Interviews

Get to know...Courtney Werp, Founder - Ballard Extracts Posted on 8 Aug 12:30 , 0 comments

Courtney Werp is an English teacher in Seattle who also happens to run Ballard Extracts, where she produces organic, small-batch extracts to flavor cocktails, baked goods, and more. We got a chance to ask her more about how Ballard came to be, and how she finds the time to be a professional educator and a professional foodmaker at once — we're in awe, and you will be, too.
 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Shoreline, WA — about ten minutes north of Seattle.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

That is a good question! I don’t think I had a clue. I know that I enjoyed working with my hands and creating things. I also liked to work hard. I did bake with my mom starting at a very young age, and she taught me all that I know in the kitchen. She always made things from scratch: mozzarella by hand, cinnamon rolls that take hours to rise, chicken stock from a chicken. All these things growing up made me understand the importance of the basic ingredients.

You clearly love cooking and baking — how did you get into extracts, in particular?

My mom and I love to bake, and with the most basic ingredients. Since we make our own extract and use it in our baked goods, we decided to make it available to the public. It has been such an awesome learning experience — figuring out how to design a label, finding packaging that fit our vision, and creating the best extracts sourced with ingredients as close to home as possible. Since I live in Ballard, and the kitchen space we rent is in Ballard, we decided to include Ballard in our brand.

Is it difficult to make extracts? What was the learning process for you?

It is not too difficult to make extracts. The hardest part is getting the percentage of alcohol right for what you’re extracting, since it depends on the acidic level of the food being extracted. We did try every possible type of vanilla bean, as well as all different types of alcohols, before we found our perfect balance and combination. It was all trial and error for us. Luckily, we have a large family to test all of our baked goods on!

What makes the difference between a really great extract and a less-great one?

Great question! We use all organic alcohol, and the percentage of alcohol is probably higher than others you find at the store. Others have more water than our extract. Also, we extract the product and don’t use oil like lime oil, which many of the extracts you find at the store use.

We zest our fruit and use only the best organic vanilla beans. We use vanilla beans from Madagascar and organic alcohol. Our vanilla is pure vanilla extract, in that it fits the criteria for pure vanilla extract by the FDA. We don’t use imitation vanilla or any synthetic versions of vanilla to make our extract. For the chocolate extract, we use Theo Cocoa Powder, which is produced locally and is fairtrade and organic.

Courtney's elixirs, in all flavors and aromas.

What’s the most inventive way you, or someone you know, has used your extracts?

People like to use our extracts in their cocktails!

What other flavors do you want to make down the line?

We are working on a Ginger Syrup, Grapefruit Syrup, and Vanilla Syrup.

What led you to become an English teacher?

Good question! I really enjoyed reading British literature in college and just followed the path of least resistance to get my degree. While I adore my students and teaching, I am more of a hands-on type of girl. I like to create things and work hard!

How do you balance teaching and making extracts? Do your students know about your business, or about your love of cooking?

Yes — my students do know about my love for cooking and baking! I often work in the evenings on the extracts and focus my time during the day teaching. During the holidays, my mom and I like to sell our extracts at local events.

Do you and your mother work well together? What was it like starting a business together? Has it changed your relationship, and how?

We do! I handle the business side of things, and my mom manages the kitchen. Our relationship has strengthened since we have endured setbacks as well as accomplishments together.

What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

Since I have two small children, we like to go to Phinney Market. I also enjoy going to Patxi’s Pizza, Stoneburner, and Brunswick & Hunt.

Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?

I listen to Pandora — currently Lorde radio.

What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

Gyros are my go-to easy recipe.

What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

I usually make wings with my mom’s homemade jelly, or I bring a dessert such as lemon bars or cupcakes.

What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

LaCroix.


We're going to ask you some quick-fire questions — answer these before you have a chance to think about it! 
Dog or cat?

Cat.

Tomato sauce or pesto?

Tomato.

Regular fries or waffle fries?

Waffle.

Chocolate or caramel?

CHOCOLATE.

Pizza or pasta?

Pizza!

Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Wine.


A minute with John Wright of Bee Wild Posted on 8 Aug 04:41 , 0 comments

John Wright has an unusual inheritance waiting for him: bees. The story is, John's grandfather passed his 10 colonies of bees down to his father, who decided to turn full-time to beekeeping and honey production.

John joined his father and helped turned their small family business into Bee Wild: a company that not only produces a line of raw, wild-crafted, naturally flavored honeys, but spreads a message about local, organic food.

We chatted with John about how he built the brand around Bee Wild, and about his passion for real food. He's charming and enthusiastic, and his love of his trade is clear. But we don't need to tell you that—meet him for yourself!

