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To market, to market

Market watch: Need some fresh foie gras for that traditional Labor Day picnic dish? Marczyk Fine Foods, at 770 East 17th Avenue, has goose liver available and will be stocking Hudson Valley and Sonoma duck lobes by early next week. These are fresh products, folks: If they're in your hands on Wednesday, that means they were in the duck on Monday.

Owner Peter Marczyk tells me that all sorts of new goodies are hitting the shelves of the four-month-old market. He's got beautiful whole red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico, sashimi-grade tuna and wahoo loin from fish that were swimming off Hilo, Hawaii, just two days ago. There are field-ripened grape tomatoes (which means they were actually allowed to grow on the vine like a tomato should -- rather than being picked early, shot up with chemicals and left to ripen in the back of a semi), Rocky Ford melons (which are in midseason right now and wonderfully ripe and juicy) and organic Suncrest peaches. Marczyk's is also carrying locally grown Gala apples that should be in season and in the store by the time this issue hits the stands.

Not sure what you're looking for? Marczyk's runs its own little farmers' market in front of the store every Tuesday and Friday from 3 to 7 p.m.; it showcases some of the products as well as fresh-roasting Colorado-grown chiles. Marczyk's is also the only local retailer for Niman Ranch non-confinement pork and beef, some of the best meat you can buy anywhere. If you don't believe me, stop at the store after 5 p.m. on August 30, when they'll be grilling up burgers made from ground Niman Ranch beef.

Since Marczyk's specializes in offering the best products out there, I asked Pete Marcyzk whether he thought the tuna I'd had at 1515 (see review, above) had been ahi, and while he couldn't venture a guess, he did relate a tale that perfectly elucidates a related point. He calls it his "salmon story," and it goes something like this:

A couple of years ago, Pete was at a wine-tasting dinner with the master blender from Veuve Clicquot and several other big-time wine guys. They were sampling a burgundy, which (as often happens with wine connoisseurs) sparked a debate on microclimatology and whether the grapes grown at one elevation suffered in comparison to those grown fifteen meters higher upslope. These men, with their supremely educated palates, went on and on until interrupted by a waiter coming to take their order. Salmon was being offered as a pairing that night, and Pete -- after listening to these gentlemen argue about minute differentiations in temperature and soil composition -- had the nerve to ask the waiter where the salmon was from. Was it Atlantic salmon or Pacific? Farm-raised or caught in the wild? Where had it been shipped from and how?

All around the table, the wine guys scoffed: "Peter...it's salmon. It comes from the ocean. Just order it!" (If you ever get the chance, ask Pete to tell you this story himself -- he does a great fake-snooty French accent.) And that's when he explained that while they were discussing a difference in taste profiles from grapes grown fifty feet apart, he was talking about a difference of thousands of miles. An Atlantic salmon tastes very different from a Pacific salmon, and both are a world away from the flavor of a farm-raised fish. These differences are important -- at least as significant as a fifteen-meter rise in your vineyard -- and after the Veuve Clicquot crowd thought about this a minute, they agreed that Pete was right. The waiter was dispatched to the kitchen to ask the chef, and -- shamefully -- the chef had no idea. He knew his salmon was farm-raised but hadn't the slightest idea where or how the fish had gotten from the water to his coolers.

My point? A chef should know these things, and so should you, the diner. I'm not saying you need to be obsessive about it -- after all, that's what I'm here for -- but being able to recognize good food is more than just saying "I liked it" or "I didn't." It's about knowing why.

Wine education is prized among the haute-foodie culture, but for some reason, many foodies don't give much thought to where their salmon, steak or prosciutto comes from. Yet regional, seasonal and production differences can have a huge effect on the taste of everything on your plate, and while I don't think I'll ever be able to taste the subtle changes wrought on wine grapes by infinitesimal soil pH variations, I can certainly taste the variance between, say, fresh and frozen fish, and I can tell when a steak has been sitting in a 36-degree cooler for two days.

Would your average diner just gobble down 1515's niçoise salad without giving a second thought to the tuna? Maybe. Is it good enough that the menu just said it was ahi? Not for me. Quality matters in every item on your prep list and on every plate you send out. As chefs, we should have a respect for the products we use -- an understanding that it is our responsibility to offer the best of ourselves and our kitchens -- and as consumers, we should all know enough to be able to demand quality from the kitchens that serve us, or at least be able to recognize its absence.

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