Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Market life of MD Provodores: The Farmers, the Providore and the Restaurateur and Chef

“Good morning, Jen!” Mouhamad greets me warmly at 6.30am as I approached his warehouse at Sydney Markets. It was drizzly but that didn’t get in the way of the buzz and energy I felt at the markets, with his staff, forklifts and trucks constantly on the move. “Good morning, Mouhamad! Jimena and Juan should be here in 5 minutes.”

“Here’s Jimena and Juan!” I said to Mouhamad as they arrived at his warehouse. Restaurateur Jimena and Chef Juan run the Myer cafés in Sydney who I met through my blogging travels. I introduced them to Mouhamad for the first time. A few weeks before, Jimena, asked me, “Tell me, Jenny, who is this MD Provodores I see on your Instagram? His produce looks so beautiful … so fresh.” This is how we ended up at Sydney Markets.

Mouhamad guided us around Sydney Markets that morning so Jimena and Juan as new customers got to know him, understand where he gets his local produce from and for Juan to obtain inspiration for the new menu for the relaunch of Vic on George in Myer. We met the agents, growers and also Uncle Manny who looks after Mouhamad’s food preparation business designed to save prep time by ‘slicing and dicing’ vegetables for restaurants using state of the art new high tech cutting machinery: shredding carrots, topping and tailing snake beans, and cutting up pumpkins.

“Look how big these tomatoes are!” Jimena says approaching a large box of tomatoes as we walked through the agent sheds. “Big is not necessary better”, Mouhamad cautioned. “The smaller ones are sweeter.”

“Finger limes, have you tried these?” I took a bite into it. Mouhamad watched with amusement my face screw up, “You don’t have to eat it all”. It was sour.

We met Sam Grima, a local farmer in the growers shed. “Sammy!” Mouhamad greets Sam Grima, slaps him affectionately on the back and introduced us to him. “G’day! Aren’t you a spunky looking chef”, Sam Grima says cheekily to Juan. “Of course, it’s legal now … if I was interested” and everyone chuckled at Sam’s good humour. “What’s this, Sam?” I asked. “That’s a kohlrabi, spelt k-o-h-l-r-a-b-i.”

Farmer Sam Grima and Mouhamad Dib in the Growers Shed, Sydney Markets

Growers' Shed, Sydney Markets

Farmer Sam Grima, Chef Juan of Vic on George, Myer Sydney City and me in the Growers Shed, Sydney Markets
There was a sense of excitement and fun for us that morning at Sydney Markets. We absorbed the energy from bonds Mouhamad had with every agent and grower we met that only comes from doing business with them for years. “Sydney Markets is a cure for depression!” Jimena exclaimed.

Mouhamad told us his story: “I come from a family of Lebanese descent, a family of 7. My eldest brother is a politician, the 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 admitted. “My first job was fixing cars. I used to get sick from the fumes. So my brother Billy introduced me to our neighbour who got me working in the growers shed at Sydney Markets. I started there as a labourer packing boxes, starting at 1am.” One day his friend suggested that he should be a ‘providore’. "What's a providore?" he asked. When his friend explained, Mouhamad thought he loved eating out at restaurants so, “Why not?” and purchased his first van supplying fruit and vegetables to restaurants 14 years ago.

“I use to jump the fences to get into D shed to buy my veggies early. The public market didn’t open until 6am and I needed to be in the city by 6.30am to get to my customers early. That has been my secret that helped me grow. ” Mouhamad told me.

“My brother Billy introduced me to my very first customer The Colonnade in Hurstville. When I first started, I used shopping trolleys to wheel boxes of produce from my van to the shopping centre entry, leaving the trolley and then carrying all the boxes into the restaurants.” With years of hardwork, resilience and consistency, his business as a providore grew and bought his first warehouse at Sydney Markets. Mouhamad now has just under 50 employees . “One thing I find rewarding is being able to create jobs for my staff. Some have been with me for 10 years”, Mouhamad said.

“A typical Monday starts at 12.30am for me”, Mouhamad tells me and he starts his day by popping into his food preparation kitchen to greet his staff. He meets his brother Nasser, his operations manager who sets up the runs for the day. “I try and wait for my drivers to come back from their deliveries so I know they’re safe.”

We then headed out to a local farm, Gourmet Herbs in Wilberforce, 45 minutes drive from Flemington to learn about hydroponic farming, a method of growing plants without soil but instead using nutrient dense water. “James (of Gourmet Herbs) has been supplying us his micro herbs for 11 years,” Mouhamad told us. Mouhamad also shared a tip, “When storing herbs in the fridge, keep them in a jar with some water and cover them with a plastic bag. That will keep them fresh. It’s the fan fridge that kills them.”

Chef Juan of Vic on George, Myer Sydney City at the Gourmet Herbs farm
Mouhamad's success is attributed to his strong relationships with the growers, restauranteurs and chefs. “Strong relationships with the growers ensure you always have first pick of the best stock,” he said. Strong relationships with the restauranteurs and chefs ensure you grow together. “El-Phoenician, for example has provided me the support to start my food prep business.”

Mouhamad has come a long way from the young man who use to jump fences and hustle his way into the markets. He would not have got to where he has today without grit, an eye for detail and a personality that people warm to. Mouhamad of MD Provodores is surely an excellent example of Sydney Markets providing a sound platform and security for those who have a passion for fresh produce, and for those who are prepared to work long and hard at it.

“Mouhamad cares a lot about his produce. You can tell by the way the box is packed” Juan said to me after he received his first delivery from Mouhamad after the tour. Inspired by the local produce we saw on tour, Chef Juan shares a simple smashed avocado recipe:

Chef Juan's Smashed Avocado at Vic on George

1 avocado
1 small firm tomato, diced
1 small Spanish onion, diced
½ cup lime juice
½ cup diced feta cheese
a few baby coriander leaves for garnishing
a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 small baguette
1 finger lime
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
tabasco sauce, few drops
sea salt
freshly ground pepper


1. Dice avocado into pieces, add diced onion, tabasco sauce, tomato, finger lime, coriander leaves, garlic, and lime juice. Smash the mix.

2. Add extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly grounded black pepper.

3. In a different bowl, add the cherry tomatoes, cut in half, and season with black pepper, sea salt and olive oil.

4. For the dukkah croutons, slice the bread very finely, add the olive oil and dukkah at the top (both sides) put in the oven for 6 minutes at 180C.

5. To plate (optional), use a ring to add the avocado first, then cherry tomatoes mix with the diced feta, micro herbs at the top and croutons on the side.

MD's Sydney Provodores
Store 12 & 13 Warehouse J,
Sydney Markets NSW 2129
Instagram: @mdprovodores

This blog article was submitted for the 2018 Sydney Markets Fresh Awards.

My take on Chef Juan's smashed avocado recipe

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