Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Where the chefs shop

We asked the pros their favorite places to buy the best and freshest foods

By Polly Campbell and Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Scott Melvin, chef-owner of The Heritage in Plainville, shops at Findlay Market.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
If you're looking to buy a faucet, you might ask a plumber where to find the best. If you're shopping for a muffler, a mechanic would be the expert to consult.

But who you gonna call if you're searching for the freshest fish, best beef, exotic vegetables and hard-to-find spices?

A chef, of course. Chefs shop for food like the rest of us - for their restaurant and home meals. But because it's their business, chefs have keener senses of where to buy food.

So we did the dialing for you. We recently asked Greater Cincinnati chefs to name their favorite grocery shopping spots. They told us where to find tender Australian lamb, pristine sea bass, crushed tomatillos, raw peanuts and more.

Kim Moy, chef-owner, Moy Moy's, Montgomery

Where: Jungle Jim's Market, Cincinnati Asian Market (CAM).

Why: "Jungle Jim's definitely has the best prices and the biggest variety for things like bitter melon or Chinese broccoli. But lately I've been going to CAM for dried goods, fresh food, produce, other things you can't find anywhere else. My mom started going there, and it's closer."

Advice: "A lot of people are grossed out by Chinese markets, where ducks are hanging with the heads and feet on, or the fish and shrimp have the heads on. But that's how you know it's fresh! I always buy whole fish, so I can check the gills, the eyes, and smell it."

Bigg's (Skytop), 5218 Beechmont Ave., Anderson Township; 231-0606.
Cincinnati Asian Market (CAM), 10400 Reading Road, Evendale; 733-1828.
Costco Wholesale, 1100 East Kemper Road, Springdale; 346-7943; and 9691 Waterstone Blvd., Deerfield Township; 774-9259.
Findlay Market (off Elder, between Elm and Race streets), Over-the-Rhine; Web site.
Hyde Park Plaza Kroger, 3760 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park; 871-4142.
India Grocers, 11707 Lebanon Road, Sharonville; 733-9114.
Jungle Jim's Market, 5440 Dixie Highway, Fairfield; 674-6000. Madera's Latin & American Market, 3838 Montgomery Road, Norwood; 531-5291.
Mediterranean Imports, 108 West Elder (Findlay Market), Over-the-Rhine; 241-8222.
Meijer (eight locations).
Niva (Indian) Grocers, 11974 Lebanon Road, Sharonville; 563-6482.
Saigon Market, 119 West Elder St. (Findlay Market), Over-the-Rhine; 721-8053.
Silverglade & Sons, 6660 Clough Pike, Anderson Township; 231-6483.
Stehlin's Meat Market, 10134 Colerain Ave., Colerain Township; 385-6164.
Scott Melvin, chef-owner, Heritage, Plainville

Where: "Just about anywhere. I'm kind of a recreational shopper. If I've got a little time to kill somewhere, and there's no CD store to browse, I'll go in whatever food store there is. If I'm downtown for some reason, I'll stop at Saigon Market or Mediterranean Imports (at Findlay Market). If I'm in Pleasant Ridge, I'll go into Madison's (Market)." He also shops for produce at Madison's Findlay Market. "Once, I happened to drive past CAM and just went in. I ended up spending an hour there. Now I go there whenever I can."

Why: "CAM has every bizarre piece of meat you've ever heard of. I can buy rice cheaper there than wholesale. It's where I pick up Pearl River Bridge soy sauce. They've got fish in a tank, a little deli. It's gigantic."

Advice: "If you go someplace like CAM, take some time, get acquainted with the store. You can't really run into a place like that and just grab one thing."

John Leonard, chef-owner, Pane e Vino, Hyde Park

Where: Skytop Bigg's at Beechmont Levee, Meijer for beef

Why: "That particular Bigg's sells more seafood than any other Bigg's. Great selection, really fresh. I can buy it on a Sunday or get extra for the restaurant. I get sea bass there, mussels, salmon, got a couple of lobsters there the other day. I like Meijer for meat because they sell Black Angus beef."

Advice: "You can always call ahead and have them cut meat or fish for you ahead of time."

Mary Jo McMillin, chef-owner, Mary Jo's Cuisine, Oxford

Where: Stehlin's Meats, Colerain Township

Why: "It's a real old-fashioned butcher. They do everything from the ground up. They buy hogs from specific farmers raised to their specifications, and they smoke their own cottage hams and bacon."

