The Feed afield: Greenmarket shopping with Gramercy Tavern

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For Union Square Greenmarket regulars, seeing the chefs foraging for their restaurants, thrilling as it may be, has come to be expected. But have you ever considered following them? That's what the Feed recently did when we spied Modesto "Mo" Batista, chief steward for the local, seasonally obsessed Gramercy Tavern. Our eyes met across a pile of peppers and he agreed to let us tag along to gain an insight into the good stuff. We begin our journey at the restaurant, where in addition to Mo, I meet garde manger (literally, "keeper of the food") Michaela Hayes, and Micah Mowley, extern from the Culinary Institute of America.

After a survey of the inventory in the walk-in, we head down Madison Avenue to Union Square. Michaela, formerly of Little Giant, explains that while the menu is largely set, elements of each dish change according to the seasonal produce that inspires chef Michael Anthony. This week's fava bean side will give way to cranberry beans down the road; when local artichokes have run their course, something else will be substituted in. We tell Michaela that we're hooked on the shishito peppers Mo was buying when we met; the restaurant might use them in a fricassee side for the lobster tail.

At the market, the farmers greet Mo like a celebrity; he's been shopping there for nearly 15 years; they like and admire him, and know the kind of quality ingredients he's looking for. Mo started at the Gramercy Tavern in 1994, two weeks after it opened, following a stint at the now-defunct Le Cte Basque. Born in the Dominican Republic, he grew up around farms and farmers. His wife heads up the Gramercy's prep kitchen. By now he's in sync with the chef's taste, so if he spots something new at the market, he'll get it for Chef Anthony's experimentation.

Mo, Michaela, and Micah's tour of the market wraps up in a couple of hours. The early-morning rain had given way to a muggy heat. They fill a handcart of pallets and a large wheelbarrow and head back to the restaurant for a long day in the kitchen. All that remains for us is to make a reservation.--Stacey Harwood

Photos by Roxana Marroquin