Like most people, I spent most of my life buying groceries at the local grocery store. I used to always look for the best grocery store I could find, and if I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans, I headed for Whole Foods. But I have changed my ways.
It all started a few years ago when the executive chef at the IP Casino and resort, Peter D’Andrea, invited a few chef friends and me to taste the beef he had chosen to serve at Thirty-Two, the IP’s fine dining steak house.
I was blown away by what he served. I finally knew what good beef really tasted like. To tell you the truth, I have not bought a steak at a regular grocery store since but will do without unless I can get something really good (like what is found at Four Bulls in Ocean Springs).
There is such a massive difference between the quality of grocery store beef and USDA Prime of Wagyu, which may be hard to find, and expensive, but worth every penny. Don’t get me wrong. I know if you are feeding a family or on a budget, you may not have the luxury of serving the best, but please. Always serve the best you can afford.
My next epiphany was that there was the same difference in vegetables, fruits, and other foods. Grocery stores have a list of requirements for the produce they buy, and perhaps what is most tragic is that they need a two-week shelf life. What does that mean? It means that fruits and vegetables are picked before they are completely ripe. They are still good and nutritious but just not the best.
If you are fortunate enough to have a certified farmers market nearby, you can buy good things that were picked the night before or even that morning. A certified market means that the vendors there make or grow what they sell. Go to a non-certified market and you will see vendors taking produce out of boxes from far away places. The market may be outdoors, and vendors may be selling foods from the back of a pickup truck or table, but you have no guarantee that it is really fresh.
The grocery stores have tons of great food and I love going to my local Rouses. Check out the Italian-made pasta; it is far superior to anything domestic (unless you buy from an online source, like Pappardelle). The imported Italian tomato sauces are also amazingly good as are Rouses house-made sausages. I do like to buy my spices online as they do go stale after about six months. I’m particularly fond of Gustus Vitae for things like red pepper flakes, herbs du Provence, and great Italian seasoning.
Please do not abandon your local grocery store. Just be careful and buy the best and freshest you can get, wherever that might be.