A solid year had passed without making good on my promise to get together with Neil, a personal chef. Between his hectic schedule and my own tangled commitments, we finally struck upon an idea: Why don't I follow him to work, that is, shopping at a farmers market?
Grown-up lives demand grown-up sacrifices, even for social outings. We agreed to meet at the Hollywood Farmers Market shortly after it opened at 8 a.m. Sunday, when I'm rarely awake. Chefs may work all hours, but they rise early to get the best selection. Neil had already scoped the entire scene, a strategy that made sense of the bountiful selection.
With the precision of a surgeon, Neil worked through the market's scarcest treasures first: morel mushrooms, baby vegetables and a vertical rosemary plant -- the stems make great grilling skewers. Clearly, this wasn't going to be just grocery shopping, but a cooking and gardening lesson. At every stall, Neil shared recipes (morels over scrambled Araucana eggs), shopping tips (select uniform-sized vegetables so they cook evenly) and tales of working for high-powered clients (how he taught himself wood-fired pizza cooking for a movie star).
We sampled strawberries before laying out $8 for three pints, rejected the limp kale and marveled at the varieties of mint plants to tuck into our gardens. In Los Angeles, there may be no better place to experience spring than a farmers market, where our region's seeming lack of seasons is erased by the bounty of fragrant blooms, berries and baby asparagus. Everything appears fresher, even the market's vivid cross-section of humanity -- the freaks, hipsters and hired entertainers.