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Shopping for fresh food
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In my first book, "Guide to the Harvest," the introduction is subtitled "Becoming a Better Garden Grocer." Here I share with readers lessons learned over the years while shopping for restaurant chefs, from greasy spoons, which I love, to several five star joints in New York City — and yes I do enjoy a sit down seven course meal with all the accompaniments. Wines, fruits, cheeses, sorbets or flavored ice to cleanse the palate — oh yes, this down-home southern boy loves to dine. In addition to shopping for chefs, my talent was called on by several high profile Food Styles for television and print ad work. For the book’s intro I came up with what I call the "four keys to shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables." In the 20-plus years since that book was published, I am very proud to tell you my four keys have stood the test of time. It brings a smile to my face when I hear (radio), see (TV) or read other chefs or food personalities using my tips, whether they give proper credit or not. During my transition from being known as the produce expert who just works with fruits and vegetables, to chef and produce expert, I added a fifth key, and I have realized those keys not only work for produce — they are essential when choosing all fresh foods.

Enough build up; here they are: Chef and Produce Expert Curtis G. Aikens’s (drum roll please) Keys to Choosing or Buying Fresh Food

1. Look. Always look at your fresh food to be sure it has good coloring. However, color is not always a true indication of ripeness. The main thing you are looking for is damage. If bruised or scarred, chances are that item was mishandled. Make another choice.

2. Smell. Don’t be afraid to follow your nose. As fruits and vegetable ripen, their flavors becomes stronger as does their aromas. Vegetables for the most part, after they have reached the peak and headed downhill, start to give off a sour smell. With fruits my favorite saying is, "If it don’t smell peachy, it ain’t gonna taste peachy!" Apples smell like apples and so on. Just trust your nose.

Next week the other keys to selecting fresh produce, and the new one. Now, how about a recipe or two?

Free Range Chicken Sautéed in

Rosemary and Sage, with a Cabernet reduction


This recipe comes from chef/owner of Metitage, just off the square in Sonoma, Calif. Carlo Cavallo is a great chef and even greater friend. I highly recommend this place. Call and make a reservation if you get close to him (707-938-9430).


2 boneless chicken breasts

1/2 stick butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons each, fresh rosemary and sage

6 ounces of cabernet

Salt and pepper to taste


In sauté pan, add butter and olive oil (olive oil is added to help raise the smoking point of the butter). Add half the herbs along with the chicken breasts and sauté 3-5 minutes. Add remaining herbs and cabernet. Turn chicken and sauté 3-5 minutes before turning again. Let cabernet reduce in half or until chicken is done (if necessary flip chicken every 1 1/2 - 2 minutes until done). Taste for seasoning (salt and pepper).


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