Like many other Washingtonians, Jean-Claude Garrat rolls out of bed on Sunday summer mornings and heads to his neighborhood farmers market. He'll smell the basil, admire the cherries, chat with the vendors. Just like everybody else.
Except that Garrat is co-owner of BeDuCi, the Mediterranean-style restaurant at 2100 P St. NW, and so he has more mouths to feed. Zigzagging through the Dupont Circle Freshfarm Market with a hand truck, he'll spend $250 in less than an hour, buying bunches of turnips to add to couscous, armloads of eggplants to fry and grill, four flats of tomatoes for who-knows-what.
"It gives me something to do," says Garrat, who lives in an apartment above his restaurant.
Not all local chefs and restaurateurs shop at the Washington area's farmers markets. But those who do say the display of fresh, local produce gives them menu ideas, top seasonal quality and a chance to talk directly to the producers of the food. These are experiences they're not likely to get from a wholesaler whose fruits and vegetables they don't see or smell before they're delivered to their back doors.
"I'm able to select things myself," says Nizam Ozgur, chef and owner of Nizam's, a Turkish restaurant in Vienna, who shops at the Vienna farmers market every Wednesday. "I don't mind paying more for quality vegetables."
"I love going to the markets," says Laurie Alleman, pastry chef at Galileo (near Dupont Circle), who shops at the Falls Church market on Saturdays and the Dupont Circle market on Sundays. "They give me so much inspiration."
For example, Alleman said she had no intention of buying yellow plums one day before she arrived at Dupont Circle, but they were so large, sweet and juicy that she imagined they would make wonderful granita, the grainy Italian ice. They did. She unexpectedly snatched up cherries with long and graceful stems; they looked perfect for dipping in chocolate and serving on the restaurant's complimentary cookie plates.
Other chefs shop at farmers markets to get ideas, but not to buy--at least not for the restaurant. John Guattery, corporate chef for the 10 restaurants in Clyde's Restaurant Group, shops at the Dupont Circle market with his vegetarian wife for their household produce. But "there's something at the market that always grabs me" for the restaurants, says Guattery. Recently, it was Queen Anne cherries. He bought a batch for his chefs to taste.
Similarly, Jose Andres of Cafe Atlantico, near the MCI Center, shops at the Dupont Circle market, maybe buying green beans to puree for his 5-month-old daughter and cherries for a homemade liqueur for the restaurant. Andres remembers shopping as a child with his mother at outdoor markets near Barcelona and the rapport they developed with the cheese man, the meat man and so on.
Garrat of BeDuCi, a French Basque who grew up in Tunisia, recalls going with his parents to the local markets, too. That's where he received his early culinary education. His parents, also restaurateurs, would show him "what was good, what was not good," says Garrat, 55, who drives a truck to the Florida Avenue wholesale market every other day to pick out the rest of the restaurant's produce, rather than having it delivered.
Perhaps he was born to schlep; on a recent sweltering Sunday, Garrat headed up P Street from his restaurant to the Dupont Circle market, hand truck in tow, stacked with red plastic Coke crates to partition his purchases. He never goes with a list; instead, he shops quickly and knowingly, dashing from one stand to the next. His chef Larbi Bouaichi, who will arrive at the restaurant later that day, will then have to fashion Garrat's finds into the week's specials.
In the meantime, first stop: turnips. "These will melt in your mouth," says Garrat, a 20-year veteran of Washington's grand-but-gone eateries, including Sans Souci, Cantina d'Italia and Rive Gauche.
Next stop, Reid's Orchard, where he will buy cherries and peaches for his personal use. "I like the smell of fruit in the apartment upstairs," he says, admitting that he sometimes uses the restaurant kitchen during off hours, leaving an anonymous mess.
At the next stand, Garrat explains to the vendor in a white T-shirt and black sunglasses that he needs 13 potted fresh herbs. "Rosemary, lavender, mint, oregano. Anything that doesn't get too bushy," he says, telling the man he wants to repot them for centerpieces on the tables in the restaurant's sun room.
