5@5 - Chef Melissa Perello
January 26th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

If your trip to the local farmers market sounds a little something like this:

"To market, to market, to buy a fat fig! Dagnabbit ... where's that produce stand we like again? Wait - you're out of figs? B-but, but, but what are we supposed to stuff with the goat cheese we just bought? The recipe calls for figs! FIGS! Ohhhh, the humanity! Dinner is ruined!"

... Then, you might need to (1) take a Xanax, and (2) re-evaluate how you shop for food - which is why we've enlisted the guidance of a farmers market regular.

Meet your friendly tour guide: Melissa Perello is the executive chef and owner of Frances Restaurant in San Francisco, California, which was nominated in the "Best New Restaurant" category by the James Beard Foundation in 2010 and awarded its first star in the 2011 Bay Area Michelin Guide. Perello has also be named one of Food & Wine magazine's "Best New Chefs," as well as a James Beard "Rising Star Chef" nominee three years in a row.

How to Get the Most of Your Visit to the Farmers Market: Melissa Perello

1. Engage your local purveyors
"Get to know your farmers, ask questions and chat with them about their land and the ingredients - they love it when you do because they often take a great deal of pride in their product. By doing so, purveyors will be more inclined to show you their secret stash of rare or prime ingredients."

2. Go early
"Early birds catch the best products since these are always the first to go. You’ll also avoid the crowds that accumulate throughout the day, allowing you to get a good lay of the land, and making it visually easier to compare the same products being offered at different stands."

3. Taste samples and talk to other shoppers
"Any novice will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of products and shoppers at the farmers market, so they may not know where to begin. First timers should talk to other shoppers for recommendations on the best stands and they’ll likely stumble upon a regular, who will always know what’s best. And ask to sample, when possible, as much as possible."

4. Use your senses
"Trust your intuition when it comes to the quality of produce and use all your senses when looking for the best ingredients. Taste and smell are key, but also look for bruising or discoloration and feel for ripeness. Listen to your purveyor’s recommendations - they always offer great tips and tricks."

5. Be flexible
"Sure, going into the farmers market with a shopping list makes sense, but you should approach the market and your meal with an open mind since some ingredients may be out of season and others may not be at their prime. The goal at any farmers market is to find the freshest locally sourced ingredients - if you need to swap your pears for super-fresh apples, so be it."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Farmstands • Food Politics • Local Food • Think

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Phil

    I love farmers markets...I'm a total sucker for fresh anything. I feel personally responsible for boosting the income levels of the 3 – 4 growers that I frequent. And, because I frequent my select sub-set, I don't mind telling them if something I got last week wasn't the quality that I experienced previously. And they don't take offense because they know I'm being honest and will continue to shop from them. Unfortunately, for those of us in Northern Illinois, it's definitely a seasonal thing.

    January 27, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  2. pepperkeys

    If you're shopping for produce, i.e. sweet corn or tomatoes, & they're not yet in season in your area, then what you're seeing @ the farmers' market is imported for profit or hothouse grown. Wait. You'll be disappointed w/the flavor. Check w/local growers...they will be happy to share information & may even sell to you direct. They will also give you fair price info. Smaller grocers will also tend to sell locally-grown products. Farmers marketers will deal. Shopping early is good advice, but shopping @ the end of the day has the advantage of dealing so the product doesn't have to go back home or in the dumpster.

    January 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  3. AMA

    #1 is great advice. Not only that, but if they aren't super busy, a lot of them will tell you all sorts of interesting things about their food and give you recipes, etc.

    One thing people should always be is complimentary and respectful. Unless there's a real health issue, if their produce doesn't look so good, just keep your comments to yourself and don't buy it. But it if looks great, tell them! and if it tastes great, tell them again! A lot of the growers put their heart and soul into the produce and products. Good feedback will make them very happy, and tend to make them like you too which can lead to special treats and deals as mentioned above.

    #2. The opposite of this trick is to go late. You might not get the "best" product, but you might get the cheapest. Depending on the set-up, the farmers might not have a good way to unload unwanted produce at the end of the day and some items (and things like baked goods and prepared but perishable foods) might be perfectly fine and tasty. Depending on the "feel" of the market (i.e. size, how often it occurs, whether they donate stuff to the food pantry/and therefore aren't facing it getting trashed), this is a great time to negotiate good deals. Offer to buy up those 5 picked over $3 pints of strawberries for $10 if you take them all...if you throw away less than a third to waste, you got a good deal! See if you can get a a half dozen cookies thrown in when you buy one of the great looking peach pies that no one grabbed off to the side.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  4. Omnivore

    I prefer "meat-only" farmer's markets. That way I don't have to rub elbows with those vegans and vegetarians.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  5. Guinn

    Thanks for this article! After reading this, I checked and found there is a year round farmers market near me! (I always thought they were a spring/summer only deal.) I think I will take these tips and try them out!

