Posted on February 16, 2012 in Pickles
Larry Bain did not create his winning Devil Sauce over night. In fact, the journey to Let’s Be Frank and the cultivation of this flavorful topping developed after many years within the food industry trying to create a community based on the ethical principles of good food that is accessible to everyone. Larry grew up in Toronto and was always heavily involved in politics, focusing primarily on maintaining a lively urban environment, creating strong rural ties with the community and a conscious appreciation for farmers, the land, and their crops. As life continued, Larry found himself working in a wine bar and he thought to himself, “There has to be a way for commerce to be the driving force, creating a clear link between urban and rural relationships.” That is all it took. From there he lived in New York for several years working in many high end restaurants learning every aspect of the industry until he decided to move to San Francisco, finally opening his own restaurant in 1983. A whirlwind took place in Larry’s life and he found himself as a restaurant owner, turned restaurant consultant, turned active non-profit director surrounding the issues of access to good food, opening ACME Chophouse in 2003(what would be the first sustainable grass fed steakhouse in San Francisco), and finally opening Let’s Be Frank and creating the critically acclaimed Devil Sauce.
It would seem that Larry had reached the top, and like most, would be content with the success he had created, however he did not feel a sense of completion, rather an ill sense of being torn between the demographic of ACME steak house and his work on access within the food community. With this turmoil, came a partnership with Sue Moore(meat forager for Chez Panisse) and the premise for Let’s Be Frank was created. Larry saw hot dogs as an icon for everything that was good, and when the food system collapsed, the hot dog became the symbol of everything wrong and he wanted to reclaim the hot dog as something that was once great and could be great again. By taking the excess trimmings from the steaks purchased for ACME Chophouse, he created a grass fed hot dog, which not only supported the rancher by eliminating waste, but created a food product that was tasty, responsibly produced, and accessible.
The 2012 Good Food Awards winning Devil Sauce is a rich in spice pickled product, and as the story was told by Larry himself, one day he was serving hot dogs at a ball park and a request for pickled peppers seemed almost overwhelming. He went to the store, bought a jar of pickled peppers and was appalled not only by the horrifying flavor, but the iridescent glow in the dark appearance advertising a never ending expiration date. Again, his creative wheels began to turn and joined with a surplus of patron peppers from his friends at Mariquita farm, and an interpretation of a pickled eggplant recipe from a close friend’s cookbook, “Bombay Kitchen”, he created Devil Sauce: a condiment representing a local, unique, and delicious topping that could be used on more than just hot dogs. With an annual production almost doubling every year, this devil sauce is soon to be found in sixteen Dean and Deluca stores and online for purchasing.
The possibilities are endless for Larry Bain, and new creations are on the horizon, but Larry puts it best when asked about his 2012 Good Food Award, “It’s really exciting to be in a community with people all over the country who are trying to do the same thing, facing the same challenges and getting the recognition of going beyond just glitz and glamor, there is just so much more to food and both eaters and cookers need to get in touch with this.”
We could not agree more.
April McGreger founded Farmer’s Daughter Brand with the intention of representing her Southern roots in her pickles and preserves products. Originally learning the trade from her mother and grandmother, she finds creativity in the diverse vegetation provided by North Carolina’s seasonality—inspiring all sorts of delicious concoctions.
The hardest part for April is reeling in her imagination to create preserves that are palatable for all. She won in two categories last year with her Spicy Green Tomato Pickles and Bourbon’d Fig Preserves, but likes to be on the cutting edge with her inventory—always looking to combine new and interesting tastes. Her affinity toward blending different flavors together is evident in her reference to something as bland as pepper jelly: “I love taking ubiquitous recipes like pepper jelly (something you see everywhere, but not usually that good-tasting), and bumping up the flavor by using things like heirloom jelly, roasting peppers, and adding spice.” As a tip for your next cocktail party: pepper jelly goes well with cream cheese and lox on crackers/toast.
