Dimitri carefully sifts through a tray of plump, juicy ox heart tomatoes, light with his fingers, careful not to blemish their sun kissed exterior, yet firm enough to determine their ripeness. “These are perfect Chiara, nice and juicy.”
Across the store, Chiara is carefully examining the display of green herbs before her. I watch as she swoops a bunch of sweet basil into her hands. Bringing the bundle of green to her nose, she shuts her eyes, and inhales, taking in the sweet aroma. “The basil smells divine Dimitri. The juicy tomatoes will go perfectly with this sweet basil. Grab a few Roma tomatoes as well, and perhaps some of those mini truss tomatoes. We want the Caprese salad to look colourful”.
“Excellent idea Chiara. Using all the different tomatoes will make an amazing photo.” Dimitri reaffirms.
Meet Dimitri and Chiara. Self-proclaimed gastronomic gurus. Aged 8. No, it’s not a typo. That wasn’t supposed to read 18, or 38. It was supposed to read eight. Eight years of age. Caterina and I are prepping for an Italian themed feast photoshoot that will feature many of our favourite traditional Italian recipes, and our foodie offspring have insisted they join our travelling office for the day, rather than attending their organised school holiday care.
Our last stop for the day is a visit to our favourite local fruit and vegetable store, Frank’s Fruit Market, in Sydney’s Haberfield. Walking into Frank’s is almost reminiscent of walking through a fresh produce market in the centre of an Italian village. Tomatoes bursting from their skins with flavour, Italian variety eggplants robust and glossy with purple hues, fiery chillies hanging proudly across the store’s ceiling. The array of fresh produce on offer is at its prime, you can tell that there is thought, care and experience that has gone into selecting the fruit and vegetables that form the vibrant colour palette of this otherwise unassuming store. Green grocer, Frank Bonfante, is at the helm of this iconic Haberfield institution. Together with his family, Frank has been serving the community since 1974, and it’s easy to see why the clientele has remained loyal. The selection of fruits and vegetables is excellent, as is their quality, and Frank’s warm service.
I love that Frank stocks interesting, unique breeds of vegetables. It makes for an excellent source of inspiration for when I need new photographic subject matter, or when Caterina needs a creative kick in developing a new recipe.
As the gastronomic duo entertain in a deep conversation about the pros and cons of drizzling extra virgin olive oil over their Caprese Salad once it is plated, versus mixing the oil through the tomatoes in a bowl first and then plating the salad, I peruse the shelves of fruit and vegetables and think how proud the farmers of all this produce would be to see their harvests and hard work fill this truly iconic inner-city establishment.
Caterina and I make our way outside and contemplate the idea of sitting in a nearby café sipping a cup of tea while we hand over the reins to Dimitri and Chiara for the rest of the afternoon. It appears that we have become obsolete in our own business. Still in the store, now exchanging notes about apples and strawberries, and the various desserts they are going to create, it is clear that Dimitri and Chiara are going to be here for a while. They have both started using their hands to emphasise their words, clearly the discussion has intensified.
These two little human beings, at the ripe old age of 8, are both outspoken and highly opinionated. They have already developed palates more refined and sophisticated than most adults I know. As I watch my son and Caterina watches her daughter, I can’t help but think what I won’t dare say out loud, “Is this our doing? Have we created miniature versions of ourselves?”. Caterina’s silent gaze tells me she is thinking exactly the same thing. I hear my mother’s echoing words “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.
Constantly immersed in a world of everything food, are we to blame for this heightened sense of gastronomic awareness and curiosity that these two little creatures seem to have? Perhaps they had no choice in the matter, genetically predisposed to having a passion for food and cooking running through their culinary blood. Or perhaps a casual stroll through their local fruit and vegetable store has ignited their curiosity, inspired purely by the smells and sights of their surroundings. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both.
Either way, our greengrocer visit has been a refreshing experience, a simple moment in time made special by our little apprentices. Moments in time are just that – moments. Some of the simplest moments, however, can create the most cherished memories. This little moment will be permanently stored in my memory bank.
Story and photography by Effi Tsoukatos & Caterina Sterrantino for the Sydney Food Sisters.