May 19, 2013

Everything Comes from Somewhere

On Friday morning - at a time I would have considered still night back in New York - I got up early to go produce shopping with Chef Robert Luna, the man behind the East LA-inspired deliciousness at Malo in Silverlake and Mas Malo downtown (where I spent my lonelyhearts Valentine's Day in 2011).

Technically, anyone can go nocturnal foraging on their own...

...if they're prepared to battle the commercial trucks and forklifts they'll face upon arrival before the sun comes up at Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. And if they're prepared to buy wholesale (at least, a case of tomatoes, bananas, whatever).

Though walking through the stalls is somewhat reminiscent of wandering the aisles at Ralph's, we were reminded that this is where Ralph's gets their produce.

In the journey from farm to table, everything has to come from somewhere.

The produce market is currently dominated by what Chef Robert calls the "new market," which is full of A-grade, commonly sought-after produce (and some nuts and herbs and other things)...

...but Robert prefers to go beyond the new market to the old market, where he grew up, his mother too a cook who embarked on nocturnal foraging to bring delights back to Boyle Heights.

It's a sprawling, institutional-feeling complex, whose central courtyard (feeling somewhat like a prison yard) used to be covered and not open-air... evidenced by two columns that remain amongst the pallets and trucks...

...that used to hold the whole thing up.

The nearby cafe has long-since closed, but there is plenty of activity around the old market - and plenty of secrecy. This is the old world. Not everybody likes everybody knowing their business. Not everybody plays by the rules. And these are B-grade products, allowing chefs like Robert to keep their restaurant prices low and still their margins high.

Maybe it's better if you don't know where the beautiful dishes you eat came from. But not everything was born this way. Sometimes things come from ugly places and, with a little help and love, can turn into something beautiful. And just because you know where it came from doesn't make it any less beautiful.

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