I remember when the Whole Foods opened in Baltimore when I was a kid. I wasn't so interested in the pricy, pretty peaches or the 365 brand cereals. But the free samples? I was sure interested in those.
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Go crazy with creamy cubes of tofu, balsamicy chicken, avocado, sweet peppadew peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, crunchy sesame sticks, blue cheese—whatever your heart desires. And since my heart tends to desire everything, I usually end up with a giant, expensive salad.
With the economy hurting, private label sales are booming. Why buy the big brand pancake mix when the store brand alternative costs half the price? Especially when the ingredient lists are virtually identical.
With my new apartment kitchen cabinets nearly empty and my heart clamoring to get busy in the kitchen, I know it's time to embark on some hardcore grocery shopping. I recently realized I had no staples besides a small box of what I had carted with me from my former home—some flaky Brittany fleur de sel, Valrhona cocoa powder, a canister of steel-cut oats, and a few stray bags of soba noodles. Here is my current shopping list.
Some days I am in jeans and sneaks running around the stores, hanging up signs on ladders and telling customers where the oatmeal is; or giving out umbrellas to VIPs and helping orchestrate a teen cook-off. No two days are alike. I get to do a lot of writing: waxing poetic about standing rib roasts, or Catalan olive oils, or Basque cheeses, or frozen veggie burgers.
We plot what we will eat next. We daydream about what we ate yesterday. We set our sites on the perfect ice cream cone, the ideal curry, the ramen to put all other ramen to shame. A great meal brings brightens us down to the soul, inspires us, elates us. And we delight in its details and myriad components—the shopping, the planning, the prepping, the cooking. The sights and smells and flavors; the conversation and nuance and joy and possibility.
It's often easy to see what a grocery store is all about the moment you walk through the doors. I remember my first time in Dean & Deluca as a bright-eyed, food-loving child. The beautiful, impeccable sculptures of perfect fruits in wicker baskets. The precise, long rows of fancy chocolates. You know what's on the other end—the "value" places with nary a bell and whistle, the supermarkets that are cheap.
This is my first grocery store opening, and I'm most awed by the scale. Even the larger restaurants where I've worked have been like families. Everyone knows each other and more than enough of each other's business. At my restaurant openings, the VIPs were friends of the owners, neighbors, perhaps a big deal chef around town. Here we're talking Mayor Bloomberg. It's a whole 'nother ballgame.
After three long years of writing about my restaurant endeavors in the Served column, that chapter is officially ended. For now, at least. Now there's something new. Grocery world. And I'm crowning myself Grocery Girl.