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Fox Valley Cooks: Niche sets up farm table for special evening

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Fox Valley Cooks: Niche sets up farm table for special evening

Chef Serena Teipel Perdue knows the ingredients are fresh in the dishes she serves at Niche Restaurant in Geneva, because she grew many of the fruits and vegetables herself.

She personally nurtured the sweet purple, orange and gold kaleidoscope carrots that are being cut into julienne strips in the restaurant kitchen just hours after being gently pulled from rich garden soil in Elburn.

About three years ago, Niche Restaurant owners Andrea Redman and Bill Ferguson proposed gardens at Bull Run Equestrian Center, the 30-acre facility they also own. There they want to provide a farm-to-table dining experience. Perdue accepted the challenge.

“It took two years of learning, but this year it is going really well,” says Perdue who serves Niche diners golden rod beans, candy stripe beets, German butterball potatoes, butternut squash, nine varieties of heirloom tomatoes and dozens of other items from three garden plots. Even the flowers decorating the tables at the restaurant are grown in the garden.

Perdue is the ideal chef for this arrangement. The Geneva resident originally completed a bachelor of arts degree in environmental studies and began studying ecology at the graduate level before deciding to change directions to pursue a passion for cooking. She completed studies at the Culinary Institute of America and refined her skills at restaurants in Aspen, New Orleans, Seattle and Chicago.

“My parents were into gardening so I had some experience when I started,” Perdue says. “I spend three mornings a week at the gardens and then come to the Niche kitchen. I have help with the watering and weeding. There are three plots. We aren’t certified organic yet because that process takes seven years to complete, but we don’t use pesticides.”

Cooking with such fresh produce has been a rewarding experience for Perdue. “Freshly picked carrots are so much sweeter,” she claims. “Kale is different too when it is fresh. It has a wonderful nutty flavor. The squash and beets have been great this year, and I am looking forward to using the cantaloupe I planted.”

Perdue does have to supplement the menu with other items, including the protein, but tries to always incorporate her garden produce.

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