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It is great to have chef friends. They keep me honest (they taste wines too!) and up-to-date on culinary trends, share awesome tips on purchasing the ‘right’ knives, filleting fish, preparing sauces and can give excellent recommendations for serious foodie spots worthy of dining. Their training might be different, growing up in restaurants versus getting their feet wet at culinary school, and then entering professional kitchens between here and Chicago. With all their varying opinions on where the Los Angeles’s food scene stacks up, one thing that everyone can agree on is that Californians have exceptional produce. I was treated to a dinner recently by one of my chef friends that highlighted the quality ingredients of local farmers markets, playing to his strong suits by making an Italian-themed meal; my ticket for admittance would be a bottle of wine.

I accepted the invitation happily because I had not seen my friend for at least three months. He told me that he would be serving pasta but everything else was based on a whim, depending on what he picked up from the farmers markets. I was hoping to find something Tuscan or at least a red wine from Central Italy (Lazzio, Marche, Abruzzo or Umbria) in my possession, but alas, my stock was primarily filled with bottles from the Northwest—Dolcetto and Barbera*. Rather than over-thinking the dinner pairing, I opted for a bottle of Barbera d’Alba, thinking that the acidity in the grape would best handle the wide variety of fare that would be served. A bottle of 2005 Angelo Negro e Figli Barbera d’Alba was in my clutches as I shimmied through the congested boulevards to my buddy’s new digs in Culver City.

Once there, we discussed the latest happenings in our busy lives since we last talked. I readied the bottle as we caught up over each other’s current successes while he continued preparing the dinner. As the news petered out, the focus shifted to the ingredients garnered from his latest visits to different markets. I was prodded to eat all the fruits and vegetables, apart from their destined courses. He extolled the produce before I ingested any of it, and in my mind, I was certain that these market fresh items would disappoint. It was a weird experience to be forced to pay attention to a single leaf of arugula or carrot as if it were aged Brunet from Piedmont, Italy. But, when I listened closely they were singing brightly, full of flavor and much more complex than I had anticipated.

The food was plated an hour later and we sat down and shared cheers, sipping the wine before diving in. The Barbera showed cherry and blackberry cloaked in wet soils which proved to be a better match for the first few dishes of the evening but not really ideal for the main course of rigatoni all’Amatriciana.

I sat back and indulged in the flavors and freshness of the dinner, my friend had perfected some dishes that he was looking to incorporate into his repertoire. True to my Italian experiences, he kept the dishes simple, concentrating on preserving the integrity of the locally sourced ingredients with reverence. I knew that I had been missing out; I left his house resolved to take advantage of the many farmers markets in the area, weaning myself off my convenience-oriented food buying habits. I initially was skeptical of the “sourcing movement” afoot in the food world but after that illuminating meal I can see that it is anything but faddish.

* Next month (March), for the purposes of palate education, I will be taking a closer look at Central Italian red and Rhône Valley white wines almost exclusively.

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