WASHINGTON -- For many people, a trip to Dupont Circle's weekly FreshFarm market can be something of an ordinary routine or an occasional fun side trip to break up the monotony of the supermarket.
They might breeze through the market at 20th and Q streets NW to grab a free gelato sample, maybe pick up a bag of peaches or sniff a bouquet of locally-grown flowers.
For chef Ris Lacoste, a seasoned veteran of D.C. kitchens since 1987, a trip to the Dupont market can be an all-consuming event.
Lacoste, whose eponymous West End restaurant is among the best in the nation's capital, says she's been perusing the market "religiously" for years.
During a recent market outing with The Huffington Post, Lacoste shared her strategies on how to make the most out of a market visit as she strolled through the stalls, tasting, sniffing and picking out the best produce.
Lacoste chats with Jim Breger of Anchor Nurseries. She often stocks up on flowers and veggies at Breger's market stall.
Green beans are among the vegetables that Lacoste picks up in bulk toward the end of farmers market. She'll incorporate these green wonders into new dishes at her restaurant.
Lacoste greets Ann Yonkers, executive director of FreshFarm, which operates the Dupont Circle market.
Herbs for sale at the Gardener's Gourmet stall.
Lacoste plans to purchase chard and spinach at the Gardener's Gourmet stall.
Fruit for sale from Toigo Orchards, in the stall where Lacoste once worked the cash register.
Lacoste tastes fingerling potatoes with Zach Lester of Tree and Leaf Farm.
Lacoste greets a friend at the market.
Eli Cook sorts produce from his Spring Valley Farm.
Cook and Lacoste chat and take time to smell the basil.
Her favorite time to be at the Sunday market is 9:30 a.m., just as stalls are just opening for business and the colors of produce are at their most vibrant. The best wholesale deals can be found toward the end of the market, around 1 p.m., when she doubles back to her favorite vendors to pick up bulk quantities of chard, beans or potatoes.
Most of the vendors know her well. Lacoste could barely walk a step in the crowded market without calling out, "Hey honey, how are you?" and often stopped to hug, kiss and chat with vendors who have become her friends.
Lacoste, who is also a HuffPost blogger, believes her personal approach and close relationships with farmers infuse her food with a special quality.
"Knowing who's growing your food is an amazing thing," she said. "There's a life force in cooking, and I believe people taste that in my food."
Lacoste made a special stop at the Toigo Orchards stall chatting with Mark Toigo about cooking, business and life while sipping cups of cucumber crab soup. She once worked the cash register in Toigo's stall.
She then stopped to hug Zach Lester of Tree and Leaf Farms. Lester offered Lacoste a taste of the new batch of fingerling potatoes, and she ruffled his hair nostalgically.
"He used to have really long hair," she laughed.
Lacoste later paid a visit to Eli Cook, whose Spring Valley Farm stall was packed with customers and a team of tanned young workers. She paused over a heap of fragrant opal basil, sniffing contentedly, and asked Cook about his new baby.
As she moved through the market, Lacoste discussed the harvest with farmers, touching on the best ways to grow ginger, and the problems with the potato crop this year. By gathering intelligence from purveyors, Lacoste is able to tailor her menus to the seasons.
"Every once in a while I’ll cheat and get asparagus from California," she admitted, but said she does this "very, very little. I follow the seasons."
While the Dupont market is top billing for Lacoste, she said she also regularly visits farmers markets all over the city, including the White House market on Vermont Avenue on Thursdays and an Arlington market on Saturdays.
Lacoste estimated that she spent $31,000 at farmers markets last year. Don't expect Lacoste to retreat from her regular visits -- she said she expects to spend even more this year.