Bay Area chefs have redefined what “fresh” means when it comes to cooking ingredients. Fresh means far more than simply “not frozen” or “not canned.” Now, freshness is defined both by the time since a product was harvested and the location of the ingredient, or how local it is.
When it comes to fresh produce and other ingredients, one of the largest suppliers to restaurants is the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). CUESA has managed the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer’s Market since 1999, and took over the Oakland Farmer’s Market at Jack London Square last year.
CUESA Farmers’ Markets
The list of chefs that shop at these farmer’s markets reads like a Bay Area fine dining guide–from Absinthe to the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. CUESA makes it easy for chefs to shop by providing permitted parking close to the markets. In addition to produce, the markets also offer products from local ranches, dairies, and poultry farms, offering fresh, humanely raised meats, cheeses, milk and eggs. Locally manufactured packaged goods are also popular at the markets. The Alemany Farmers’ Market, San Francisco’s oldest, was the first market to sell Asian specialty produce like bitter melon, Vietnamese mint, holy basil, and lemongrass.
SF Ethnic Delights
Other great choices for fresh ingredients include ethnic markets. Mercado Brasil offers fresh tropical fruits, Nijiya Market in Japantown features sushi-grade fish, and Casa Lucas has a produce section with an enormous collection of fresh peppers and spices, and La Palma “Mexicatessen” produces handmade tortillas and other wholesale products. For more exotic food, the New May Wah Supermarket in Inner Richmond offers delicacies like live frogs, crawdads and fresh quail eggs.
East Bay Specialty Stores
In the East Bay, chefs shop at specialty stores like Vik’s Chaat Market adjacent to a restaurant run by the same family. Chaat is a term for Indian street food, and Vik’s Chaat receives fresh ingredients every day for use in the restaurant and for sale. The Oaktown Spice Shop was named one of the world’s best spice shops by Food & Wine Magazine. The shop not only offers fresh, high-quality spices, it also offers custom hand-mixed spice blends. The Tokyo Fish Market might have as many as 100 fresh fish products on a given day, with fresh produce sourced from local farms as a compliment.
North of San Francisco in Marin County, family ranches have embraced local restaurants and visa versa. Grassi Natural Beef offers free-range beef products, the Tomales Sheep Company raises grass fed lambs, and Dolcini’s Red Hill Ranch has been raising chickens for five generations. True Grass Farms adds certified organic Wagyu beef, pasture-raised pork, and rabbit to the list of options. Marin Sun Farms processes and butchers for many in the area.
While in Marin, let’s not forget the oyster farms of Tomales Bay. All are now located in or around the town of Marshall on Hwy.1., Hog Island, Pt. Reyes, and Tomales Bay Oyster companies are the major area farms. Our condolences go out to the Tod Friend’s family and workers for their great loss.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of sources of fresh foods and ingredients in the San Francisco area. There are hundreds of local farmers, ranchers and dairy farmers throughout the Bay Area and beyond, making the region of the leading producers and consumers of locally grown ingredients and products in the world. The trend toward artisanal or heirloom ingredients is expanding at the same time.
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