Chefs jockeying for prized produce at the Santa Monica Farmers Market is nothing new. However, there’s one man who seasonal chefs like Mark Gold and Quinn Hatfield probably didn’t count on contending with: Matt Biancaniello. The bartender at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Library Bar has taken market-driven cocktails to new heights, shopping at L.A. farmers markets five days per week to stock his bar with SoCal’s freshest fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Biancaniello recently met me in Santa Monica for a market crawl. He was a day away from his first vacation in nine years, but still had one more shift before he flew to France, and he made it count. After all, as the man said, “I like to do it up on Wednesday nights.”
He doesn’t carry a shopping list, but Biancaniello does have a game plan. He said, “I have my people. I know the farms I’m going to go to.” With that in mind, Biancaniello started at the Honey Crisp Farm stall. He learned about the stall from Karen Beverlin of produce distributor FreshPoint.
He purchased Sugar May peaches, which would contribute to his white peach basil mojito. He was pointed about his choice of peaches, saying, “Because I have to use them that day, they have to be a little bit soft. I also don’t want too much acid because I’m adding lime to it.”
Our next stop was at Mud Creek Ranch, located in Santa Paula, for an $8 basket of organic mulberries, which were destined for daiquiris. He’s been producing macadamia nut milk in-house and thought a macadamia foam could take his mulberry daiquiri to the next level.
Jaime Farms was sold out of fraise des bois, but Biancaniello did buy flowering oregano to garnish his Bloody Marys. He also plans to use oregano for his Dirty Sicilian, a dirty martini made with vodka or gin, garlic, oregano, fresh olive juice, red pepper flakes and a float of oregano buds. He bought purple basil – $1 per bunch – to float in his Bloody Mary, and to use in a tequila blood orange punch.
He stopped by Harry’s Berries, which sells Gaviota strawberries that are “less firm, less acidic and juicier than seascape” berries. Biancaniello said, “I think it has to do with the amount of plants per plot. More of the water goes to the plants.”
In between stalls, he discussed what happens at Library Bar when he’s not there. Biancaniello said customers receive a different experience, and he wants it that way. “I really want each bartender to express their style and creativity,” he says. “I want people to have a different experience with each bartender.” While he’s in France, seven-month Library Bar veteran Greg Debolt will continue to visit Biancaniello’s recommended venders.
We made a quick-hitting stop at Peacock Family Farms for gargantuan cucumbers, $1 each.
He loaded up on ingredients to create two-week infusions, which will mature during his trip. He planned on producing one bottle of rosemary-infused Pisco, with the sprigs dropped right into the bottle; two bottles of fennel infused gin; and rhubarb-infused St. Germain, which “makes a wonderful simple Champagne cocktail.” To execute his plan, Biancaniello visited Rutiz Farms for 13 fennel bulbs, rosemary and Cherry Victoria rhubarb ($3 per pound).
McGrath Family Farm provided lavender for his Kentucky Bubble Bath. For that cocktail, he makes a lavender tea using dried lavender, then creates a lavender syrup from the tea. The other elements are Bulleit bourbon, a Cynar float and a lavender garnish.
Pudwill Berry Farms sold Biancaniello currants to garnish his shiso gimlets.
Schaner Farms sells Biancaniello edible flowers. The stand is also where he purchased emu eggs to hold the Indian Summer, a gin cocktail that he served on Easter Sunday. He showed the excited farmers a photo of his creation from Alexandra LeTellier’s LA Times article.
It turns out the Indian Summer was a prelude to his Humpty Dumpty, a new drink that incorporates molecular elements. The cocktail probably won’t appear at Library Bar, rather, at private events. It will involve bourbon, cherry, vanilla and almond cream frozen into “popcorn” and served in an ostrich egg.
He bought sage flowers from Schaner Farms to garnish his Sage Heaven. He also purchased cilantro and tarragon, and pansies to garnish his violet grappa mojito.
At Coleman Family Farm, Biancaniello purchased shiso, with green leaves muddled for his shiso gimlet, which is garnished with purple shiso, which is “not as fragrant.”
He bought a large artichoke before moving on to Maggie’s Farms, where he purchased lemon verbena, mint, basil and sage. He also bought scallions and dill for Bloody Mary garnish.
Maggie’s Farms will house Biancaniello’s beehive in Agoura Hills. He’s in the process of acquiring a Queen bee and colony, saying, “I love being even more personally involved…It will yield up to 300 pounds of honey per year, which is exactly what you need for a bar and private events.” The start-up cost is surprisingly affordable. The Queen bee is $5, the colony $100. He’s also working to get farm space in Malibu, for “growing stuff that isn’t being grown.”
At the end of the market crawl, Biancaniello had filled two bags and had a flat of strawberries under his arm. He smiled and said, “I thought I was just going to get a few things, but I can’t stop myself.”
Biancaniello was nice enough to share the recipe for his Shiso Gimlet.
Muddle two large shiso leaves, with 3/4 lime juice and 3/4 agave syrup. Add two ounces of Hendrick’s gin. Shake and strain over ice. Garnish with a purple shiso leaf.