Anthony Curtis is the produce buyer for Papa Joe's Gourmet Market and Catering in Rochester and Birmingham. With 500 items in the produce department alone, home cooks and professional chefs alike can find the ingredients to prepare authentic recipes from anywhere in the world.
Metro Times: We frequently hear about the goodness of homegrown produce.
What does "homegrown" mean to you?
Anthony Curtis: First of all it's got to be grown in our back yard, not just in our region, but locally, within our state. Does that mean it's going to be better than produce that's grown out-of-state? Are tomatoes grown in Michigan going to be better than ones grown in Ohio? I don't think so. But here at Papa Joe's we not only want to help our local growers because it's going to help the economy in Michigan but we've built long-lasting relationships with our local growers and we want them to continue to succeed like they have from generation to generation. If we can get the seasonal products locally, that's what we're going to do. We're fortunate that Michigan soil is so good and that we have so many great farmers today. There is no doubt about it that the product is fresher. When it comes from the West Coast, the East Coast, even the South, it sits on a truck for two or three or four days. Michigan corn comes right from the farm, picked and shipped daily. You can't get it any fresher.
MT: There's a grower at the Oakland County Farmers Market Penzien Farms, I believe that sells the best redskin potatoes I've found. I asked him what was different about them and he told me it was the soil.
Curtis: It's no different than the corn that's grown here in Michigan. I think it's some of the best corn in the country. And I can attest to that, because we do get shipped-in corn for about eight months out of the year that comes from Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. When we get the Michigan corn, it's a treat.
MT: Does homegrown product always taste better? Is it more natural, that is, not a product that has been raised to have a longer shelf life or a better shape or color as opposed to flavor?
Curtis: Is that true? Let's talk about heirloom tomatoes. I do believe that the heirloom tomatoes we carry upward of 20 different varieties which I buy all over the world, just eat better. Why is that? It's because their natural seed hasn't been crossed with something that's going to take the look and the shape of a perfect tomato in the customer's eye. It's not tainted with any special agent to help it grow. It's grown in its natural state. Try a "Brandywine" tomato. They taste great. There are also hothouse tomatoes such as "Campari" that have great flavor.
MT: How do you get the best produce?
Curtis: The early bird gets the worm. There are four or five buyers that are the first ones at the Detroit Produce Terminal and Eastern Market every morning fighting for that top 1 percent of the best produce that is available in Michigan. Even the buyers who don't do that have the same loyalty to the local farmers, the same connections, because they have been in business for so long and they have some very good growers who grow just for them like some do for Papa Joe's. We use buyers and growers all over the country to help us find the best products that are available. You've got to try our "Goldbud" peaches. They are shipped overnight from California. I can guarantee you that you've never had a better peach. Goldbud Farms grows the best stone fruit anywhere.
MT: How about some buying tips for consumers?
Curtis: The easiest way is to buy from someone you know, someone like us, of course, who you can rely on to tell you what peaches, for instance, are at their peak. There are several variables. Contrary to the popular myth, some fruit that isn't fragrant still can taste great. If it looks good and it's in season, chances are it will eat well. When in doubt, ask the seller.
MT: What is the status of organics in the United States?
Curtis: It's definitely a growing trend. Papa Joe's has teamed up with growers across the country to find the best organics. More of the large growers, many in California, have dedicated more of their growing area to organics, which has brought the prices down. We have dedicated more of our space to it too. Many people feel that if the prices are competitive, why not buy organic? People prefer vegetables that don't have any variables like sprays, foods that are grown naturally in good soil.
Papa Joe's has locations in Rochester Hills (6900 N. Rochester Rd.; 248-853-6263) and Birmingham (34244 Woodward Ave.; 248-723-9400).Jeff Broder does this monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]