April began her career in the food industry as a pastry chef at a fine dining restaurant in North Carolina where she developed strong connections with farmers, sourcing all ingredients locally. After six years there, she branched off into her own business in May of 2007. Both her mother and grandmother taught her how to make preserves growing up, hence the name of her company: Farmer’s Daughter Brand. She makes it a point to source all Southern products; she loves the idea of regionally identifying foods. April enjoys the freedom and flexibility that comes with her work. Because she is so reliant on the farmer’s local produce, her business fluctuates with the seasons, which allows her to travel to other regions of the country during her region’s off-season: “It’s fun to travel in winter to other regions and see what they’re all about, but a lot of what inspires me is reviving old recipes, getting involved in the history of things, and having annual specialties.” However, being so dependent on local produce can also be a challenge, April explained, because if there is a high demand for a certain fruit or vegetable, but not enough locally grown, then you are out of luck.
Winning last year’s Good Food Award was very meaningful to April, who confessed that she often loses sight of the bigger picture in the food world. There are so many small producers in this country who take pride in their work and value slow food, but rarely do they coalesce. The Good Food Awards provides a platform for such networking and the validation that many like-minded producers in the food industry do in fact exist. April was in awe of the shared community that the Good Food Awards message provoked: “In small business it’s sometimes isolating because you have your head down and you’re working on your own product, but it’s awesome to be able to meet and be inspired by people who have the same ideals and motivations and who are doing similar work.”
This year, April is going in a different direction with her entries, focusing more on strawberries. Whatever produce is freshest and available is what guides her recipe foundation, which makes her products very connected to the seasons. April confided that the element of seasonality provides for an interesting base for her preserves making, from which her creativity takes over to produce a masterpiece of blended flavors.
Posted on October 19, 2011 in Pickles
Julie O’Brien and Richard Climenhage met through their mutual passion for fermented foods, which inspired them to open Firefly Kitchen in Seattle, Washington. Just two years into business, their products can be found at Whole Foods and several co-ops in the Seattle Area.
Have you ever wondered why Germans always eat sauerkraut with their meals? Sauerkraut is a fermented vegetable, which breaks down the food you eat with lactic acid, expediting the digestion process. Firefly Kitchen owners Julie O’Brien and Richard Climenhage fully endorse the ancient tradition of fermentation as a key component of today’s slow food movement. “We’re not cheating. Doing it the old-fashioned way—that’s the challenge.” Julie is referring to the 4-6 week period required to ferment foods like sauerkraut to its ripened taste. The wait is worth it though; fermented foods are nutrient dense and make a big difference in people’s health, once regularly incorporated into your diet.
Before Firefly Kitchen came to fruition, Richard worked for the high-tech industry while Julie ran her own business for marketing and branding. Both had a long-time passion for food and nutrition, evident in Julie’s nutritional therapy program, where she learned to council people to feel better around food, as well as Richard’s life-changing apprenticeship at Tree Stone Hearth in Berkeley, CA, which emphasized sustainability, community, and health values. There he learned how to cook specifically to maximize digestibility and nutrient absorption. He and Julie then teamed up to bring this vision to Seattle.
After a couple of years in business, Firefly Kitchen is already showcasing its products in Whole Foods and nine high-end co-ops in the Seattle area. Their products also have a strong presence at local Farmer’s Markets. The most popular product is last year’s Good Food Awards winner: Yin Yang Carrots. Richard confessed: “We actually invited a whole bunch of friends over and had 26 recipes to try; the one that was really popular with all ages were the Ginger Carrots (later named Yin Yang carrots).” According to Julie and Richard, their pickled carrots go best when added to a salad. Throw in some mixed greens, feta cheese, roasted sesame seeds, and olive oil and you’ve got a flavorful meal because of that extra tang that the carrots add. They also go well with nachos and hummus.
Receiving the Good Food Award honor last year confirmed to Julie and Richard, despite their challenges, that people actually cared about their work. Julie sums it up: “For me it was total validation that what we’re doing is the right thing. It’s so easy when you’re slogging away and not making money to start doubting yourself, so that validation was like a big hug.” They met several other producers with similar issues and noticed an immediate camaraderie. Besides the honor of winning the award, Richard noted how it enabled them to educate customers back home about the importance of good food. The seal provided for an excellent conversation piece; beyond boosting sales, it allowed those who were unaware of the Good Food Awards to take an interest in the initiative. “We pay more for food to get it from a good source. Knowing that people actually care about that really helps.”
