5 Things You Should Be Doing at the Farmers Market This Time of Year, According to Chefs

published May 8, 2022
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Beautiful woman buying kale at a farmers market
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Chefs know their way around the farmers market. They’re shopping for ingredients multiple times a week. And they’re constantly tasting samples and talking to vendors about their crops. We were curious to learn more about their expertise in navigating these markets. So, of course, we asked! We chatted with three chefs who frequent their local farmers markets. They shared some of their best tips for shopping at the markets this time of year. Let’s take a look!

Credit: Christine Han

1. Sample all your options before buying anything.

Much like at a lavish Las Vegas buffet, you want to scout out all of your options before committing to purchases. And Chicago-based chef Donald Young of Duck Sel takes things a step, err, pinch further: “I like to see what everyone has and compare the visual and taste quality of it all,” says Young. “With the farmers’ permission, I try to sample everything I can because the flavor can vary week to week from farm to farm based on the different locations and weather they experience.” Prices can vary between vendors too, so make note of any differences you see as you’re browsing.

2. Ask about the microclimates in your area.

“Farms, depending on where they are located, have wildly different seasons from one another, ” says Chef Brian, who works directly with many small farmers and fisherman at his restaurant Crudo e Nudo in Santa Monica. He recommends talking to farmers and learning about the microclimates in your area and what’s in season for each particular farm. “You might be able to get corn, peaches, or peas at their peak for one month at one farm, but then someone from a different climate will have a better version of that ingredient one month later.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Think about growth cycles and how they impact the produce.

Where produce is in its growth cycle will affect its texture and flavor. “Towards the end of the season, spring crops like peas, artichokes, asparagus, and fava beans convert sugars to starch as they grow, and will be tougher and less sweet,” says Bornemann. But, he adds, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Earlier in the season, you can make a crudité plate with raw, untouched veggies, but later in the growth cycle, try braising and longer cooking methods, infusing them with flavor and using their heartiness and starch to your advantage.”

4. Seek out spring garlic and scallions.

Chef Jasmine Shimoda from Loquita in Santa Barbara loves using spring scallions and garlic in her dishes this time of year. “You can use them as you would any scallions and garlic, but they impart such a fresh verdant flavor into everything,” she says. For example, she’s currently serving a gin-cured ocean trout crudo with spring garlic oil, Meyer lemon, radishes, and an herb purée with parsley, dill and spring onions.

5. Pick up storage and recipe tips.

Depending on where you live, May might be your last chance to get your favorite spring crops, including garlic, scallions, and more. Like Shimoda and many of us, you’ll eat some now and want to preserve the rest to use throughout the year. Local farmers, like chefs, are masters at both. “They can give you tips for how to store and cook various items for optimal flavor and texture, and might even have recipe suggestions for you too,” says Young.

Are you a chef who shops at farmers markets frequently? Do you have a tip to add to the list?