15 Jul The State of the Market
When we moved to Greenville in 1994 I had embraced the idea that great restaurant food should have a sense of place. In short order I ended up as Chef at a recently opened bistro that featured a New-American style menu and I set about creating a regional focus. I sought out local farmers and one of them directed me to the state market. SC has three state markets and one is in Greenville. The market is operated by the agriculture department and it’s a place for farmers to sell to wholesalers as well as the public. On Saturday mornings, especially in the summer, this place is packed. About ten years ago the city leaders decided to host a Saturday market on Main street and so like any other American city worth its salt, we have a downtown market. It’s not really a farmer’s market but more of a street festival with live music, arts and crafts and the occasional politician out kissing babies and shaking hands. Of course there’s also plenty of food, both prepared and raw. It’s all very polished and deliberate and if you want to hang out with the upwardly mobile set, that’s where they are on a Saturday morning. When our restaurant was open I preferred to go to the state market. It’s rustic and authentic and if you wanted to see the true side of our agriculture community and meet generations-old artisans and farmers then this is the place. Canners, farmers, bee keepers and bakers are piled under the roof. A July visit was the highlight of my week, our restaurant was small and business would always slow down in July and August right when the produce was at its peak. I often felt like I should be buying more because I wanted to do my part in keeping these guys in business. We closed our restaurant four years ago (Want to make me cry? Try talking about 2008) and today even the 7-11’s are touting slushies are made with “locally sourced ingredients”. On a rainy Friday morning my son and I paid a visit to the market and the produce was abundant and beautiful. Would you like a tour?
There was also watermelons, cantaloupes, local honey, country hams, sweet and spicy peppers, molasses and local eggs. I’ve got nothing against the rash of new markets that have sprung up. It’s great for everyone and the more venues that farmers have to sell their goods, the better it is for all involved. But the tag lines of “locally sourced” “artisan” and “sustainable” are perilously close to over use and could lose their meaning. Has anyone noticed that McDonald’s is now saying that they are a “global network of local family restaurants”? Got it? McDonald’s is now “local”. I can’t blame them for jumping on the local bandwagon but talk about a stretch. Whenever I shop at this market those meat skins and pecan crackers remind me that not that long ago, most Americans lived rurally and a lot of us were close to being self-sufficient. Nothing on the animal or the field was wasted so pecans were gathered and cracked and even the pork skin was salted and fried. I’m due for knee surgery very soon, then there’s rehab time and once I’m healed up I really want to get back in the restaurant business. I miss shopping here and being able to spend two or three hundred dollars on wonderful, locally raised produce at the peak of its flavor. The vendors and farmers that I bought from used to holler at me and smile as they held up a prized tomato or squash, “Hey Chef, git over here, ya gotta taste this!” Later that night my customers would smile and thank me for the effort I put into my shopping. When we were busy life was very good. Thanks for coming along.