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Deborah Madison 's latest book celebates "Local Flavors"

  • A big tomato sandwich from Deborah Madison's cookbook "Local Flavors." 2008 credit: Local Flavors and Broadway Books

While researching her latest cookbook, ?Local Flavors,? vegetarian guru Deborah Madison voyaged across seasons and time zones on her way to farm markets from Maine to Hawaii.

Along the way, she learned to appreciate the richness and variety of American regional cuisine, from the delicate okra sold in three sizes in Birmingham, Alabama to the corn, chiles and beans of her own market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

?There are so many surprises, and our food culture is so much more interesting than it is given credit for,? Madison said in a phone interview from her home in Galisteo, New Mexico. ?If you were taking the temperature of regional flavors in cooking, the farmers market is one of the best places to see how it looks.?

After ?Local Flavors? was reissued in paperback this year, the 62-year-old chef and author hit the road again this spring, stopping in Wine Country early this month to sign copies of her book at the Healdsburg Farmers Market.

The cookbook?s theme - how to connect back to the land and the community, keep farming traditions alive and eat delicious, local food ? is more relevant today, 10 years after she first began her research, than ever.

?There has been so much conversation about eating seasonally and locally in the past five years,? Madison noted. ?People ask, ?How do you know what?s in season?? If you?ve never grown anything or don?t come out of a farming background, that?s a valid question.?

Madison grew up on a dairy farm in Davis, where she learned to appreciate the beauty of plants and farming from her botanist father.

Her brother, Mike Madison, operates Yolo Bulb Farm in Winters and sells his flowers and melons, olive oil and preserves at the Davis Farmers Market. That market didn?t even exist when Madison was growing up in the traditional ag-university town.

?The farmers market movement didn?t really begin until the 1970s, in the Central Valley of California,? she noted. ?It started as a means for commercial farmers to offload the produce that wasn?t suitable for the mass market.?

A self-taught cook who first got interested in cooking as a teen, Madison became immersed in vegetarian cuisine while studying at the San Francisco Zen Center in the late 1960s. She refined her techniques at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, then served as founding chef of Greens restaurant in San Francisco, where she became famous for her exciting and visionary vegetarian cooking.

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