On our trip to France last August, the boys were surprised that some restaurants and stores were not open longer (32 hour work week aside), and of course on holidays, most every store and service is closed. In France, the Store = the Individual. Why would you expect the baker or grocery checker to work on a holiday if you had it off? Shoppers know this and plan ahead; if you're lucky, there is one enterprising baker open in town for fresh bread. It's a tough concept for most Americans to understand.
Our farmers markets in Southern California are year-round, and the farmers and vendors work on holidays, with the exception of Christmas Day; it was great to see the Rancho Santa Fe market so busy on the Fourth of July. The farmers and vendors at the markets are really the ultimate small business. They produce their own goods for sale, and they are also at the whim of Mother Nature; if there is too much rain, the strawberries are not as good; if there is too much wind, the flowers get damaged. As with most small businesses today, they also work 7 days a week and most holidays.
When I talk with any of the farmers, I am always amazed to hear the details of their product: the varieties of strawberries, or beets, or mushrooms; how to cultivate each one to perfection, which ones do well which time of the year. It's their business, of course, but it's nevertheless impressive.
When you know how much goes in to the products they bring to the market, you feel even better about buying from them; here are a few of the producers I have met; each of them has a "story":
Loic, the French patissier who makes everthing from scratch; he started training in France at age 14 and has worked with some of France's great chefs including Alain Ducasse; he participated in the opening of the Wynn and Bellagio in Las Vegas and is currently the Executive Pastry Chef at the Barona Casino in San Diego county. He was named Western Regional Pastry Chef of the Year by the American Federation of Chefs in April 2010 and will compete now in the national competition:
If you taste his macaroons, you will see why he has such a great reputation!
I am huge fan of his seeded baguettes and loaves, displayed in baskets of course:
In Palisades, we have baked goods by Ann's Candyworks; she offers more traditional American goodies, but uses very high quality chocolates and ingredients:
Everything is always carefully packaged:
I buy many pounds of her toffees at Christmas, and always end up going back for more because my Feed Bag Family mows right through it:
Ann has a ton of regular clients, including Jennifer Garner and her daughters; here is Ann with a little friend:
Also in Palisades we have Dirk, who is from Germany; you think he has a great sense of humor when he introduces himself as "a real fun-ghi" but if you ask him where the mushrooms come from he says with a straight face "I have to kill you if I tell you that." Oh. OK; not such a great sense of humor? No really, he's a very nice guy. Actually, about 1/3 of his merchandise including the little Paris White and Cremini mushrooms are cultivated, the rest are gathered by Dirk in the wild in Northern California:
He has a phenomenal range of funghi:
and fresh morels, sometimes:
and all kinds of other wild ones...no wonder there are so many private chefs shopping at this market:
John is one of the Ventura-based flower growers; in some of the larger markets, you will find flower growers next to flower resellers; you have to ask or you might not know. I don't mind the resellers if they have something unusual or if they make special arrangements (like Magnolia in RSF), but I will always buy from the growers for my bulk flowers:
He cultivates amazing tulips in winter:
But he specializes in roses, in all shades:
Also in the LA area is John S.; I can't pronounce his last name so I call him Johnny Suede; he is a Marine, retired, with a large and engaging personality and a voice to match:
His wife's family is Japanese, and he runs her family's farm now; I met his foreman once picking up an order for a party, and in the foreman's tanned, lined and weathered face you see someone who understands the Earth; and grows the most amazing lettuces:
in a little Eze; fantastic:
So many fabulous people, too many to post on at once! They know how to grow it, how to display it, to get it to your table fresh:
Talk to your farmers at the markets, and ask them about their background, and how they came to be passionate about their little corner of the market; they'd love to tell you. I'll post on some other vendors soon.