The recent Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Library Panel on August 16 touched on the interesting aspect of the intersection between farmers and chefs at the Wednesday Farmers’ Market. The panel consisted of Nicolas Peter, chef of The Little Door and The Little Next Door; farmer Peter Schaner; and Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. The event was moderated by Amy Scattergood, the Los Angeles Times Food Writer.
On any given Wednesday, you will find about 60 of Los Angeles and Santa Monica’s finest restaurants shopping at the Market. Chefs inspire farmers to grow unique items that they may not have grown otherwise. Sometimes, if a chef requests a farmer to grow a certain exotic fruit, vegetable or herb a farmer will try it out. It may take a few years before the crop becomes plentiful, but if it does it often turns up on plates at restaurants all over town. After eating this unique item at restaurants, customers will often seek it out at the Market and try it at home. A specialty item that most people did not know even existed is now something they cook regularly with at home. For instance, Schaner started growing white eggplant, a Japanese variety that has a sweeter flavor and tougher skin, because it was something different and the chefs loved it. Schaner emphasizes that the Market is not just about chefs, and existed for 20 successful years before chefs started shopping there. Local customers are an integral part of the Market, and he makes sure he has enough produce for them as well as the chefs.
Peter says the highlight of his week is shopping at the Wednesday Farmers’ Market. He spends $20,000 per month on produce at the Farmers’ Market for his restaurants’ seasonal and Market-based menu. He is inspired by all of the unique produce available at the Wednesday Market, and says he would not even be able to be a chef without the Farmers’ Market. He also opened The Little Next Door, a deli and café featuring Peter’s homemade preserves. Peter loves preserving the flavors of the Market. Scattergood describes The Little Next Door as a “museum of the Market.” If you are craving blenhiem apricots in the dead of winter you can pick up a jar of blenhiem preserves at The Little Next Door. Peter’s preserves contain no preservatives or pectin and not much sugar. He reminds us that you do not need specialty ingredients or cooking techniques to make the most of what the Market has to offer right now. For a fantastic snack or meal, slice a ripe tomato (that are at their peak right now), sprinkle it with salt, basil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and sop it all up with a slice of crusty bread and enjoy!