The Chef's Market
Last week—the first sweltering day of the heat wave—I headed out to the San Rafael Civic Center farmers market in order to pick up some locally-grown vegetables and fruit for a photo shoot we’re doing for 7x7’s August food issue. I’d always heard that the Thursday morning Marin market is a popular destination for SF chefs, but I’d hadn’t been there two seconds when I spotted a little posse of some of the biggest names in the Bay Area: Craig Stoll of Delfina, Mourad Lahlou of Aziza, Jeremy Fox and his wife and pastry chef, Deanie Hickox Fox, both of Ubuntu. Two seconds later Daniel Patterson of Coi showed up. Later, I ran into James Ormsby (who cooks privately for a family now but used to be at Jack Falstaff) and I overheard a farmer talking about his regular customer, Ron Siegel of the Ritz Carlton.
Deanie Hickox Fox and Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu, Mourad Lahlou of
Aziza, Craig Stoll of Delfina at the Civic Center market in San Rafael
My accomplice and chauffeur was Laïola owner Joe Hargrave. He had been sent by his restaurant’s chef, Mark Denham, to do the Laïola run. For this, we picked up a dozen red torpedo onions and 3 pounds of pea tendrils from County Line, 8 pounds of fava beans and 2 bags of English peas from Iacopi Farms, 1 flat of heirloom tomatoes (about 20 pounds), 1 flat of blueberries, 4 baskets of cherries. By the time we were done, we’d made three runs to the car, hands full of cases of produce. By that point, I was sweating, and the vegetables still had many miles to go before they ended up on anyone’s plate.
Mourad pointed out the carrots from Marin Roots (“the sickest carrots in the world!”) and pulled me over to meet his favorite fig farmer, Didar Singh Khalsa from Guru Ram Das Orchards, who was selling insanely sweet Black Mission and Desert King figs (even better than fig-famous Knoll Farms, Mourad assured me), which are now being featured in Aziza’s arugula salad with almonds as well as alongside a main course of grilled lamb chops.
It struck me, watching the delight Mourad took in showing off his favorite vendors, that in our San Francisco-centric way, diners here take it for granted that the best restaurants in town have fresh vegetables and fruits on their menus, from small local farms. We’ve been told by the Alice Waters and the Michael Pollans that it’s our right to demand local and organic, to question where our food comes from. And I’m glad we do.
But how much personal time, energy and money our local chefs spend to make sure of that, I don’t think most of us have a clue about. Mourad was dropping $4.50 on a basket of maybe six figs, for instance. Joe plunked down $240 to get enough to last Laïola just until the Saturday market in SF. They’d all taken their morning to drive all the way to San Rafael.
I’m not saying we need to gather together for a little kum-ba-yah or get too mushy about anything. But a little thanks never hurt. There are so many chefs here that deserve it.