Beans beans, the magical fruit, the more you plant…the better your soil? It may not be as catchy as the gastrointestinal children’s song, but the words ring true—plants beans, get great soil. Chef Matt Poley is a bean evangelist. “They feed us,” he says, “but they certainly feed the soil too. It’s important to support the shelling bean game as much as we support the strawberry and cherry tomato and beet and carrot game.”
Aside from a five day beard and the occasional tattoo, there’s little to identify Poley as a chef of a growing farm-to-table empire. With shoulder length hair and a hat turned backwards, he looks more like the frontman for an indie band than a serious cook. Yet over the last six years, the thirty year old co-owner of Heirloom LA has gone from hand-cranking his signature lasagna cupcakes in a one bedroom apartment, to a 10,000 square-foot operation in Eagle Rock that caters weddings and parties for discerning foodies from Ojai to Virginia. On top of the catering and local drop-off business, Heirloom operates a food truck four nights a week and helms the Salon, a 26 seat “Benihana” style set-up in the company’s Eagle Rock headquarters where he and his team host private parties.
This time of year Poley and his “food sorceress” Sarah Delevan (professionally known as Heirloom LA’s food sourcing manager) are scouting fresh shelling beans from farmer Phil McGrath. Typically sold in the pod, the beans are often speckled and in colors ranging from fuchsia to pale green. The nomenclature of shelling beans is as eclectic and exotic as their appearance. This week McGrath’s stand alone featured four varieties: Jacob’s Cattle, Calypso, Cannellini, and the beautiful Tongue of Fire, an Instagram-worthy bean whose slender pod is streaked with electric pink stripes.
Heirloom LA’s relationship with McGrath is unique. Every Thursday after the Pasadena Farmers Market, farmer Phil stops by their Eagle Rock kitchen with leftover produce. “We buy everything that they don’t sell,” Poley explains. “And then we turn it into any one of a million different preserves or we can roast his tomatoes for our lasagna, make tomato jam, tomato soup… for us it’s amazing.” The arrangement is a win for both parties—McGrath knows the leftover produce won’t last until Saturday’s market and Poley knows he can get top quality produce for a fraction of the price at the market. Last year, Heirloom LA ended up with 20,000 pounds of strawberries from McGrath. The year before, they accidentally ended up with 50,000 pounds of his tomatoes. “It was crazy,” Poley recalls. “Phil was showing up with pick up trucks full of tomatoes and we were like, we don’t even have walk-ins for this much stuff.”
This week in the catering kitchen, you can find the staff of 35 shelling beans which Poley then braises in a 50/50 mix of water and olive oil with garlic and fresh herbs. Eventually they end up in salads or smashed with roasted garlic as an alternative to mashed potatoes. And don’t throw out the cooking liquid says Poley. “It’s got the same consistency as a rich veal stock.” He recommends blending it into cooked carrots for a velvety, creamy soup that is 100% vegan.
Where to buy fresh shelling beans in Los Angeles: McGrath Family Farm (WednesdaySanta Monica, Thursday South Pasadena, Sunday Hollywood and Sunday Beverly Hills), Two Peas in a Pod (Wednesday Santa Monica), Coleman Family Farm (Wednesday andSaturday Downtown Santa Monica) and Rutiz Family Farms (Wednesday Downtown Santa Monica)