Finding the Good Stuff (Irvine Farmers Market)
(Begging to be eaten.)
Any cook worth his salt will tell you that the foundation of a great meal lies in using the freshest ingredients. The simplest recipe can attain a startling degree of deliciousness with the use of properly selected raw materials. For me, the search starts at my local farmers market.
(I'll take the lot.)
Once a single row of shops in corner of the University Center parking lot, the Irvine Farmers Market has blossomed into a booming fair celebrating some of the best food products Southern California has to offer. With five meandering rows of stalls selling everything from artisan breads to freshly pressed cider, there's truly something here for everyone.
(I didn't know students got up this early.)
Every Saturday morning, throngs of UCI students and Irvine locals comb the booths for the ripest produce and tastiest products. From the producers to you, without any middle man. It doesn't get any better than this.
(Doesn't even need salt.)
The main draw is, of course, the many tables overflowing with delectable fruits and vegetables harvested that very morning. Just these tomatoes alone would be enough to get me out of bed early on a Saturday.
(Just like in Taiwan's markets.)
Even more appealing is the wide range of Asian greens and other vegetables available. You can't find veggies this fresh in any grocery store. That's the way we Asians like to eat our food. The less time that elapses between soil and rice bowl, the better.
(Bins of delights.)
My favorite one-stop-shop for Taiwanese tasties is the stand for Yao Chang Farm from Ventura County. If an Asian recipe shows up on Chubbypanda - The Epicurious Wanderer, chances are I got most of the ingredients here. There's no sign, but it's the stall in the corner closest to the Stanford Court apartment complex and furthest away from Lee's Sandwiches. Just watch out for the Taiwanese grannies that staff the booth. Those ladies can really sell.
You can also pick up bouquets of the most amazing flowers. At those prices, there's no reason that your special someone shouldn't get some every week. The perfect way to say, "I love you."
(Feel like an omelet?)
But, farm-fresh produce is just the tip of the iceberg. Small producers like Lily's Eggs offer a variety of amazing products at highly competitive prices. You may pay a dollar more for the eggs seen here, but trust me. Once you've tasted the difference, you'll never go back. That statement holds true for all of the goods available at the Irvine Farmers Market. During my interviews with some of the vendors, I found dedicated artisans passionate about the quality and freshness of their offerings.
(Full of faith and love.)
At Heaven's Kitchen, Irvine residents Kay and Allen Womack offer a selection of delicious baked goods inspired by the Southeast region of the United States. Heaven's Kitchen is part of a community of faith, and is an active participant of outreach programs that provide food to needy families, toys for disadvantaged children, and Bible studies for young people. Kay makes all of her wonderful products by hand, using recipes passed down to her through four generations of African-American women. She named her enterprise "Heaven's Kitchen" to honor the women in her family who taught her how to cook, and whom she believes are smiling down on her from heaven. Kay is doing her own part to pass on the family legacy by teaching her daughter, a graduate of Georgetown University, and her two grand-daughters how to cook. Stop on by and try the Sweet Potato Pie or Peach Cobbler. As Allen will tell you, a little time in the oven to the warm pie, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and you've got yourself a perfect plate of Southern hospitality.
Kay and Allen are currently looking for a production facility for Heaven's Kitchen. Until then, Kay cooks everything in her own kitchen. In addition to baked goods, Heaven's Kitchen also caters, offering a wide assortment of classic Southern dishes. Contact Kay or Allen for a catering menu or drop by the Irvine Farmers Market and say "hi".
Kay and Allen Womack
Phone 1: 1-714-997-3332
Phone 2: 1-714-926-8025
(If you're interested in participating in a community of faith, or making a donation to the charitable organizations supported by Heaven's Kitchen, please speak with Kay for more information.)
(A family affair.)
