Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

EVENT: Hollywood Farmer's Market Tomato Festival, August 19, 2006

There is one thing I love: farmer's market. There is one thing I hate: tomatoes. So you can see there was kind of a dilemma happening in my mind when the Hollywood Farmer's Market had a Tomato Festival this past Sunday. Hundreds of hundreds of tomatoes featured! No thanks.

However, people are constantly bugging me to just try this tomato or that tomato, because ... really, this kind is different! You will see! It doesn't even taste like a tomato, it tastes better! And I realize that part of loving food is not being afraid of food. I have to try things even if I think I won't like them because I may discover a new favorite.

So I went to the Tomato Festival. And I even ate tomato. And here is the thing: a tomato is a tomato. I appreciate people trying to discover a tomato lover deep within me, but it's not going to happen. No matter how special, how flavorful, how crisply textured and lovingly raised, there is, deep at the heart of each and every tomato, a certain flavor that is the essence of tomato--that chemical component that makes it a tomato. And that is what I don't like. I tried some different kinds, and I tried some different colors and they all had that vegetable tang that is undeniably tomato. The one that involuntarily wrinkles my nose and makes me grimace. It's always there, I am sorry.

Oh---but wait. I did learn something new. I did make one teency weency tomato-step of progress. Because actually, I discovered there is a time when a tomato doesn't taste like a tomato. That is when it is covered with a buttload of basil leaves. Then it tastes like basil and then it is delicious. That was my one successful tasting of the morning.

The market supplied samples of each variety of tomato that was on sale that day. They were laid out on a table that you had to amble down, aggressively fighting to hold your position, and snatch up the kinds you wanted to try with a toothpick. Each tomato was labeled with a nicely calligraphied sign so that you could see what you were trying. At the end there was a huge tray of sun-dried tomatoes disappointingly labeled "Not for Sampling." Sun-dried are the only kind of tomatoes I really like.

We started at the "Marianna's Peace," as helpfully pointed out below by the Farmer's Market volunteer. This seemed to be a really popular one. It was already sold out by the time we got to J's favorite tomato stand. To me, it tasted like a tomato. I know, shocking. I'm not even going to bother trying to describe the flavors, because every one would be "It tasted like ... tomato."

One of the things I do love about heirloom tomatoes is the variety in their shapes and colors. Supermarket tomatoes always look so identical that it's a little scary. Heirloom tomatoes are colorful and lumpy and bumpy. Some are small and some are big and some are monstrous, like this specimen of the pineapple variety:

Some are so pretty that they make me want to use them as decoration even though I don't like tomatoes. These Sungold tomatoes were a bright orange and so cute and round. They would be so pretty on a dish. I really wanted them to be the tomato that I could eat, but ... they tasted like tomato.

And some are so brightly colored, that you might just be totally blown away that there can exist a tomato so yellow. I was told that these were so tart that they didn't really taste like tomatoes. They were quite tart, but still tasted like tomatoes. Sorry, no dice:

Evan Kleiman was there as well. Ms. Kleiman is the host of KCRW's "Good Food" program and author of numerous cookbooks. Most importantly, she is executive chef at one of my favorite restaurants--Angeli Caffe. One of the few restaurants that I can say I actually eat at regularly. That's quite an accomplishment given my short attention span and my small amount of free time, which is mostly spent trying out new (to me) places.

Watching Ms. Kleiman cook, you can instantly see the difference between a professional chef such as herself and a clumsy home cook such as myself. Ms. Kleiman casually whipped up a tomato sauce while at the same time conversing with a knot of adoring admirers. She was able to multi-task and talk and laugh and joke around while casually, almost as an afterthought, whipping up a delicious sauce.

I, on the other hand, spend my cooking time rushing around trying to coordinate things and keep the kitchen relatively clean and check on my food every two seconds and grabbing that glop of spilled wasabi off the floor before the dog takes a lick and tripping over the dog and yelling at the dog to go sit somewhere else instead of directly in whatever happens to be my path, and chopping and going "My god, how long it it going to take to chop enough of {x vegetable}?" And somehow ... somehow I find this all deeply satisfying and yes, relaxing. But you would never know it to look at me. A real chef, on the other hand, makes it look like the food is cooking itself. Jealous.

The sauce didn't look like something I would want to eat. You know, due to all those tomatoes, but it really looked like something that a tomato lover would just scarf down:

I know you will be shocked to hear this, but I did not purchase any tomatoes. I did purchase some plums that I hope to attempt to make jam out of.

I also purchased only the best grapes ever grown on the face of the planet earth, which are Kyoho grapes, a Japanese grapes similar to Concord grapes. Then of course, I was forcing people to try them all day. But everyone agreed that I was right. They're around until September to so look for some at the Farmer's Market.

Finally I purchased a bright little bundle of nasturtium petals, because they make me want to make salads.


oohhh...saw the grapes on Sunday but didn't try any. Will have to do so.

I'm totally with you on the professional chef vs. the home cook. I am the same way, though getting a bit better about having my mis en place (i.e. everything chopped and ready to go) before I start...but still, it's frenetic and there's certainly no time for chit-chat!

said by Erin S. at 12:14 PM Delete

Definitely try the grapes! They are out of this world.

I've definitely learned my lesson about doing all the prep work first, but sometimes it seems like that takes forever.

Now I know why there are sous chefs, and kitchen maids and stuff. My dog is very good at helping with cleaning the floor, maybe I can train him to chop veggies one of these days as well.

said by KT at 12:25 PM Delete

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