“I rather my customers complain about price than quality”, Mouhamad of MD Provodores tells me as we walked along A shed in Sydney Markets at 7am on a Wednesday morning.
"Jenny, have you seen one of these before?” as we stopped at one of the agents in the sheds who sold a variety of tomatoes. “It’s a black tomato, or we named it ‘pomonero’”, the storeholder of tomatoes told me, “Pomedero is the Italian word for tomatoes, but it is a new breed, a black tomato and nero in Italian means black. Hence the name we gave it, ‘pomonero’. Makes sense to me. He cuts one for me to try. It was deliciously sweeter than the normal red tomatoes that I commonly see. Mouhamad says, “The chefs would love these. Send a box of these to my warehouse.”
We passed an agent selling mangos and I said to Mouhamad, “My mother hasn’t been a fan of the mangos this season. She says they haven’t been as sweet as the ones in the past.” Mouhamad says to me, “The thing with mangoes is don’t get the big ones, the smaller the mango the sweeter they are”. Ahh, that’s the problem. Big is not necessarily better.
“Finger limes, have you tried these?” offering me one as we came across another agent supplier of finger limes and as I took a bite into it, Mouhamad watched with amusement my face screw up, “You don’t have to eat all of it”. It was sour. When you bite into it, it looks like a fruit caviar but tasted like lime. Coincidentally, I subsequently read that according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, finger lime is one of five alternative Australian native ingredients to discover in 2017.
Mouhamad and I then stopped over at the agent, Export Fresh, a specialist in salad leaves, edible flowers and baby leaves and the storeowner showed me a range of his herbs. “Taste this” he said to me, and I popped this four leaved clover into my mouth. In Latin, nasturtium literally means ‘nose twist’ which is fitting because it had a peppery taste. “That’s nasturtium and these are popular with the chefs.”
Before 7am that morning. Mouhamad the founder of MD Provodores and I had not met before. All I knew about him was he supplied a lot of his produce to the Sydney restaurants I had eaten at ever since I had my blog and how I knew that was through social media, Instagram. As I put a photo of some of the food I’ve eaten at restaurants, he would comment on Instagram and so I knew he was the provedore for that restaurant. That’s the thing with social media, you feel like you know the person, or least know their voice without having met the figure in person. We thought it was high time to meet in person and enthusiastically agreed to a personal tour with him at Sydney Markets bright and early on a Wednesday morning.
Sydney Markets has come a long way and about a year ago I did some research on the history of Sydney Markets because I was a guest speaker at an event at The Queen Victoria Building to talk about its history as the old Sydney Markets. The QVB is little well known as one of the old sites of Sydney Markets in the 1800s. Yes, there is a reason why Market Street in the Sydney CBD is called Market Street. You can read more about the history of Sydney Markets in my speech for which I did a bit of research.
The old Sydney Markets, dating back to the white settlement in Australia in 1788, selling fruits and vegetables was originally formed to ensure people had enough to eat. Some people had excess, some people didn’t have enough from the ration days so the market place was formed as a trading ground to exchange fruit and vegetables and other consumables. Today, we have people like Mouhamad, a provedore, making restauranteur and chef’s life a lot easier by providing fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the growers and agents and Sydney Markets to the restaurants which goes beyond ensuring people have enough to eat. With fruit and vegetable supplies being plentiful and the Sydney dining scene booming, it’s now ensuring his supplies meet the demand of people who dine out because of work or social reasons.
But the role of making restauranteur’s and chef’s life easier as a provedore does come at a sacrifice. Mouhamad is up working during times we are asleep. Life of a provedore can start as early as 1am.
“I’ll order breakfast. What would you like?” as we sat down at a nearby café after the tour of Sydney Markets. Over breakfast, Mouhamad told me a bit about his family and his background, “I come from a family of Lebanese descent and a family of 7, 6 brothers and 1 sister. My eldest brother is a politician and NSW Shadow Minister for Education, Jihad Dib, MP for Lakemba and my youngest brother, Billy Dib is an Australian professional boxing champion.” “I never was good at school” Mouhamad starts. “I started working in Sydney Markets in my teens and my neighbour got me into it. My neighbour said to me “Mouhamad, why don’t you come with me and work for the growers at Sydney Markets” and so I started as a labourer for the growers at Sydney Markets packing boxes. My day would start at 1am packing boxes.” Mouhamad did that for a few years until one day a colleague suggested to him that perhaps he might want to supply fruit and vegetables to the restaurants. Mouhamad loved eating out at restaurants and took the opportunity and purchased his first van supplying restaurants. “I didn’t know what to call it until a colleague said to me why don’t you call it MD Provodores, MD being the initials to my name.” As his business grew, and grew, he bought a warehouse at Sydney Markets and is now one of the leading suppliers for Sydney’s restaurants, cafes and hotels. There are some people in the restaurant industry we both know well, which is no coincidence.
Whilst social media is a powerful platform connecting people like Mouhamad and me, nothing beats word of mouth when it comes to winning new business. High quality service and produce is what Mouhamad strives for. The challenge now for Mouhamad is how to keep his kids grounded having grown up with having everything. Mouhamad told me, “When I was younger my brothers and I use to share our shoes. My kids don’t have that problem.”
“Come, I’ll show you my warehouse” Mouhamad said and headed there after breakfast. It was a reasonable sized area where the staff of MD Provodores are well into their activities in the early hours of the morning whether in the office or packing boxes ready for their next deliveries. “I have employees who have been with me for 9 years” Mouhamad says to me and having spent a morning with him and seen the camaraderie he has with the people at Sydney Markets, this is a testament to the way he operates, his work ethic and more importantly, how effectively he relates to people. And the biggest asset any person can have in the business as a provedore that is rewarded from the strength of business relationships is a personality that people warm to.
Mouhamad and what he has created, MD Provodores is an excellent example of the Sydney Markets providing security and a sound platform for those who have a passion for fresh produce and who are prepared to work long and hard at it. Instagram is responsible for connecting me to MD Provodores and I'm grateful for that. I certainly have a better understanding and appreciation of what it takes to be served a salad next time I’m dining at a Sydney restaurant.
Here are some of the things I cooked up, styled and photographed with MD Provodores fruit and vegetable box and by the way, thanks to Mouhamad I now can open up young coconuts and pomegranates without making a mess.
Breakfast idea. Bacon and eggs with a kaleidoscope of MD Provodores fruit and vegetables. Learn how to open a pomegranate from my Instagram post.
Drinking coconut. Learn how to open a coconut from my Instagram post.
Lunch or dinner idea: Lamb chops with roasted eggplant, figs and tomatoes sourced from MD Provodores.
Lunch or dinner idea: Salmon, tomato and lemon infused pasta with tomatoes sourced from MD Provodores
Fruit and vegetable supplier direct from Sydney Markets
Stand 70D shed, Sydney Markets
All styling and photography by See.Taste.Do