Posted on September 15, 2011 in Pickles
Joe and Bob McClure founded McClure’s Pickles in 2006 using their great-grandmother Lala’s recipe for spicy pickles when both were in need of a job with stability and freedom. Bob can be found in Brooklyn, New York doing small batch research and development, while Joe (with parents, Mike and Jennifer) works from Detroit, Michigan, handling the manufacturing and producing of pickles.
Growing up in the Detroit area of Michigan, Joe and Bob McClure spent much of their childhood making spicy pickles with their family recipe, passed on for generations. Bob recalls that every year they would go to the Detroit Eastern Market and buy enough cucumbers to make around 150 jars of pickles on a summer day, though at the time it felt more like a chore than an important tradition. Pickling remained a part of their family lives, but as they grew up, Joe and Bob put pickling on the back burner while they pursued their own dreams.
I caught up with Bob McClure from his home base in Brooklyn, New York. He moved there from Detroit, Michigan a while back to pursue a career in acting. Though he landed work in TV and film, and as a freelance art assistant, he yearned for a job with stability. So one day, after bringing some homemade pickles to a cast party, everyone told him he should start his own business and sell them. “Well,” Bob thought, “maybe I should.” He called up his brother, Joe to see what he thought. Joe was in.
“The beginning wasn’t easy,” recalled Bob, who went door-to-door asking markets if they would carry his brand. But he was handed some luck when he met the owners of a new market, Brooklyn Kitchen, just before they opened. They hit it off and agreed to carry some of his products. Soon after, Bob and Joe were featured in a New York Times article highlighting Brooklyn’s new food movement and things took off from there.
Bob appreciates his customers more than anything. “A lot of people are caring about food products and willing to take a leap to opening up their wallets to what would generally be considered higher priced merchandise that have typically been pretty cheap,” he told me. “There is a willingness in the consumer to connect with an honest, genuine and authentic product, that is not trying to hide anything in its ingredients or purpose.”
He understands that it takes a certain kind of person to pay $9.99 for a jar of pickles, but emphasizes that a higher price point is one of the challenges of a small company. “Where big producers can get savings on raw material, we can’t. We just don’t have the space to make that much,” Bob explains. “So no matter what we do the price of our pickles will be higher, because they cost more to make.” Though when cucumbers are in season McClure’s buys from local Michigan Farms (the largest producers of pickling cucumbers in the US) it costs even more in the off-season when the cucumbers come from Florida or the Yucatan. The McClure’s try to remedy this problem by selling mostly in small specialty stores where they know consumers are willing to pay more for a craft product.
What’s on the horizon for McClure’s pickles? For one they’ve partnered with Detroit’s Better Made Potato Chips to come up with a pickle-flavored potato chip that’s already selling like crazy. Plus, winning a Good Food Award has helped McClure’s pickles earn some reputation on the west coast. He understands that people are conscious of eating locally, but know people like trying new things from all over the place. “I didn’t get into this business to join a food movement, just to have a job and carry on a family tradition, so that’s what I’ve been doing and that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”
The Trudels opened Ann’s Raspberry Farm seven years ago after fulfilling their dream of moving back to Ann’s native Amish Country in Ohio from Michigan. They bought a large piece of land without a clear vision of what they wanted it to become. In their first year, Ann and Daniel planted berries with the idea of being a U-pick farm but were caught off guard when their crops produced fruit in their first season. The farm was not yet set up as a U-pick so Ann decided to turn her hobby of preserving into a business: “It’s really funny to look back. We just started selling and it turned into a business. It’s been a huge road. There is such a demand for these products which was really surprising. It grows, grows, grows every year.”
