Cooking School Journal: The Market Tour II

My trip to the Produce Mart was absolutely better than anything I had ever expected. I began the day shuffling around with the crowd on the loading dock, eyeing all of the produce and making smart ass comments. By the end of our tour, I found myself flanking Mr. Neruya so closely that I think he was ready to call security. I couldn’t help myself, though. He was totally brilliant but the softest talker on the planet. I should know. I’m a serial mumbler. I could have put my ear next to his vocal cords, though, and been lucky enough to only walk away with every third word.

It didn’t matter. I got it.

You know how you stand in the grocery produce section trying to look cool? You feel-up the avocado, stare down the shirt of the cantaloupe and even try to make conversation with the tomatoes? It’s all in vain. Because no matter how hard you try, you end up going  home with the worst produce ever.

You can pick the rosiest firmest tomato, and when you slice it, lay it lovingly next to the most expensive fresh mozzarella and the greenest basil you take one bite and still reach for your vinaigrette. You should be able to enjoy it all with a simple shake of sea salt and a grind of peppercorns.

Bummer.

If you ever buy a cucumber again… buy a Persian cucumber. You’ll never turn back the are so firm and flavorful.

When you buy garlic, press on the root. There should be no give.

The webbing on the outside of a cantaloupe should be very raised…and smell it. It should smell like the sweetest melon you’ve ever dreamed of.

These were just three of the myriad things that I learned that cold morning. I was transfixed.

There is nothing more satisfying than learning from an expert. We all spend so much of our lives listening to people BS about everything. The talking heads on the  radio, cable tv, the networks, the internet,and all of the people who listen to the radio, watch cable and the networks, and surf the internet,  have all become experts on everything and nothing.

It has become part of our culture. Everyone has something to say about everything. Give them a mic and they’ll lecture.

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How refreshing it was to stand, freezing in the middle of downtown L.A. at dawn, and have this old man show me how to choose a melon. He knew everyone and everything at the Produce Mart, which quickly became a bustling hub with flurries of transactions happening all around us.

His biggest regret?

He was entrenched in the process of trying to regulate the marketing of baby carrots when he was forced into retirement.

That little pouch of “baby carrots” you buy in the market are simply a whittled down regular carrot. A true baby carrot is a varietal all its own. It is a tiny carrot, top and all. The other is a batonnet of a regular carrot; packaged as a baby carrot. You could see his blood boil as he stared at a package of them on the dock.

“I fought hard to have these removed from the marketplace. But, when you leave a job, they don’t follow up. They don’t care,” he said.

I guess the truth may be that no matter how much important work you do in your life, it’s always the work not done that irritates you.

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