Advice: "Stehlin's is the one place I would buy ground beef and serve it rare. I would never do that with supermarket beef."

Jackson Rouse, chef, Iron Horse Restaurant, Glendale

Where he shops: Jungle Jim's, Cincinnati Asian Market, Costco

Why he shops there: "Jungle Jim's has the best meat department, but Costco is the next best. You can ask them to do something special and they'll know what you're talking about. It's the only place I can get tri-tip (triangle tips, a boneless cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin), and they have the cheapest Australian lamb and salmon. I swing by CAM to buy frozen seafood, or to pick up pea tendrils and lotus root."

Javier Villaneuva, chef-owner, Javier's, downtown

Where: Findlay Market.

Why: "I'm able to get the chiles for my mole from a company in California, and other things I need from restaurant suppliers, but sometimes I like to go to Findlay Market and walk around just because it's like Mexico. We have supermarkets like Kroger's, but still, 80 percent of shopping is in markets like Findlay Market, where you walk around and see the people, talk to the sellers, see the tomatoes in little mountains."

Myra Griffin, chef-owner, Myra's, Clifton Heights

Where: Saigon Market and Mediterranean Imports in Findlay Market, Madera's Latin & American Market in Norwood and the Indian Grocer in Roselawn

Why: "I shop around looking for particular products. For my Thai pumpkin soup, I get Shark brand siracha sauce at Saigon Market (much better than Red Rooster). I buy crushed tomatillos at Madera's for our burritos, and I like the Indian Grocer for Darjeeling (tea), raw peanuts for our West African stew, other nuts and sesame seeds."

Advice: "I always ask lots of questions. At Saigon Market, they'll order things they don't have, if I ask, like a No. 10 can of straw mushrooms instead of the little tiny ones."

Bertrand Bouquin, executive chef, Maisonette, downtown.

Where: "I often stop by Silverglade's (Anderson Township) for specialty items like cheese. And I go to the farmer's markets on the east side of town. Sometimes people in my neighborhood sell produce they've grown in their back yards, and I'll always stop and buy from them."

Suzy de Young, chef-owner of La Petite Pierre, Madeira.

Where: Farmer's markets in Milford and on Beechmont Avenue and Jungle Jim's.

Why: "Because they have everything. I always spend a ridiculous amount of money and come home with a bunch of stuff and wonder how I'm going to use it. I bought some chutney there (Jungle Jim's) once and turned it into a dish with beef that everyone just loved."

Allen Stickell, executive chef, Bella, downtown, and Scalea's, Covington

Where: Silverglade's Market (Anderson Township), Meijer and Kroger

Why: "Silverglade's makes their own sausages and hot dogs, and has a lot of hard-to-find ingredients. Their cheeses are good, and if I'm planning to grill, I'll get their chicken and sun-dried tomato sausages. I go to Meijer for their produce section. If you're not going to Jungle Jim's, it's the next best, and they have a small specialty section with things like plantains. The seafood section at Anderson (Township) Kroger is good."

Michelle Brown, executive chef, Jag's, West Chester Township

Where: Hyde Park Kroger; Jungle Jim's

Why: "I'm pretty busy at the restaurant, but sometimes I'll leave the restaurant at 10, call some friends and swing by Kroger for meat or whatever, and we'll do something simple like grill out. Hyde Park Kroger has a great selection. They just expanded it, and they've got all kinds of specialty items, and do a good job with the wine selection.

"Sometimes we go to Jungle Jim's just to get inspiration. If we don't have any idea what we're going to do for a special, we'll just walk around Jungle Jim's and look."

Advice: "You can always ask the produce guys at Jungle Jim's for ideas of what to buy - you can always find one around and they know what's especially good."

Yajan Upadhyaya, chef-owner, Cumin, Hyde Park

Where: Niva Indian Foods, Sharonville.

Why: "I buy specialty produce there, and raw spices that I roast and grind, and things like curry leaves. I shopped around for prices, and think theirs are good. They have good prices on nuts: raw cashews, pistachios, almonds, raw peanuts."

Advice: "Check out Indian groceries for great snacks, or what's called chat: packaged crispy things or roasted chick peas."

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