SANTA MONICA, Calif. — A good chef’s work begins before most gourmands are even out of bed. Situated two blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, the farmer’s market attracts nearly every top chef in town — most of whom visit before 7:00 a.m. — as well as foodies who get up early in search of organic produce.
One morning last week, Alain Giraud, armed with the perfect straw Provençale shopping bag, sampled the local wares. After heading the kitchens of Lavande and Citrus, the French chef will open Bastide, his ode to Provence, later this month. “What I like to do is walk around just once, to see what’s here,” he says. “I don’t like to buy right away, even though I almost always buy from the same places.”
On today’s list: tiny potatoes, red and green figs, heirloom tomatoes and berries. “Last week it was melons because we’re doing a melon cannelloni with a sweet wine sauce and crab,” he says. “Alors, let’s walk!”
But it isn’t long before Giraud is sidetracked by a sign for organic lemon cucumbers. “Have you ever seen that in your life?” he marvels, bagging a few. “I have no idea what it is. I’m envisioning a rack of lamb from Colorado for two served with chickpea flowers and teeny tomatoes stuffed with confit.”
Shopping with Giraud is full of ups and downs. A few plump strawberries offered at the stand are quickly rejected, proving to be too acidic. “Too much water in the soil,” he grunts. “Sometimes the uglier strawberries taste better.”
Only a few moments later, Giraud is rhapsodic again, gushing over a display of haricot verts. “These are best in the market,” he proclaims. “You can tell they’re fresh because they still have tiny white flowers attached to the ends. And listen to the snap it makes when you break it — it doesn’t bend.”
“Is your place open yet?” ask fellow chefs from Melisse, La Boheme and Little Door as Giraud makes his way through the market. “Soon, soon,” he tells them. Bastide — literally, country house — was designed by Andree Putman in the manner of a traditional French home. But the market, too, reminds Giraud of life in Provence. “The quality here is nearly the same as in France,” he announces. “The only frustration is the mushrooms. Ah well, at least truffles travel well.”