I was very lucky to have recently “won” the time of Amelia Saltsman, a renowned local foodie author and media personality. The prize, which was the result of my winning a silent auction benefiting the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, included having her as a personal guide through the market, followed by a special luncheon at the Rustic Canyon Wine Bar, featuring that day’s market highlights.
We met at 9AM on a Wednesday morning. I have always wanted to go the SM Farmer’s Market on a Wednesday…Chef’s Day. I had heard there is more selection, less crowds, celebrity chef sightings, and more. This proved to be quite true.
We had barely started the tour when an enticing chaos set in. There was a flurry of fruit, pocket knives, and lots of juicy bites of heaven. Amelia was in the center of a crowd that included at various moments Laura Avery (Manager of the Farmer’s Market and another local Foodie celebrity), the group from Rustic Canyon, chefs from other restaurants stopping to say hi, other cookbook authors, and of course her fans. I was introduced to Alain Giraud (4 Star Michelin – probably there for Anisette) Russ Parsons, (LA Times), David Karp (author & Fruit Detective), Martha Shulman (Cookbook author), and others.
I was intrigued how Amelia carries a pocket fruit-paring knife the way I carry a corkscrew. Various stone fruits were the center of attention. Amelia would rapidly slice chunks off and feed them to my husband and I while explaining the nuances and history of each.
It was only recently that I was complaining to others that the peaches here are just not as good as the ones I grew up on from the NJ Farmer’s Markets. I literally swallowed my words upon tasting an Elberta Yellow Peach and a few other choice varieties. It was huge, buttery, and succulent. If it was a wine I would be describing it as complex and well balanced with the right amount of sweetness and acid.
This same kind of discussion carried right over to the Heirloom tomatoes. She carefully steered me towards certain farmers and particular varietals, which later proved to be far superior to the ones I typically purchase at the Torrance Farmer’s Market.
That led into discussions of growing technique and the reputations and
locations of the farmers themselves. In the past, some of my friends would laugh
when I would explain how beefsteak tomatoes never taste right here in
California. I would allude to terroir being a factor and would get
funny looks. But Amelia freely used the word ‘terroir’ as
she detailed not just the farmer but a description of his soil and the
nuances of dry farming, hydroponics, type of fertilizer, and of course
organic, certified organic, etc. It felt like I was back on my recent trips to Tuscany, Piedmont, and especially Burgundy listening to my guide and the wine makers on the passion behind what goes into a great bottle of wine.
All in all, this was of the finest foodie experiences I have had since my once-in-a-lifetime foodie/wine trip to Europe last year. I learned the value and importance of just talking to the farmers and getting to know them and why they use the methods they do. And while it seems obvious now, I was at least a bit surprised to find a striking taste/quality difference between two seemingly identical items for reasons other than organic labeling.
Check out Part II for details on the luncheon we experienced at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar.
Rustic Canyon Wine Bar
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401