    January 27, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  6. Name*Micanthony

    I love the L.A. farmer's market. So much there: seafood, coffee, trinkets, hot sauce shop, so many different types of food, a bar, bakeries, ice cream shops, and of course fresh veggies and fruit. That is just the market and does not include the surrounding area with many more retail shops and restaurants. It is a must go!

    January 27, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  7. cat

    My local farmers market is about 5 tables and its closed most of the year.

    I'm envious.

    January 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  8. Fiona

    If you freak because figs aren't available, yiou don't need to reevaluate how you shop, you need therapy.

    January 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  9. Julie

    i love farmer's markets and these tips are wonderful. i totally agree with the tip on going early. if you go too late, everything is picked over... especially the best produce. visiting farmer's markets have really helped me explore vegetables that i might otherwise overlook. i actually discovered rutabagas over the summer and now they're one of my favorite veggies. i use them to make rutabega fries that are a wonderful, healthy substitute for french fries: http://www.pbfingers.com/2010/06/02/rutabaga-fries/

    January 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  10. Steve

    I've lived a block away from a farmer's market for over a year now. I keep meaning to go there but I never get around to it.

    January 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Aninadog


      January 27, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  11. market vendor

    I run a market stand at two farmer's markets;one close to Cincinnati, and the other close to Dayton. This article has some
    really great advice. And it is very true when she says the better vendors are more interested and grateful to see customers at their stands before the purchase and not just when money is exchanged. It is also a good idea to ask if
    items are organic or not. Just because it's a "farmer's market" doesn't mean everyone is organic. There is a big difference in the quality of the stand on this question alone–it will let you know multitudes about how serious the vendor is about selling high quality, unadulterated, non-chemical food to you. This is something I absolutely love to do–and I have
    wonderful customers because they care about their food as much as i do. Great article. Take a canvas bag with you if you have one and go have fun!

    January 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  12. sacchrainkiss

    I'm lucky enough to work in Seattle, about a mile from Pike Place Market, and I try to get down there once a week. I'm always interested in what the vendors have to say and I often ask them for tips on preparation and picking out my produce. Take it a step further, try and buy your mean, fish and dairy local to. If you can talk to the vendors of these items, often you can get a whole meal plan, and everything you need right at the Market!

    January 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Aninadog

      Me, too. I work 3 blocks from the market. It's fantastic to take a trip there in the middle of the day. Also, the Ballard Farmer's Market is year-round. It's a great Sunday morning excursion for breakfast and the week's veggies.

      January 27, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  13. FreshnLocal

    I run a local Farmers' Market in a rural community and I am also a grower. Our market only sells locally grown produce and all the growers at the market must be directly connected to the land the produce comes from. They also love when customers take an interest in the growing process, the varieties, the growing season, etc. Please, don't hesitate to talk to your own local growers about – well, anything you have a question about! Most farmers are very willing to give you a crash course in anything on their market table. There is a wealth of knowledge available at a Farmers' Market. All you need do is ask.

    January 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  14. Arick

    Sadly, we don't have a farmer's market near me. We had them when I was a child, but farming kind of went out of favor in this area.

    January 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • FreshnLocal

      Where is your area? Have you looked into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or at your State's Agricultural or County Extension Office website for alternatives? Also, there are some chain grocery markets, such as, Earth Fare and Whole Foods, that, depending on your location, specialize in locally grown (or within 250 miles) produce.

      January 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  15. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    Most interesting! Also, I can haz cheezburger?

    January 26, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  16. BoBo

    I walk around the entire market once first without buying. I get a lay of the land and figure out who has the best produce at the best prices and let the food tell me the menus. YUM

    January 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  17. JBJingles

    Good advice, and timely too as I am venturing to visit my first ever farmer's market when they reopen in March! Thanks for the great tips!

    January 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  18. Truth


    January 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  19. Anita

    Regarding number 1, absolutely! I'll buy from an outgoing, helpful vendor even if their prices are higher as opposed to a vendor who only has something to say when tallying up my bill.

    January 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  20. Sir Biddle via the Mobile

    Holy cow!

    January 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
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