Chef Christine Ferris: Working from Imagination to Please the Palate


When I arrived at the kitchen of Christine Ferris Catering, I knew I was at the right place by the Visser Farms crates used as plant stands for potted rosemary and parsley in the south window. They’d been absorbing the sunlight all winter long, and donating their herbal fragrances to Chris’ culinary creations.

Visser Farms is one of the major vendors at the Holland Farmers’ Market—the one that told me at the end of the season last year that they could supply produce all through the winter if we so desired. Chris Ferris got the word, too. That’s the beauty of a local food network—local farmers, local chefs, and locavores—helping each other out in the supply-and-demand dynamics that surround one of my favorite activities: eating.

The first time I sampled Chris’ culinary art was at my friend Sue’s wedding. I was so impressed with the amount of fresh, organic, and local food she sourced. It was a delicious meal and beautifully presented.

So, when Bill and I got married in 2008, we asked Chris to cater our event. On top of the fresh, organic, locavore angle, we challenged her to find recipes that would accommodate Bill’s dairy (cow), corn, and wheat allergies. We figured if he’s the groom, he should be able to eat anything on the buffet. Mission accomplished: Bill was able to eat everything, and many of our guests complimented the meal as well.

The icing on the cake was that there was no icing on the cake. Instead, we requested that Chris make Bill’s wheat-free, corn-free, dairy-free chocolate cake recipe. And, of course, she improved it. It was her idea to bake it in a spring-form pan, which is how I’ve been making it ever since.

Chris is a culinary artist. While her food sources are important to eaters like me—focused on happy food—it’s the way she prepares the food that brings out the artist in the chef. For example, while I was visiting she decided to make a cherry ginger coriander marinade for the duck breast she would be serving that night.

The idea for the ingredients was inspired by the memory of a Pinot Noir that she had tasted in California recently. Inspired by a memory of taste! That’s like a musician who hears a melody and plays by ear. Chris’ approach to cooking is an artistic one, beyond what can be learned or experienced in culinary school.

She began making the marinade with a handful of whole coriander seeds—kept in jars on one of the racks in the kitchen—which she toasted and then ground by hand with a mortar and pestle (one of my favorite kitchen tools!).

 To that she added fresh rosemary from the pot by the window, chopped shallots, chopped fresh ginger, and candied ginger.

The amazing mixture was topped off with cherry wine.

During this process, I wandered around her kitchen, admiring the tools and ingredients on the walls and racks.

The fresh herbs in the window are balanced by green walls that border her workspace.

Because the majority of space is used for food production and refrigeration, Chris’ kitchen is laid out differently than most commercial ones. Three primary food storage shelves, which the health inspectors think are too few, line one wall.

Why doesn’t Chris need more than three? Because she hardly uses canned goods.

Why is her walk-in refrigerator so large? So she can accommodate the fresh food she purchases locally.

If you like to cook, you would envy Chris’ kitchen. In addition to the large workspace and tranquil green walls, the music playing in the background is both soothing and stimulating. Even the phone’s ringtone is a delicate chime. It’s the perfect place for a chef to tap into her imagination for her culinary art.

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