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Chef uses farm ingredients

Families who want to eat fresh, locally grown and produced foods often find workaday schedules conflict with weekday farmers markets.

Some are too busy to shop, much less cook.

Personal chef Kristen Lyon does both, purchasing most of the food at growers markets or directly from local farmers, to boot.

"It's kind of taking all the dirty work out of cooking a healthy meal," Lyon says. "You don't do any grocery shopping, any cleaning, any planning."

Working for the past year as sous chef at The Garden Bistro at McCully House in Jacksonville, Lyon has reinvigorated a personal-chef business that she moved from Northern California to the Rogue Valley. As restaurant traffic slackened over the winter, Lyon cooked special-occasion dinners for private clients. An Aug. 2 event in Grants Pass showcases Lyon's farm-to-table ethic at Blackberry Lane, the source for many of the meal's ingredients.

"It is a good way to kind of introduce my style of cooking," Lyon says. "I like to use things as purely as possible."

Blackberry Lane owner Lori Campbell met Lyon at a meeting of THRIVE, a local a nonprofit advocacy group for Rogue Valley food producers. Campbell had long wanted to put on a multicourse dinner at her property to celebrate the ingredients, but also to demonstrate that sustainable food production doesn't require five acres or organic certification. Blackberry Lane sells specialty produce, including herbs, edible flowers, berries, "baby" vegetables and heirloom varieties, to several Jackson County chefs and restaurants.

"The advantage of using Kristen is ... everything's fresh out of the garden ... There's no waste," Campbell says.

Lyon's own garden can supplement produce purchases for clients in the summer months. Her menus are based on seasonal availability of ingredients, tomatoes in summer, for example, and root vegetables in winter. Although "local" is a theme in her cooking, her motto, Lyon says, is "healthy convenience."

"People are really waking up about what ingredients they use."

Elevated consciousness about food quality, conducive to a business like hers, is helping to counteract some families' smaller budgets for food, particularly restaurant meals, Lyon says. For the price of many restaurant entrees — $12 to $15 — personal-chef clients are met with enticing aromas of food cooking in their own kitchens and can enjoy time around their own dinner tables.

"That's the biggest part of the business is you come home to this wonderful-smelling house."

Lyon says she spends about four or five hours in a client's kitchen cooking, depending on the menu and quantity. Yet Lyon uses only a client's sink, stove and refrigerator. She provides all the other tools, equipment and pantry staples, transported in large, canvas tote bags.

"I literally carry the kitchen with me."

Shopping for ingredients the same day ensures peak freshness. When Lyon leaves, clients are left with fresh or frozen portions, all labeled and accompanied by printed instructions. She also can tailor the amount of preparation to the level of participation clients want in their own meals.

"Rather than call it reheated, I call it finished," Lyon says. "It's not about being gourmet; it's more comfort food, for the most part."

Sample meals are flank steak roll-ups with spinach and bacon with a mixed-greens salad or chicken baked in a sauce of lemon and white wine with oven-roasted vegetables. A typical service is 20 meals, including side dishes — or weekday dinners for a family of four — for $300.

Lyon's Web site outlines more options, as well as her experience cooking to accommodate special diets, whether vegetarian, vegan, diabetic, gluten-free or otherwise. Lyon, 30, is a member of and insured through the United States Personal Chef Association. For more information, see the Web site www.chefkristen.com or call 541-846-4633.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Personal chef Kristen Lyon uses fresh eggs, vegetables and fruit from her Jacksonville garden to prepare a roasted zucchini and fingerling potato salad. - Photo by Denise Baratta