What To Buy At The Santa Monica Farmers Market

Wandering through L.A.'s chef-swarmed farmers' market with Jessica Largey

Discover why L.A.'s dining scene is blazing hot. Come out west with us for L.A. Week at Tasting Table.

It's 8:28 a.m. on a cloudy Wednesday, just two minutes shy of the single loud ding that signals to the crowd of locals, tourists and L.A.'s top chefs that the Santa Monica Farmers Market is officially open—and that the sugary melons; crisp, tannic grapes; and more are officially up for grabs.

Waiting at the Andy's Orchard booth, Jessica Largey already knows what she wants—plump greengages to turn into a jam with spring onions. When the alarm sounds and the six other people at the stand eagerly grab their cardboard boxes, she turns around and takes a moment to say, "Everyone eat a plum." The wisp of plum skin barely keeps in the juice, and we bend over and cup our hands beneath our lips.

This is sort of a homecoming for Largey. Long before she ran the kitchen as chef de cuisine at Manresa in Los Gatos, California—and won a James Beard award for it—Largey was one of the young faces behind the stands here, helping her neighbor sell produce, then grabbing ingredients and hightailing it to Providence for dinner service. "It was a 20-hour workday, and it was so worth it," she says.

Now, Largey's back in Southern California to open her first restaurant, Simone, in the Arts District at the end of this year. ("An absolutely huge coup for Los Angeles," Eater proclaims.) Yet, you'll still find her at the same place she was as an 18-year-old: at the farmers' market. "I'm here every single week: Wednesday always, Saturdays sometimes, Sundays every so often," Largey lists.

Jessica Largey on the produce prowl

And she's excited Andy's Orchard is on the scene. Its pale green stone fruit reminds Largey of her time in Nice as a farmer's food consultant and trying Andy's luscious stone fruits firsthand at Manresa. As Largey departs the stand with her loot, there's an ease in how she works her way around the market, saying hi to everyone and getting stopped along the way by chefs and farmers. Like she's home.

"She likes playing with random stuff, and we have a lot of random stuff," Romeo Coleman of Coleman Family Farm explains, as Largey browses through leafy Vietnamese greens, like pho staple rau ram. Coleman's shiso is in the ume mix she's currently experimenting with.

"I know who you are. You are famous," Akasha Richmond, a chef famous in her own right for Akasha and Sāmbār in Culver City, says as she approaches Largey. "I've heard so many good things about you. I'm so excited to see you open."

She takes it all in stride. Simone is in demolition mode now, but the focus once open will be casual—"Fine dining is more clockwork," she muses, "but more rustic food is human"—and is rooted in the ingredients Largey is turning in her hands now, like just-tart Red Flames plucked from old wine vines at Murray Farm.

Will the restaurant put Manresa touches on the chef's counter? Are imprints of her past gigs (Intro in Chicago, The Fat Duck in London) or recent travel excursions to Barcelona and Copenhagen going to leave their marks on the menu? It's too soon to tell, because right now, it's all about finding hidden gems at the market and settling back down.

"But have you seen the Reed avocados?" Sarah Hymanson of Madcapra runs over to tell Largey. The adventure continues, and for the moment, Simone can wait. But not for long.

Jessica Largey's Favorite Vendors

Andy's Orchard: Andy Mariani grows the best fruit in the state, according to Largey. Be sure to pick up those greengages if you see them.

J.J.'s Lone Daughter Ranch: Citrus, like Meyer lemons and finger limes, and avocados are the bread and butter of this stand from Redlands, California.  

Harry's Berries: This nearly 50-year-old farm is always busy, a testament to the beautiful, plump and just-sweet strawberries, like juicy Gaviotas, it's mastered growing.

Coleman Farms: You'll always find fascinating greens here, but right now, Coleman is all about the basics, like five types of kale, spinach and cilantro.

Munak Ranch: Largey leaves melon picking to this Upper Salinas Valley farm, and on this trip, she picks up watermelons.

Weiser Family Farms: Beloved for root vegetables, this actual family farm is a go-to for melons and, soon, grains and whole hogs.

A handful of juicy Mountain Magic tomatoes.

Largey getting the scoop on produce that caught of the eye of Karen Beverlin, vice president of specialty produce for FreshPoint, a North American produce distributor.

Sunflowers at the crossroads of the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Talking shop and herbs with Romeo Coleman of Coleman Family Farm.

Thick bunches of breakfast radishes piled up.

Largey peruses the avocados at J.J.'s Lone Daughter Ranch.

Rows of brilliant strawberries from the world-famous Harry's Berries.

Largey holding her stone fruit haul from Andy's Orchard.