Produce-Selecting Tips from a Restaurant Chef

August 6, 2010

Last night I attended the Farmer’s Market Chef’s Tour listed under In and Around the Garden’s August Events. I would definitely do this tour again. The overall feel was like one big party. The sound of loud, live music folded into the scents of fresh produce stirred up a jig in your body and a hunger in your belly.

The tour is limited to twelve. Ten people showed. One person, to my surprise (and hers) was an ex-coworker. We hadn’t seen each other in years. Gosh, she hasn’t aged at all.

Back to the tour.

Restaurant Chef Didier Gerbi (of Wine and Roses) is a tall Frenchman who’s accent had us leaning in a tad closer, sometimes asking Didier to reiterate his tips. He did so gladly. Before walking us through School Street, Didier said to keep three things in mind when shopping at farmer’s market:  Focus on seasonal produce; locally grown, and look for the best throughout the market before buying. “Price shouldn’t matter,” Gerbi said.

As we strolled through the crowd from farmer to farmer, Chef Gerbi was honest and never shy about pointing out bad produce. “This is very bad, very bad,” Gerbi said, waving his large hands over various crops. “These farmers aren’t going to like me.”

Most of Gerbi’s disapproving comments referred to out-of-season crops which meant they aren’t locally grown, not ripe, and overripe produce. Chef Gerbi’s other recommendations were as follows:

  • Never buy at the beginning of a crop’s season because they’re not ripe.
  • Choose pluots that are soft, almost overripe. (We tasted the Flavor Queen, and it was to die for.)
  • Corn is ripe when the tip of the ears is yellow (or white if choosing the white variety). White corn is best in salads and yellow corn is best prepared hot.
  • Choose small carrots because they’re sweet. Never peel a carrot before cooking. The best carrot is the original purple or black carrots (very sweet), but they are hard to find. 
  • Buy green peppers when they start to turn red. The first crop will always have a large brownish-white spot, kind of like blossom-end rot. Don’t buy these.
  • Choose only very small, firm zucchini. The life of a zucchini is six days.
  • Choose very thin cucumbers, preferably the English cucumber, which has fewer seeds.
  • Buy strawberries April through June, and again when the second season takes off in September.
  • A cantaloupe is ripe when the outer layer is smooth, not rough. The female cantaloupe is 80 percent better than the male. You can tell them apart by looking at the circle on the end. The Female will have a larger circle. Choose the lighter, female cantaloupe because it has less water and will be sweeter. (In the garden, hold up the cantaloupe by the stem, and if it falls off it’s ripe.)
  • A watermelon is ripe when you hold it up to your ear, knock on it, and it sounds like someone is knocking at the door—no kidding, it really does! In the garden, pick watermelon when three curly veins appear not far from where the stem connects to the melon. Also, look for a yellow underside.
  • Zebra tomato is ripe when it starts turning yellow. Black cherry tomato is like candy. A good tomato should have sweetness and acidity taste.
  • Peaches are ripe when the top (where the stem was) explodes.
  • The redder the pear the better they are.

Throughout the tour, Chef Gerbi shared a few cooking hints. The tour ended with Chef Gerbi’s tip on how to cook a chicken that is, without fail, juicy and tender. The chicken should be room temperature, and the oven preheated at 200 degrees. Every 30 minutes increase the temperature by 50 degrees until it reaches 350 degrees. It will always be done then. Remove from oven, and let sit 5 – 10 minutes before cutting or serving.

I hope Chef Gerbi’s professional tips help make your farmers’ market shopping (and backyard harvesting) easier as you raise melons to your ears, hunt down small carrots, and female cantaloupes.



  1. Fantastic article! Thank you….again!


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