Ann has been diligently working since January on opening a cannery nearby her home in which to produce her jams. So far this has been her biggest challenge as she is still in the process of getting the space certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the USDA. The most frustrating aspect of the process for her has been acquiring all the information necessary to get the space certified. Knowing which questions to ask in order to meet federal regulations has proven to be a difficult task for Ann who is clearly dedicated to conducting her business in the best way possible: “If I didn’t have such determination to make this happen then I wouldn’t have even started and I think that is true for all small craft producers. You need to be very dedicated to run this sort of business.”
Despite the challenges she faces, it is obvious even over the phone how much Ann loves what she does. She finds the most joy selling at farmers’ markets with her husband and daughter where she is able to see people’s reactions to her creations: “We do a lot of sampling. A lot people take a sample and start to walk away but then they stop. Here a lot of people are used to their regular grocery store. They buy the cheapest jam that is on the shelf so when they taste something that is really good because it’s made fresh, it’s a surprise and that’s what’s fun about it.” And that is why Ann’s Raspberry products are so special. Although the style of their products may not be typical of their region, the process in which the fruits and vegetables are made into jams or relishes is characteristic of Ohio Amish Country: “The Amish do things the old fashioned way. Our products represent that in the way they are processed, fresh, family farmed, and picked to make jam the same day.”
The Trudel’s hope to educate the community around them about the significance of good food, which is why they are appreciative of the Good Food Awards: “The Good Food Awards have been a great help. In Ohio people are old fashioned but I think sustainable is finally seeping over. The Good Food Awards is really helping a lot to get people educated which is especially important in the Midwest where there are a lot of people still farming conventionally. People are resistant at first to certified natural products, people pooh-pooh it, but I think we’re helping.” Ann is going to enter the Good Food Awards again this year and is hoping to use it as a test run for some of her new products.
Posted on July 28, 2011 in Pickles
Brooklyn couple Chris and Evelyn started their pickling business, Sour Puss Pickles, in 2009. The idea was to turn their hobby and love of being in the kitchen into a business that would allow New Yorkers to enjoy delicious seasonal produce all year long. Today Sour Puss Pickles has five employees all of whom are kept busy with the various projects they have going on.
When I ask Chris what he is currently working on, it seems as if he doesn’t know where to start. They are making four new sauerkrauts, which include a horseradish-mustard variety with cabbage and a curried apple ginger. They also have several new pickled products coming out including golden beets with cucumber and mint and white cucumbers with fennel. In addition, Sour Puss Pickles is opening a new store front in a market which has rehabbed old shipping containers into retail or food outlets and will now be selling all their products there.
With all the new varieties of pickles they are developing, one might wonder where the owners of Sour Puss Pickles get their inspiration. Chris explains that living in New York allows for innovation: “our influence stems from our environment, for example, I live in a Caribbean neighborhood and many of those influences seep into our consciousness.” The complex flavor combinations present in many of the Sour Puss Pickle products are a result of the company’s location in a large city where flavors from many different cultures are fused together. Pickles also have a historical significance in New York. Chris explains that pickled products came over with Eastern European immigrants during the early twentieth century. Since pickles only require cucumber, salt, and water, they were essentially a poor man’s food that could be bought for less than a nickel. Today the owners of Sour Puss Pickles try to maintain the simplicity of these old recipes, while also ensuring that their ingredients are of the highest possible quality. Another goal for Chris and Evelyn is to keep their prices low so that more people can gain access to their good food products.
As newer members of the food industry, Chris and Evelyn are proud of their Good Food Award especially because of its association with other good food producers that have been producing sustainable products for years and really stand behind their products. Chris explains: “It has meant a lot of different things over the past months but it made me realize how necessary it is to adhere to these kind of sustainable practices, to be part of a movement that can get on the loud speaker and say this is what we should be doing, we need to hark back to how it used to be.”
Posted on June 29, 2011 in Pickles
Jennifer and Andrew Sauter Sargent launched their business after moving to their farm in Wisconsin from the city in 2007. Andrew approached Jennifer with the idea of producing locally sourced lacto-fermented products such as sauerkraut and kimchee after being inspired by the book Salt: A World History. An avid sailor, Andrew was thrilled by the idea of producing a food that had historically been used by sailors to fight scurvy, while Jennifer was excited to have an excuse to grow more garlic in her garden. The first year of business ended successfully when the two sold out of their lacto-fermented goods. Now in their fifth year of production at Spirit Creek Farms, Jennifer and Andrew remain enthusiastic about the business as they work to keep their sought-after products on the shelves.
