The Produce Hounds Load Up
on Late Summer Produce
by Amy Tarr
We’ve heard it from chefs at least a hundred times - “I only use the freshest, seasonal ingredients.”But how many chefs really pay attention to what’s in season and change their menu accordingly? And how many are directly in touch with the farmers who harvest their bounty? Recently we visited the Union Square Farmers’ Market in New York City, where farmers, chefs, and discerning produce fans convene every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday – year-round, rain or shine. more>>
Chef Peter Hoffman of Savoy – New York, NY
  Cranberry Bean and Pumpkin Stew
Chef Marco Moreira of Tocqueville – New York, NY
  Young Garlic and Almond Gazpacho
  Zucchini Squash Soup
Chef Cyril Renaud of Fleur de Sel – New York, NY
  Organic Yellow & Green Bean Salad, Crème Fraiche, Toasted Hazelnuts & Almonds
  Lobster Salad, Heirloom Tomatoes, Avocado, Fresh Fennel, Chamomile Vinaigrette

The market is a prime social scene for the city’s chefs – they greet one another with handshakes or hugs as they stop to chat and catch up. On separate excursions we were joined by Peter Hoffman of Savoy, Marco Moreira of Tocqueville, and Cyril Renaud of Fleur de Sel - three talented chefs who put their produce where their mouths are. Watching them wind their way through the market, we caught a glimpse of their distinct approaches and discovered how they make the most of each trip.

We couldn’t help but notice that Hoffman, Moreira, and Renaud all tended to gravitate toward the same vendors – like the “tomato guy” for his perfectly irregular heirloom tomatoes and Franca Tantillo, owner of Berried Treasures in Upstate New York, for everything under the sun – like Tristar strawberries and Juliet tomatoes. “I am a person about relationships,” Renaud says. “For me, it’s important to buy from people with a good attitude. I believe in the power of good energy.”

Franca Tantillo says the reason chefs like her produce is that she puts a generous amount of minerals into her soil, resulting in fruit and vegetables with higher sugar content (We think it’s the good karma and friendly rapport that she has with chefs). She frequently offers them samples to taste, popping tomatoes into their mouths so they can judge for themselves.

The connection between purveyors and chefs is one of the most important relationships in the restaurant business. Being able to purchase high-quality produce from the farmers’ market is a convenience and a luxury that many chefs don’t have. For Hoffman, Moreira, and Renaud, using seasonal, fresh produce is not just a philosophy, it is a way of life.


With his specially outfitted bike with cart in tow, Peter Hoffman has become a symbol of the Union Square Farmers' Market, easily recognizable to all as he rolls into the market around 9 am. "There's no point in coming early," says Hoffman, who warns that any earlier there's a chance of missing some of the venders who haven't set up their stands yet. On the morning we met him, Hoffman's son, Theo, accompanied him. Hoffman pushed his cart from stand to stand, inspecting the mounds of fresh vegetables and fruits, testing the ripeness and inhaling the fragrance of individual specimens. Working off his Sharpie-scribbled shopping list, he sought out particular vendors for each item - melons, peaches, cucumbers, and cranberry beans. He periodically rearranged the growing pile of bags in his cart, until not one bag more would fit.

In a crisp pink gingham dress shirt and gray trousers, Moreira worked his way through the market, inspecting the wares on the backs of the farmers' trucks, in case there was something better than what was laid out on the tables. "Late summer is the best time for the farmers' market," he said. "Most people don't realize that." When something caught his attention, Moreira would call his sous chef via cell phone to confer about purchases and the day's menu. He located "the best peaches" in the market and purchased an entire bushel basket of them. Hoisting the basket onto his shoulder, he carried his bounty with a smile, anticipating the tarts and sorbets the bushel would yield.

It was a busy morning for Cyril Renaud. Dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and suspenders (his preferred fish-handling getup), he had already been to the fish market and the flower market before meeting us in Union Square. "I used to come [to the farmers' market] all the time, but now my staff won't let me go - I'm like a kid in a candy shop, and I end up buying more than we can ever process." But Cyril indulged us - and himself - on this particular day, grabbing up handfuls of green and yellow beans, which he would later turn into a salad tossed with light cream, heirloom tomatoes and toasted hazelnuts.



Related Links:
Farm Fresh Markets
Summer Produce
Spring Produce
Fall Produce
Winter Produce
Forum - Do you trust the word ORGANIC?

Photo Credit: Jack G. Sutter
Published: September 2004