For Bay Area Chefs, the Best Dishes Start at the Farmers Market

Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
October 12, 2023

Rasika Venkatesa, Chef de Cuisine, Mourad, at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Every Saturday morning, among the swarms of people who bring the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to life, Bay Area chefs can be spotted navigating the tents as they fill up their red chef carts with striking seasonal finds. Chefs are a reliable customer base for farmers, sometimes making up 50% of farmers’ sales and often promoting farm names on their menus. 

As chefs pick up a bounty of bell peppers from one farm and a plethora of pluots from another, they’re not just picking up peak-season ingredients for their local restaurants. They’re also deepening friendships with family farmers and supporting values they hold close to their hearts. We asked a few chefs who are participating in Foodwise’s Sunday Supper this weekend to share a bit about the farms they keep coming back to, and what it means to them to be a part of our close-knit local food community.

Rasika Venkatesa, Chef de Cuisine, Mourad

The best part about California is the fact that there are so many farms around us. All of the farmers are doing what they do, without stopping for the rains or the heat. With global warming, it just gets harder for them to put in the effort and time, and make sure that the quality never goes down. 

We have been working with Zuckerman’s Farm for a long time now. Chef Mourad [Lahlou] has been working with Roscoe for more than 10 years, and ever since I became CDC [Chef de Cuisine], I have maintained that connection. Every spring season, we get all of our asparagus from him, and then come summer, we always get all of the melons that we use on our menu from him as well. 

We also have a great connection with K&J Orchards. We went on a field trip to their farm last year, and Boonie [Deasy] was welcoming in letting the team hang out at her farm. She took us around, and we picked fruits from the trees and ate them. When it comes to stone fruit season, I love working with Boonie. It’s really cool to see how many varieties she has. 

When I go to the market, I try to get as much as I can from multiple farmers, not just a few, be it microgreens here or a couple of vegetables there. We have the best of pretty much the world’s produce, just within our reach. 

Geoff Davis, Chef and Owner, Burdell

Farming has the same kind of ethos as cooking, where there’s a lot of hard work that doesn’t really get seen publicly. There’s a kinship there, being dedicated to a craft and hustling in the dark a little bit. It’s exciting to work with people that are just as obsessed, dedicated, and willing to sacrifice as much as we are in the kitchen, to grow the produce.

Joe from Dirty Girl Produce, we’ve been working together for a long time (eight  years), and he’s really kind and also obsessive over the details. We’re using some of his shelling beans for Sunday Supper. We’re really excited to show off the variety of beans that he has.

Curt Lucero [at Lucero Organic Farms] is obsessed with his okra. It’s really sweet and tender, and he’s really dedicated to growing it. That really gets me fired up.

Over 90% of everything we serve at Burdell is coming from farmers markets. The ebbs and flows of what we can get our hands on really dictates what we put on our menu. That’s what keeps it fun and interesting and exciting. 

Supporting your local economic ecosystem is really important—putting money in the hands of people that take care of their land and also take care of the people that work with them. They aren’t just large corporations that treat people like cattle or worse. It’s really gratifying to put money into a closed loop that serves your community.

Kim Alter, Chef and Owner, Nightbird

I have been going to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market since 2007. I base my menu around the farmers market. I get to see so many of my friends when I go, and get inspired by what is to come. 

Constantly being around farmers and talking to them about what’s growing, how hard it is dealing with climate change, and all of their costs has made me completely rethink how I feel and talk about and create food.

I love Joe from Dirty Girl, Kenny from Lonely Mountain, Roscoe and Chino from Zuckerman’s, Moira and Jesse from Marin Roots. I love the whole family at Yerena Farms, Jill at Four Sisters, Will Brokaw, Sarah at McGinnis Ranch, and David at Little Farms.

It is so important to support local farmers markets, not only so farmers can survive and keep producing, but to put money and thought toward the communities we are a part of. I have zero desire to pay for factory-farmed anything. You might have to put in more effort and money, but it is worth it.

I participate in Sunday Supper every year. I want to see the markets thrive and for the next generation of chefs and for home cooks to embrace them as well.

David Murphy and Kayla Abe, owners of Shuggie’s. Photo by Erin Ng.

David Murphy, Chef and Owner, Shuggie’s

My partner, Kayla Abe, and I met at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and we actually met for the first time at one of these fundraising events that Foodwise (called CUESA at the time) had put on. So, there’s a lot of history for us here. The fact that we now get to cook with all the rest of the best chefs in San Francisco is pretty cool.

I’ve been going to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market for 17 years now, so there are lots of folks that I have made connections with over the years.

Rudy and the team at Green Thumb Farms have been really cool for us because they have great minds as to what we’re looking for when we’re talking about food waste. They tend to utilize every bit of their harvest. They don’t leave any parts of the plants behind. 

Curt Lucero and his wife, Priscilla, are really great friends of ours. We’re thick as thieves, Curt and I. We’ve been out to their farm, we’ve hung out and partied with them. They’ve always got stuff that they need to move, and we’re happy to help.

Same thing with Lonely Mountain Farm. I’ve known them for at least 10 years. We’ve been out to their farm, and we love supporting them. 

Once you get to talking with folks, you can’t help but share in the emotion and the human plight of breaking your back to bring in a harvest. Chefs break their backs to create something out of the harvest, but it all starts with the farmers. 

There’s still time to join us at Foodwise Sunday Supper: A Farm to City Feast. Get tickets now.

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