid on really unique items that we try and tailor to our foodie downtown crowd. For example, Grizzlies tickets, dinner at a local restaurant downtown and then a night at The Westin. We will have loads of food from MFM vendors and local restaurants as well as beer and wine. It’s all included with a $40 advance ticket. There will also be a few fun surprises and activities, including a great red carpet photo booth to commemorate your night in photos. It’s going to so much fun, and it all benefits our local food system. It’s a win win. Buy tickets here!

How can we support the Memphis Farmers Market if we aren't living in the area?

There are many ways to support MFM even if you aren’t living in Downtown Memphis. We have shoppers who visit us from West Memphis, Hernando, Olive Branch, East Memphis, Germantown, Collierville and further. We strive to be a destination. People make us a part of their Saturday routine so that they can enjoy the live music, eat at the food trucks, take part in the kids’ activities and shop with our farmers and producers.

We are also looking for volunteers. The market is run by 30-40 volunteers on any given Saturday. Their dedication and hard work make the market what it is each day.

And, we are always looking for donation and sponsorships. We’re a not-for-profit organization, and as such, financial support is very important to continuing our mission. What’s great about supporting MFM is how far your contribution can reach. You aren’t just supporting Downtown Memphis. You are supporting the farmers, producers and artisans who have dedicated their lives to making and growing healthy foods for us. They live in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, and supporting them through the market allows them to invest more in their farms and businesses. It’s a wonderful circle of growth and support.

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