Carlie Stone does a great job representing Delaney's Culinary Fresh, a pasta, oil, and sauce company started six years ago by her mother, Jordan, and operated with the help of Carlie and her sister. Based in Temecula, Delaney's Culinary Fresh features a variety of sauces made using extra virgin olive oil, aged Italian cheeses, and fresh herbs and spices. Carlie recommends using her mother's sauces for pasta, bruschetta, and salad. The ladies don't skimp on the flavor, and the sauces are guaranteed to be freshly made, often only a day or two before they're sold at the market.
Delaney's Culinary Fresh
(He loves his cheese.)
Daniel represents the Winchester Cheese Company, a family-run dairy operation located in Winchester. The Winchester Cheese Company produces a variety of Dutch, farm-style cheeses using raw, certified whole milk and vegetable rennet imported from Holland. Their delicious products have been recommended by the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Bon Appetit Magazine, and Savoir Faire.
Winchester Cheese Company
32605 Holland Road
Winchester, CA 92596
(A sweet deal.)
Local beekeeper, John Ford, markets his honey under two brands; Vinciana's Natural Honey and Uncle Teddy's Natural Honey. With hives along Trabuco canyon and Ortega Highway, John takes pride in offering the honey he loves so much directly to you. He likes his honey any way he can get it, but his favorite delivery methods are in hot tea with lemon, or on a piece of warm toast.
Vinciana's Natural Honey
P.O. Box 8473
Fountain Valley, CA 92728
(Really knows his stuff.)
Lowell from Dry Dock Fish in Fullerton is always ready to answer your questions and sell you the Catch of the Day, literally. Dry Dock Fish brings in a number of their fish from vetted producers, but also catches a good portion of their seafood themselves. Lowell can tell you what's in season, where it came from, when it was caught, and the best way to have it for supper. His passion for his product really shines through. Dry Dock Fish's offerings are far superior in quality than what you'll find in your neighborhood grocery store. In less than twelve hours, the fish go from their nets to your hands. Who can beat that?
Dry Dock Fish Company
1015 E. Commonwealth
Fullerton, CA 92831
(The tamales, not him.)
Kurt of Casa Solana Homestyle Tamales runs a catering business in Mission Viejo that serves all of Orange County. He markets traditional, authentic, homemade tamales produced by a Mexican, family-run business in Riverside. The tamales are individually wrapped, certified by the US Agricultural Department, and served in restaurants throughout Southern California. This panda vouches for the deliciousness of his products.
(I miss the old rep.)
A longtime market favorite, Stanton-based Mom's Products offers homemade, Mediterranean oils and appetizers. As with most of the stands at the Irvine Farmer's Market, Mom's Products is family owned and operated. The old rep was a charmingly gregarious fellow who used to greet his regulars, including this panda, with a resounding "Hello, my friend!" A few years ago, he was replaced by this genial, but much more subdued relative. I still love their offerings, but I miss my old chum.
7441 Cerritos Ave.
Stanton, CA 90680
(An olive oil rainbow.)
Petrou Foods has long been a favorite stop of mine for high-end olive oil. According to their market rep, Lena, George Petrou immigrated to the United States from Greece 12-14 years ago, bringing with him intimate knowledge of olive oil manufacturing techniques. He set up shop in San Diego, applying his skills to the production of California olive oil. Today, Petrou Foods produces some of the finest olive oil and olive products in all of California.
Petrou Foods LLC
7960 Silverton, Suite 120
San Diego, CA 92126
Gourmet Tamales of Carlsbad (guess where they're from) markets homemade tamales with no lard or industrial processing that are much larger than any you'll find in a grocery store. Their selection is astounding. Manny, the gentleman I spoke with, said that there was simply no comparison between their tamales and mass-produced ones. I have to agree.
Gourmet Tamales of Carlsbad
1813 South Coast Hwy
(Fun knickknacks for the whole family.)
Tired of shopping yet? No? Good! There's an entire row of booths selling crafts from local artists.
The Irvine Farmers Market - Where you'll find some of the very best food Southern California has to offer. Go support your local growers and producers. You may find yourself paying a little more than you would in the store, but quality comes at a price. These mom & pops need your business, and we want to keep their wonderful products available for a long time to come.
(Open every Saturday from 8am - 12noon.)