By Vanessa Deleon
It would figure that I get to write the first blog, I am the talker and the writer which is why I am often “kicked out” of the kitchen. I talk too much, therefore distracting the talent. I get to “support” the chef’s in whatever they need and today the website needs a blog!
Gilroy is in the middle of an area of abundance when it comes to a variety of local, fresh and even organic and sustainable produce. When we started catering events, we went to Farmer’s Markets, directly to the farmers and asked questions. Some of the questions were a little odd. I can’t tell you how often one of my chefs’ beautifully and eloquently describes the exact name of the ingredient they want, to procure it. I confidently head out in search the mystery fresh, local ingredient. I will repeat exactly what I think they asked for only to say it completely wrong! I have gotten some funny looks and lots of laughs when I am out “ingredient hunting”.
The first story that comes to mind was last summer, Executive Chef went to the Farmer’s Market in Morgan Hill and sampled some yellow watermelon, I’ll be honest here I though watermelon came in one color, who knew there was yellow watermelon? There’s black too! Each color providing a unique flavor. Needless to say Chef fell in love with the yellow watermelon’s flavor and decided to put it on the menu for a menu 3 weeks away, incorporating it into a watermelon soup. Again I didn’t even know people made soup out of watermelon, but working with 3 professional chefs I have learned so much in the last year. So the week of the event chef goes to buy the yellow watermelons, the farmer isn’t there at the farmer’s market. It seems as if no one knows what she is talking about. YELLOW WATERMELON!? Here’s where I come in, I need to find yellow watermelons, ok no problem right? I know people, lots of people; I will just ask someone and get them. It’s never that easy, it just isn’t. There are no yellow watermelons; I get a tip, a hot lead. My brother was visiting that weekend and on his drive home he swears he saw a fruit stand on Highway 152 selling watermelon, YELLOW watermelon. We go there, nope no yellow watermelon. I go to LJB farms, he always gets me what I need, nope no idea where to get one of those this week. I call Whole Foods, they carry weird stuff, right? No, no yellow watermelon, Trader Joes, nope they have no idea what I am begging for. Chef and I head to our local Nob Hill together and find the produce manager, yes he knows what a yellow watermelon is, they had some last week not this week. He will call the warehouse and see if he can get any. Score, but not really, see he explains that the fruit has a very short season; about 3 weeks max and we are at the tail end of it so he is concerned about the quality, but he will try. My mind is saying “Really people its fruit, do we have to do all this? Just use a red one!” I try to not say those things out loud, the chefs have very sharp knives and shoot looks of death when I do say those things so I learned not to.
Its 3 am and we need watermelons in 4 days, we have black ones (someone said the flavor was similar, it’s not) and I have an idea! They always come at 3 am, the ideas that is. My aunt lives in Clovis and her boyfriend works for the Department of Agriculture over there, he can get us yellow watermelons I am sure he knows where this mysterious farmer is! Nope, although he does indeed know what we are begging for the farmer that grows them doesn’t have any. Here is another “learning” moment for me, the season is earlier in the central valley than here which means it ended already weeks ago there. I try to always get what I need locally, but at this point I am desperate, even grandma is helping search for yellow watermelon. I would have imported it, if I thought I would get one. Yes I did in fact say “why does it HAVE to be YELLOW watermelon?” This search has exhausted me and I’m failing. The answer I get whenever I ask that question is always the same. “The flavor is distinct!” (With look of death in the chef’s eyes)
I don’t question anymore, when the chef’s ask for something that I am not familiar with, I embrace it as a learning experience and go out hunting. Look, I know we ate watermelon for weeks, all different colors, I know the client ate yellow watermelon soup. I now know every fruit stand on 152-because that is where it was finally found. Not the one my brother said, but the one 3 stands down. I know that Gilroy began buzzing about the small town caterer with amazing ideas in Gilroy! My job was done, I was on to my next hunt.