Ramps Fever: Chefs push to enjoy, yet conserve, the symbol of spring
Wild leeks, or ramps, start showing up at farmers’ markets and high-end grocery stores in early spring. Over the past handful of years, the ramp has taken on an almost ungodly place in the mind of locavores and foodies. It’s been hailed as the true symbol of spring: the antidote to a long winter eating root vegetables.
But ramps grow wild, and the obsession for them has caused some to call for moderation.
“Their popularity has gone up so much, everyone and their mother is out foraging and taking everything,” said chef Dave Santos. “What’s left is ramps as thin as spaghetti with no flavor.”
Santos is putting his money where his mouth is with a “Save the Ramps” dinner at his restaurant Louro (142 W. 10th St., Louronyc.com) on Monday, which is Earth Day.
Santos says his job as a chef is to “educate” people about the food they eat. He thinks the practice of foraging should be regulated. A ramp that is smaller than a scallion, he said, should be left alone to mature.
On May 4, 20 chefs converge upstate at the third annual Ramp Fest (Rampfesthudson.com). The intention is certainly to celebrate the beloved baby onion and its spunky flavor, but another goal is to teach conservation.
This year, chefs were encouraged to only use the leaves, because the sustainable way to harvest ramps is to leave the bulb behind.
“Now is the time to say, ‘Here’s this great resource, let’s not screw it up,’ ” said Jeff Gimmel, creator of Ramp Fest and chef of Swoon Kitchenbar in Hudson, N.Y.
What’s all the hubbub about?
Here are a few places where you can try ramps right now. (Word to the wise: Call ahead to confirm.)