A Visit With Ken Myer of the Delmar Farmers Market
Ken Myer is no stranger to food. From the first soufflé he made as a 6th grade boy in Pittsburgh to the Delmar Farmers Market he manages today, his love affair with cooking and food has spanned 35 years. When asked why he chose this field, Ken laughs his easy laugh and replies, “Because I love food and I love to cook.”
As befitting a man who has a love affair with food, Ken put himself through the University of Pittsburgh working in a kitchen. In 1983, he opened his first catering company and then enrolled in culinary school in 1988.
After graduating, Ken worked at several restaurants in Pittsburgh before opening his own restaurant, kenny b’s eatery, in 1997. “It’s all lowercase,” he says. “I fell in love with E. E. Cummings poetry back in high school, and I just don’t capitalize anything.”
A fittingly surprising reply from this interesting man.
Ken’s restaurant was a blend of American and Cuban comfort food. It was at kenny b’s that he learned to cook Cajun. “I had two customers who were from New Orleans, born Cajun. They’d come in on Saturdays and we’d cook Cajun specials for that night.”
In 2005, Ken’s adventures took a new turn as he closed his restaurant and moved to Vermont. Over the next season of his life, he worked for several different restaurants, one of them specializing in local and organic food. He became involved with the farm to table concept and was deeply involved with every aspect of food sourcing. He knew and cared about how the farmers grew their food, about the way they treated and fed their animals. The restaurant had a vegetable garden out back and they served only local, seasonal produce. Ken chuckles as he shares memories of customers who’d dine at this restaurant in the middle of a snowy Vermont winter and whine because there wasn’t a green salad on the menu. “I’d tell them, the garden’s out back. If you can dig some lettuce out of that three feet of snow, I’d be happy to put it in a bowl for you.”
Ken’s good nature is contagious, as is his love of food and cooking. He admits he moved from Vermont to Albany because he couldn’t take the Vermont winters anymore. Residents of the Capital district might find it hard to believe that anyone considers our winters a reprieve, but Ken insists this is so.
Ken journeyed through several different restaurants in Albany before taking a position at the Equinox home. He was looking for a place he could stay until he retired, a place where his pace could slow down a bit and he’d be preparing 30 lunches and dinners in a day instead of 1,000. That plan didn’t entirely work out for Ken since he continued to take on additional responsibilities over his tenure at the Equinox, eventually becoming corporate chef, managing several locations and, you know it, 1000’s of meals a week. Nonetheless, people’s appreciation for his cooking made it all worthwhile.
Now in Ken’s newest adventure, he serves as Market Manager for the Delmar Farmers Market. He’s had his own restaurant. He’s worked kitchens that range from 4 star to shelters. Why the market? He reveals yet another interesting fact: he makes stained glass!
Ken’s plan was for him to retire from cooking and establish his stained glass business while his partner is still working. Which he has done. But as life so often reveals, other options arose. A vendor encouraged Ken to apply for the Market Manager position because he knows food, people, produce and crafts. It turned out to be a perfect fit. . You can find Ken wandering the market every Saturday, and a happier man you’ll never see. He’s clearly at home amongst the food and vendors where his easy going nature draws people in.
When asked about the impact farmers markets are having on the way Americans buy food, Ken says they provide communities access to fresh produce and fresh farm products. People have become increasingly aware of the relationship between the food they consume and their health, and they are seeking healthier, chemical free options. Markets allow farmers to build alliances with their communities as people develop a direct relationship with the supplier of their food. The food options are healthier, and communities become stronger. A win-win for everyone.
Ken’s favorite thing about being a chef? “The creativity! The ability to make something new and never repeat it. There are no guidelines. The doors are wide open and you’re only bound by your own imagination.” Even after 35 years as a chef, he’s continuing to learn. He sheepishly admits he had never seen a salad turnip before discovering them at the Delmar market, and then goes on to describe a mouthwatering meal he created using them.
“When it comes to being a professional chef, you’re either born for it or not. It’s part loving to cook part competition and part adrenaline junkie.” He believes anyone who loves to cook can become better at it. The secret? Ask questions. Abandon your fear. Push the envelope. Find an ingredient, go on the internet and discover something new to try with it.
“Never stop asking questions. Never stop growing.” In reality, isn’t that the secret to all of life?
You can find Ken every Saturday morning at the Delmar Farmers Market. Just look for the man who’s having way too much fun for anyone to believe he was born for anything else.