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Food & Drink

The produce is peaking: 12 SF chefs on what to buy at the farmer’s market right now

Produce is ripe for the picking. But how to get the best of it? We asked SF's culinary elite.

Chef Nico Pena of Octavia holding Brentwood corn
Chef Nico Pena of Octavia grabbing Brentwood corn from G&S Farms at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers market. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Corn, tomatoes, peaches. They’re so hot right now.

Even after 31 years, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market continues to be the scene that embodies this statement. A who’s who of San Francisco chefs—from Laurence Jossel of Nopa to Francis Ang of Abaca to Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s—roll up early on Saturday morning, get prime parking right on the Embarcadero and grab a cart to load up with their favorite goodies. 

From the Alemany Market to Fort Mason, there are endless, wonderful markets all around the city, but since Foodwise, the longtime non-profit operator of the market, launched a “Market to Chef Program” in 2004, farmers have paired up with more than 200 restaurants

So what can the average shopper learn from the pros? A lot. On a recent weekend, we set out to survey a dozen of the city’s most discerning chefs who frequent the Ferry Plaza. They nominated their favorite farm stands, the produce they covet and how they use it in the kitchen. 

The image depicts a bustling outdoor farmers' market with vendors selling produce under white and blue tents. There are multiple people browsing and working, with vibrant city buildings and palm trees in the background.
Chef Nico Pena is just one of the 200 chefs who descend on the Saturday market to bring back summer treasures to their restaurants. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Chef Nico Pena, Octavia

Produce pick: Brentwood corn from G&S Farms ($1 per ear)
“For our corn lasagna, we use this corn—the entire thing. We sweat the kernels with leeks. We cook the corn milk into a pudding. We roast and steep the cobs in milk for bechamel and cream for a fonduta sauce. Then we grill more corn kernels in the husks. It helps make sure the corn flavor is pronounced.” 

Samir Mogannam, Beit Rima

Produce pick: Early Girl tomatoes from Dirty Girl Produce ($6/lb; available mid-July)
“The Early Girls from Dirty Girl are spectacular at the height of their season in August. I grew up in the Bay Area with a family from Gaza, and my mom and their mom would cook together, so this is a salad my mom learned from a close family friend. It’s a roasted striped bass with a Gazan salsa that’s really special. It’s diced tomato with smashed dill, jalapeno, and garlic, finished with tahini and lemon. I’m super pumped on this dish.”

Brandon Jew, Mister Jiu’s

Produce pick: Indigo Cherry Drops tomatoes from Lonely Mountain Farm ($6/pint; available early August)
“This red cherry tomato has a black variegation. It’s a pretty distinct look — a third is almost splattered with a black hue on the skin. It’s best to show them off in a raw, marinated state—just a little bit of vinegar, oil, and salt to bump up their intensity. Getting ’em all nice and juicy, and putting them on top of cold, silken tofu, is one of my favorite moves.” 

Pim Techamuanvivit, Nari and Kin Khao

Produce pick: Cucumbers from Star Route Farms (up to $3/pound)
“We started using Star Route’s Italian Carosello cucumbers a few seasons ago. They’re kind of round, really crunchy, and have this amazing cucumber-y nose—the scent is lovely. But Star Route has other great varieties, too. At Nari, we do a som tum salad, similar to papaya salad, but with cucumbers, in a spicy, tart, and a little salty dressing. The crunch is perfect. I love it because it’s more specific to our seasonality, rather than just using green papaya from anywhere.” 

Francis Ang, Abaca

Produce pick: Kangkong (water spinach) from GG Farm ($3/bunch)
“GG grows sweet potato leaves, water spinach, and all the Asian produce. Right now, we’re using kangkong or water spinach. We’re making a cold salad with the stems and frying the leaves until super crispy. We all grew up with that ingredient as kids in the Philippines and even here. It’s got a nice and crunchy texture.” 

A crate of okra with two hands holding up the vegetables.
Okra from Lucero Organic Farms is sold every week at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers market. | Source: Courtesy Brie Mazurek/Foodwise

Dontaye Ball, Gumbo Social

Produce pick: Okra from Lucero Organic Farms ($6/pint; available late June)
“Okra has such a rich history coming from Africa, and there are so many different ways to cook with it. It’s going to be in gumbo. Last summer, we also did a smothered okra with a hard sear and stewed Early Girl tomatoes. We did a buttermilk-marinated okra and fried those up. And a caramelized okra with beef tallow—that was killer. It’s an opportunity to experience an ingredient that doesn’t get its due.” 

Laurence Jossel, Nopa

Produce pick: Nectarines from Rojas Family Farms ($5/lb)
“The perfect nectarine? Holy moly. Freckled, half ripe and mango tasting. Yeah, that’s a moment. We cut it in half and lob it onto the wood-fired grill. You get that thing juicy and warm, and the sugars come out and caramelize fast. Then we put it with beautiful fresh cheese, toasted walnuts, a little honey and torn mint. We’re talking five ingredients, but the culmination of those things screams farm-to-table.” 

A cardboard box of plums.
Plums from Kashiwase Farm are well-suited for making plum sauce. | Source: Courtesy Brie Mazurek/Foodwise

Anna Voloshyna, cookbook author

Produce pick: Plums from Kashiwase Farms ($5.50/lb)
“I really, really like plum sauces. The plums need to be very tart, so if I see plums that are early, I make this sauce. You cook them until they fall apart and add a Khmeli Suneli spice blend—a pinch and everything instantly tastes Georgian, but the familiar flavor is blue fenugreek. You can cook it longer until dark and potent or keep it fresh like a quick jam situation. When the grilling season begins, the sauce is really good with lamb chops.” 

Tony Florian, Seven Hills and Collina

Produce pick: Brooks cherries from K&J Orchards ($5.50/lb)
“I’m lovin’ those K&J cherries. They have nice balance between the acid and sweet. We’re doing a little mostarda for our pork chop. We toast up mustard seeds, cook down half of the cherries with spring onion and green garlic, then fold in the other half to maintain the texture. It goes on a Stemple Creek pork chop, brined for 24 hours, then simply grilled, sliced, and served with the bone, with the mostarda draped over the top.” 

Cristina Kelbaugh, Spruce

Produce pick: Seascape strawberries from Lucero Organic Farms ($6/pint)
“These are just the cutest! They’re like little emojis with their little stem. They look fun on the plate. We’re using them in the gateau au fraises dessert, a Japanese sponge filled with creme diplomat. We keep the smaller strawberries whole for garnish on top, glaze them in their own jus and put a small layer of strawberry jam inside the cake.” 

Plastic containers of blueberries sit on a table covered in a blue-and-white checkered tablecloth.
Blueberries from Triple Delight Blueberries are both crunchy and sweet. | Source: Courtesy Brie Mazurek/Foodwise

Patrick Ascaso, Le Marais Bakery and Grande Creperie

Produce pick: Blueberries from Triple Delight Blueberries (small $10 or large $18)
“For me, happiness is when blueberries come in. The best blueberries are crunchy—then the sweetness comes, blowing your mind. We serve them in a tart shell with a little lemon zest. We sometimes do blueberry muffins, and my comment is always, ‘Can you add more blueberries?’” 

Elmer Mejicanos, Causwells and Delilah’s

Produce pick: Honeydew melons from Zuckerman Family Farms (up to $2/lb; available early July)
“We use all types of melons. My go-to is usually honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon. We’ve done a cocktail that’s like a melon bomb, where we cold-press three different types of melon and then clarify it and add vodka, honey and elderflower. It’s literally like the best Midori Sour you’ve ever had.”