I can immediately tell in any food store -- whether it's a food shop, a specialty shop, a supermarket, a closeout shop or whatever -- if it's being driven by somebody who has got some taste, who has a sensibility that appeals to me. It's very stark. It's very obvious in a food store whether it's worthy of you. Just like cheese -- a cheese has to be worthy of you. Most of them are boring as heck.
Immediately you're going to walk into the produce department of a supermarket. They're always going to put the produce up front because that's their rock 'n' roll.
The fruits and vegetables should be abundant, colorful, well-presented and not lying all over the floor.
More importantly, there should be some human being -- or a number of human beings -- on the floor who are there ready to talk to you, ready to tell you where something is or ready to offer some opinion about something. That's when I know I'm in a supermarket that has some moxie, some wherewithal, some reason for me to re-patronize and spend my money there.
I want to see what they're showing behind that glass, whether or not it looks appealing and abundant, and if it's signed well.
Equally are there people behind the counter who are not so bored that I might as well be talking to a robot? That's as important as how the deli offerings look.
Unless I have that bond, I'm not going to rave about this store. I may do business there, but I'm never going to feel like, "Oh boy, these guys have really got it together. I can't wait to get another half pound of prosciutto because they lay it out so beautifully and they have sliced it so perfectly."
You have to hope that's going to happen. But the best way to make that happen is to try and ferret out somebody behind that counter who has a light on behind his or her eyeballs, who cares about what you're going to serve tonight.
It's so rare anymore to go in a supermarket where anybody shows any passion about the food that's there. I see so little evidence of people who take it seriously.
You want to get happy? Get passionate. You're going to get paid more. You're going to get more responsibility. You're going to be challenged. Your life is going to be worthwhile.
But it all goes back to the food. Show some respect for the food. Show some desire to know everything there is to know about that particular foodstuff.
Like I did. I did it because I was frankly bored out of my mind and I needed to engage myself. I said, "I'm going to learn everything there is to know about every gosh darn thing in here."
You do it on your own time. And guess what? You get rewarded for it.
The day goes faster. You feel better about yourself when you're going home from work to the degree that you get rushes up the back of your neck because you are feeling so good about what you're doing. You're taking something seriously that heretofore you were passing off as just taking up your time. Not so.
[More from Jenkins: The cheesemonger approves a few items from the supermarket]
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Steven Jenkins is vice president of Fairway Group Services at Fairway market. He is the author of the books Cheese Primer, which won a James Beard award, and The Food Life. His writing has appeared in numerous food publications.