Behind the Stalls:
Meet London’s Modern Green Grocer
We talk to Natoora founder Franco Fubini about his nourishing new stall at Old Spitalfields Market, the excitement of cultured produce and London’s most fashionable vegetables.
Franco Fubini was born in Argentina and grew up travelling the world with his parents, moving from Egypt to Italy to Hong Kong, experiencing a broad culture of markets selling local seasonal produce. In the 1990’s Fubini settled in New York, where outside of Union Square Greenmarket, he struggled to find any seasonality when buying food, “I remember hearing a woman in a store asking about peaches. It was December” says Fubini. From there, he set out to rediscover the hyper-seasonal, emotional and intuitive relationships with food that his childhood markets had provided – and that’s how Natoora was sprung.
Today, Natoora has established itself as the modern greengrocer. The service supplies top chefs and daily customers with its pioneering approach to high-quality seasonal produce. Old Spitalfields Market is the latest opening in Natoora’s selection of stalls and stores – the new location welcomes an explorative and tasteful experience for the East End market goer. We spoke to Fubini about why his produce is so refined, what vegetables are currently trending, and what’s next for Natoora.
Where is your produce sourced, is it organic and why is it different to what you can buy at a big supermarket?
We source from Europe, so that’s principally UK, Italy, France, Spain – and from small, independent growers we’ve found ourselves. Many of these growers are far too small to chase organic certification – it’s not a meaningful or viable label for Luca, for example, who hand picks one acre of onions outside Breme, preserving a centuries-old seed. Growers like this work to totally uncompromising principles: they believe passionately in an undisrupted interaction of seed and terroir – but they just call it proper growing. So the answer is: when it comes to quality, we look beyond organic.
Why choose Old Spitalfields Market as the newest Natoora location?
We’ve had our sights on East London for a while. We work with a number of great restaurants nearby – Lyle’s, Clove Club, Sager+Wilde, Taberna do Mercado – and this part of town, its energy and vibe, reminds us of Bushwick where we launched Natoora New York last year. So Spitalfields feels very right for us. We’re also very much about reclaiming heritage – that’s our ethos when it comes to fruit and vegetables – so we’re excited to be part of Nuno’s project returning the market to its roots in food.
They just call it proper growing. So the answer is: when it comes to quality, we look beyond organic.
What’s a fashionable ingredient among London’s leading chefs right now?
We’re currently seeing a lot of love for our bitter winter leaves: they’re super versatile, as you can both use them raw and cook with them. It’s very important to us to work with our chefs and speak to them about how these leaves are different: our pink radicchio and Castelfranco, for example, are grown in the dark for nearly a month (the technical term is forcing) and that’s incredibly rare to see today – we’re working with one of the very last growers still doing this in Italy. It makes all the difference to the flavour and texture. A chef gets seriously crisp leaves that can take a dressing without going limp and far sweeter flavour: so much other radicchio out there just tastes thin and harsh.
What’s in your emergency store cupboard kit?
Sea salt and olive oil. If you have an amazing tomato – we’re seeing the first of our salty, Italian & Spanish winter tomatoes now – then you can make a meal with those ingredients. Add some dried oregano, some anchovies, some shards of Parmesan…and your one tomato will be next level. We like simplicity at Natoora, just yesterday we received a Chou de Pontoise – an old variety of cabbage from the Île-de-France, delivered from our new HQ in Paris, and it was so sweet, we were eating handfuls raw with just salt.
What’s the best way to store your fruit and vegetables once you get them home?
Storage is a big and complex one. However, when it comes to your weekly groceries, look to store most vegetables in a plastic bag, ideally recycled or even better compostable. This will ensure you create a microclimate for that product where humidity is maximised. Dehydration is the main factor in the deterioration of produce. And contrary to common thinking, fruit, including fruit vegetables like aubergines and courgettes, are better stored in the fridge as most kitchens are too warm. Larger tomatoes should never see the fridge, while small ones like cherry or datterino handle the cold just fine.
What are the best fruit and vegetables to eat in spring?
We’re already starting to see the very first of the wild spring greens – alexanders (a wild precursor to celery), wild sea leeks, soon wild garlic: all through our expert wild mushroom and foraged arm, The Wild Room. And once we get into Spring proper, we’ll be sourcing the first green garlic, tiny broad beans and peas tender enough for raw, wild Italian asparagus, Cornish asparagus from our partner-growers Good Earth Growers, white forced asparagus from Veneto…It’s an insanely prolific time for the most tender growth – before the temperatures ramp up and it gets too hot.
Has the rapid increase in veganism affected your business at all?
We’re really pleased to see how plant-based eating – whether that’s veganism, or simply eating more plants vs. meat – is encouraging our customers to be more curious about fruit and vegetables. There’s so much diversity out there, and I think generally we’ve been stuck in quite rigid patterns when it comes to fresh produce – just cooking with what we know, playing safe. Supermarkets don’t help with this: we see such a minute percentage of the plant-based spectrum making it onto the shelves; generic modern seed hybrids rather than rich old varieties, such standardisation. We need to really ignite the plant-based discussion – and we’re currently working on an very exciting event for this summer, which will do just that. Stay tuned.