Snagging a spot on Bon Appétit's Best New Restaurants list is no easy feat, but that's exactly what Giant chefs Jason Vincent and Ben Lustbader did this year. One of their secrets to success is working with local farmers to source only the freshest, highest-quality produce around. "We feel a responsibility to be good to farmers, but we also have a responsibility to our customers," the team says. "You need to keep the whole balance in mind."
The easiest way to connect with vendors like, say, Vicki Westerhoff, who sells these guys "hands-down the best" ginger? Hit the farmers' market. If you're in the Windy City, that means heading to the Green City Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and Logan Square or Wicker Park on Sundays. "We do it because it's quality control," Vincent and Lustbader agree. "That's the first checkpoint."
The good news is that means you, too, can get your hands on the same sweet corn, zucchini and eggplant these guys sling on the line every night by visiting your own local markets—if you know what you're doing. Grab your sturdiest tote bag, some cash and your grocery list: Here are Vincent and Lustbader's tips for walking away with the good stuff.
Choose the Right Vendor
Walk into any farmers' market, and you'll see a plethora of stands vying for your business, often with similar offerings. "Shopping at the market can be intimidating, because there are so many stalls and products to buy," the team admits. Take a lap and see what's what before you stop to pick out your next bushel of apples.
If you're a regular market-goer, it pays to get to know the vendors. "A lot of them are people we have worked with for years," the chefs add. Building a relationship with these farmers increases your chances of getting the best of the best. Their pro tip: "Avoid the hipsters selling four ounces of basil for $5."
Pick the Best Produce
After schlepping around town with your market haul, no one wants to arrive home to find wilted and less-than-perfect goods. One way to avoid this is to put in the work while you're shopping. "Your senses are your first set of tools: If it looks good, if it smells good," the team explains. If you're still unsure, "ask the vendor what's good." Often, you can sample a piece on the spot. But, as these chefs will remind you, "It's not Baskin-Robbins," so don't be greedy.
Spend Wisely . . .
It's true that shopping at the farmers' market is more expensive than hitting Trader Joe’s—and for good reason. "Any extended handling, no matter how careful, cannot catch up to the quality at a farmers' market," the chefs say. Not every last ingredient on your shopping list has to come from the market to get an impressive dinner on the table. "Pick the one thing you're most excited about, and that's where your money goes," the duo say.
. . . And Don't You Dare Haggle
In case it's not clear, haggling at a farmers' market is off-limits. "Just fucking stop it. If it's too expensive, go to another stand," the chefs advise. "A lot of people can grow stuff, but it takes a skilled hand to grow stuff that's perfect." You wouldn't walk into a place like Giant and haggle over the price of a dish, so don't even think about doing it with your local farmers.
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.