I catch up with Jennifer as she is preparing a gourmet, home-grown dinner that would please any locavore. She wrestles the pork off its bone for the schnitzel she is about to pound while she tells me about her thriving business and her award-winning product. Jennifer stresses that although her products are unique, the recipes are simple. “Creamy ‘kraut,” a pork or lamb chop topped with a modified version of the purple sauerkraut, is a family favorite and has been deemed plate-licking good (the recipe can be found of the farm’s website). Spirit Creek Farm’s products also hold magical powers among kids, who devour the gingered carrots and garlic-dill beans most likely without knowing they are eating vegetables.
Now that summer has arrived, Jennifer is spending most of her time in the garden, waiting for her next batch of produce to grow so she can begin to produce this summer’s first fermented products. She is also working on numerous other endeavors on her off-grid farm such as running her egg CSA, tending her goats, and monitoring her birds that have been put out on pasture in their new mobile coop. When asked what difficulties they face when it comes to their business, the Sauter Sargents agree that distribution is their main challenge. “Living rurally makes it more difficult,” states Jennifer, “and we have to educate a lot.” Their rural Wisconsin location challenges the couple when it comes to getting their products into stores, but it also provides an opportunity to spread their message into rural communities. Jennifer believes that “people who have an awareness of what they’re eating, where it’s from, find that it’s followed by better flavor.” One of her goals is to educate those in her surrounding community about the meaning of good food. The owners of Spirit Creek Farm are proud of their Good Food Award and its recognition of their unique but simple products. The award has also helped the couple better convey their message of responsible food production while also providing a network to meet other producers like themselves.
Before leaving her to her family for their Friday night dinner, I can’t help but ask what Jennifer has made. She nonchalantly rattles off a menu that puts the average Friday pizza night to shame: for appetizers – grapes that Jennifer’s dinner guest has brought along; dinner is schnitzel, from a pig they raised, dipped in egg and crackers and then fried, a salad of spinach and lettuce from the garden, and the award-winning purple sauerkraut on the side; and for dessert- a frosted chocolate cake made by Jennifer’s 9 year-old daughter topped with raspberries and mint from the garden. Looks like culinary prowess runs in the family.
Posted on June 15, 2011 in Pickles
Katy Chang is the proprietor of Mer-chan, the team behind Artisanal Soy. After spending years in her father’s kitchen, Katy became a professional cheese monger before coming to lacto-fermentation. She is also a documentary filmmaker.
Katy is busy creating great demand for fusion food at the Washington D.C. farmers’ market. While many eat her award-winning Edamame Kimchee plain, she advocates mixing a few tablespoons with an avocado for a quick take on guacamole, with the kimchee functioning as a salsa replacement. She also uses it on “sandwiches, nachos, toast, burgers, you name it.”
Kimchee is by definition a fusion product, Katy said. “Red chili, one of kimchee’s main ingredients, wasn’t indigenous to Korea,” where kimchee is native, she said. “European traders brought chilies back from the Americas, and they were added to kimchee later.” Her small-scale production is feeling the effects of national attention. A business that originally grew out of her making kimchee for herself in Dubai, where it was unavailable commercially and through her friends asking for jars, has now expanded to a farmers’ market booth.
Right now, Katy is working on balancing kimchee production with the unveiling of new products from Artisanal Soy. Though she is working on scaling up production and distribution, she is also happily enjoying her other products. The versatility seen in her kimchee usage also comes into play with her other products — she eats Artisanal Soy Granola all day, as cereal for breakfast and as an ice cream topping for after-dinner dessert.
For Katy, regional influence comes in the form of diverse people and international cultures that all come to the table in the Washington D.C. area. She uses all natural and local ingredients from farms in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Additionally, she’s become pretty active at the farmers market, filming a web show and podcast called “2mrkt 2mrkt,” highlighting what’s in season locally, speaking with the farmers and sharing recipes.