Time for tomatoes. He bypasses one stand where the tomatoes are small and brilliant red, commenting that for home use "these are gorgeous." But for the restaurant, if diners "don't see big tomatoes, they'll think I'm cheating them," he says, choosing the beefsteak tomatoes at the stand across the way, where he leaves his card. Garrat wants to buy four flats, and the farmer agrees to drop them off at the restaurant after the market closes.
And on he goes: sniffing basil from one stand and pointing out how much more aromatic it is than the basil at the next stand, finding zucchinis wide enough and long enough for the vegetarian sandwiches he sells at the DuCi Deli next-door to the restaurant, needling a vendor who goes to Yale and has trouble adding up his purchases.
"Green beans and we're done," Garrat says, heading back to the Sunnyside Farm stand, where he buys eight pounds of the slender haricots verts and talks the farmer into bringing him two bushels of potatoes the following Sunday.
Dropping a few plums while navigating his packed hand truck down 20th Street, Garrat heads back to the restaurant, where he unloads his cache and momentarily cools off in the 60-degree wine cellar, his passion along with politics. He estimates that he has spent about $250, more than twice what he would have spent for the produce from his regular wholesalers. But the quality and the experience make it worth it, he says. Besides, he saves money by picking up the rest of his produce at the Florida Avenue market.
A few hours later, chef Bouaichi arrives to survey the shopping spree. Like a husband who always buys the wrong size for his wife, Garrat says "it happens every time" that he buys something that Bouaichi can't use. Last week, says Garrat, standing in the walk-in refrigerator, it was this case of baby bok choy.
But he and Bouaichi have known each other for 15 years; they're on the same wavelength. Running his hands over the pile of pale green zucchinis in the restaurant's kitchen, the Moroccan-born chef decides he will use some for a cold appetizer--zucchini with a chiffonade of arugula, shaved Parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette. Some he will use in a chilled soup, along with the turnips. And speaking of those turnips, Bouaichi envisions that they will work well, caramelized, with the duck breast he often serves.
"When you see the product, you match it up with other products you have," he says, trying to explain what is second nature to him. Or he makes seasonal substitutions. Next week, for example, if Garrat purchases more turnips at the market, he says he may stuff them with lamb trimmings and serve them alongside rack of lamb. He's made the dish before, stuffing onions instead.
The vendor from the market who promised Garrat he would deliver tomatoes arrives in the kitchen. Bouaichi takes one look at the softball-sized fruit and announces that he will leave them whole, filling them with avocado mousse. Or maybe cucumber mousse. They will also look good sliced in a tomato salad with croutons.
The mesclun? He'll use it as a bed for poached chicken breasts on the next day's prix fixe lunch menu. The eggplant? He'll use it tonight in one of the specials--a Grilled Center-Cut Tuna Steak With Grilled Eggplant and Cream of Anchovies.
Meanwhile, Garrat is playing backgammon with a friend in the dining room; earlier, he repotted the herb plants from the market, which now sit in pretty ceramic containers on the tables in the sun room. A staffer mops the floor in the foyer. The kitchen help is chatting. The restaurant has a hushed and homey feel, the lull before company comes.
BeDuCi Chef Larbi Bouaichi Cooks From The Market
Poached Chicken Breast With Mesclun and Berries
Jean-Claude Garrat, co-owner of BeDuCi restaurant on P Street NW, doesn't have to go far to get fresh produce for his restaurant. He walks a few blocks and shops--without a list--for ingredients at the Freshfarm Market at Dupont Circle. Then he carts his finds back to the restaurant and challenges chef Larbi Bouaichi to create recipes. Here is the result of one such challenge.
About 2 cups water
4 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs thyme
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 5 cups mesclun mix or mixed lettuces
About 1/2 pint seasonal berries
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil with the parsley, thyme, carrot and celery. Add the chicken, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the raisins, wine, sugar and stock or broth. Set aside for 20 minutes. Drain the raisins, reserving the soaking liquid. Set the raisins aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the soaking liquid and vinegar; slowly whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Slice the chicken breasts at an angle and transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle the chicken with some of the vinaigrette, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Toss the mesclun or mixed lettuces with some of the remaining vinaigrette and transfer to individual plates. Top with the reserved raisins and chicken. Garnish with the berries.
Per serving: 311 calories, 27 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 78 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber