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Say “oui” to French markets this summer

By Al Stasch

For some an authentic French Market either must include products from or inspired by French vendors. The reality is that a French Market may have a French influence but remains local and a part of the community that operates it. What began in the streets of Paris in the 1950s by the Bensidoun Family is now a daily event throughout the Chicago area in the western suburbs including Villa Park.

It is not possible to provide a complete description of what a French Market offers. Every vendor is traditionally family owned and operated and each has his or her own story, their own uniqueness and variety that make a French Market so enjoyable for the communities. The Villa Park French Market takes place at Ardmore and the Illinois Prairie Path every Sunday from 8:00 AM until 1:00 PM through October 24. French Markets are also held in many other communities throughout the western suburbs every day of the week.

Managed by Bensidoun USA, the Villa Park French Market is a true authentic French Market. There are local residents offering fresh squeezed lemonade and tropical citric drinks served by Neal and Nancy Hickok and meats and other farm fresh foodstuffs from Jennifer and Steve Spoerl from Naperville and hand picked strawberries, raspberries and blueberries from Danny and his wife Sarah and son Andre from Berrien Springs Michigan in the heart of Michigan wine country.

Neal and Nancy Hickok will create a fresh squeezed drink from oranges lemons and a variety of fruits before your eyes. No fresher taste can be imagined. Their space at the French Market has a unique Tiki flair with carved artwork that Neal has salvaged from around the area. The tastes of their drinks are fresh, pure and refreshing.

Steve Spoerl from Farm Fresh Foodstuffs in Naperville brings a large freezer to the market and several coolers filled with authentic farm meats, cheeses, eggs and poultry. Steve will tell you that the farmers he works with provide only chemical free products. The cows eat only grass and no animals are injected with hormones or antibiotics. Fully licensed and certified the products are safe, healthy, and fresh frozen or processed just prior to sale at the market.

A family from Berrien Springs Michigan brings the roadside farm stands practically to your doorstep. Their son Andre operates his own farm stand at home in their 15-acre farm and on weekends they bring their fruits and vegetables to market. They know much more about the products they sell than you could ever find out in a produce section of a supermarket. For example, a basket of strawberries may look the same but they can tell you if the strawberries are the 2nd, 3rd or 4th year growth from the planting. Further defining the quality of the berries they sell.

At the French Market there is also a wide variety of bakery products like from Hahns Bakery in Geneva and Lil Mad Caf in Westmont. In addition, there is even a mini donut machine that makes fresh donuts before your very eyes. Cory is one of the managers of Hahns Bakery that offers not only fresh baked scones - which are super sized but also fresh breads and unique items like sun dried tomato basil focaccia, It looks like a small pizza but can be eaten with a wide variety of flavors and tailored to your own tastes.

The Lil Mad Caf in Westmont is run by John and Bonnie. John does the business side while Bonnie is the certified chef - having trained at the Le Cordon Bleu academy in Chicago. They provide a wide variety of fresh granola mixes to a series of flavored shortbreads that are soft and fresh with flavorings of vanilla, lemon and cranberry.

Then there is the real French influence straight from Marseilles. Not Illinois but France. John Pierre Brocardi of Black Olive Tapenade uncovers the huge variety of flavors from olives. We often think olives are green or black. However, the variety is endless. There are some served in deep red, some no bigger than a raisin and some as small as peas. From their store front in Wheaton the Brocardi family offers authentic and unique French variations of olives, hummus and much more. They have expanded to include a retail location at the Metra station in downtown Chicago. John Pierre came from the south of France several years ago and has not lost his accent bringing the tastes and culture of the original French Markets to our own communities.

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