 *

Where did you grow up?

Gainesville, Georgia.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A master gardener/landscape architect.

Who taught you to cook? And, if the answer is different: how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?

N/A — this one is still sitting on my bucket list!

So, your father started learning to beekeep when he received 10 colonies of bees from his father when he was 10 years old — when did you start beekeeping?

My father does the beekeeping end of the business, and I do the marketing and sales. We make the perfect team because I’m more afraid of the bees than people, and my dad is more afraid of people than the bees!

What are the biggest challenges of keeping colonies of bees?

The biggest challenge is keeping the bees alive. The bees have many natural predators — the number one predator being the varroa destructor mite.

Had you been selling honey before you started Bee Wild? How did you get the idea to start the business?

I started Bee Wild as a brand that would reach the targeted audience we have today, in order to sell our amazing raw honey. I got the idea to start the business when I was thinking about different business ideas, and this one was the obvious choice!

What have been the best parts and the biggest challenges of running Bee Wild?

The best part of running Bee Wild is the team culture that has grown both intentionally and organically. I truly enjoy working with my amazingly talented team of sales people that run our farmer’s markets and backend support ( writers, bloggers, and graphic artists). The team culture is all about making unique and personal connections with our customers at the local farmer’s markets and festivals.

The most challenging part of running Bee Wild is timing. Knowing what to do is actually easier to navigate than knowing when to pull the trigger. As an entrepreneur with a growing small business, there are endless ways you can grow your business — i.e., create additional products to sell, create services to dovetail with your product line or brand, open new markets in new territories, launch major advertising & marketing campaigns...the list goes on.

I have found that once a strategy is chosen, the real question becomes timing and logistics. Does this make the best business sense right now? Will this make more sense in six months, or a year? What benchmarks need to be identified so that we know we’re ready to launch this strategy?


Honey is always my go-to to calm down the heat in my mouth from hot peppers. Given that heat and honey seem to be polar opposites, how did you figure out how to combine them in the Devil’s Advocate, and how much experimentation did it take to get the balance of heat just right?

This may sound kooky, but I’m going to be completely honest here…I literally had a dream one night where I could hear my own voice, and it said, “You have to create a hot honey.” So I woke up and started working on it with my team within days of the dream.

Once we started this project, it took about four months of trying different types of hot peppers and different amounts to get the perfect heat level. Once we had a recipe where we were happy with the heat level and flavor profile, we actually had a farm tour for local foodie bloggers who did a blind tasting of it and of a few other batches with different heat levels. They almost unanimously agreed on the same batch that we had earmarked as our favorite. This was how we finalized our decision on the secret recipe!


What other products are you working on, or thinking of developing, down the line?

More infused honeys, as well as honey-based skincare products.

 

What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

R Thomas Deluxe Grill in Atlanta.


What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

Guacamole!


What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

Guacamole!


What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

Teavana Youthberry White Tea.

We have some quick-fire questions for you now—answer before you have a chance to think too long about it. Dog or cat?

Dog.

Tomato sauce or pesto?

Tomato sauce.

Regular fries or waffle fries?

Waffle fries.

Chocolate or caramel?

Chocolate.

Pizza or pasta?

Pasta.


A few moments with Peter Rothstein of Dona Chai Posted on 8 Aug 04:40 , 0 comments

Meet Peter Rothstein. Along with his partner Amy, he creates the perfect blend of spices for a chai concentrate, bottles it, and sells it to chai lovers across the country. Since we're some of them, we jumped at the chance to ask Peter a few more questions about how Dona Chai came to be (and how he makes it taste so darn good).

Where did you grow up?

Suburban Detroit — West Bloomfield, MI.

What sparked the idea for Dona Chai? What were you doing beforehand?

My sister was getting her masters at NYU in Food Studies. She was always studying at third-wave coffee shops and noticed a movement to better coffee and local baked goods, but people were still using corporate chai concentrates. So she decided to make her own.

What makes your blend of spices unique to your chai tea concentrate? How long/how much experimentation did it take to get it just right, to what you sell today?

We brew in small batches and we use fresh ginger juice. We also grind our spices in house so they stay as fresh as possible.

We’re always experimenting to make it just right. We cup our ingredients every day to make sure they’re up to our standards.

How did the turmeric concentrate come about?

We wanted a product to complement our chai, and turmeric is a new thing in coffee shops.

What’s your favorite way to use each of your concentrates?

Mixing equal parts with milk to drink as a latte.

Who are your go-to taste testers for your products and your recipes?

Each other!

 

 

What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

Moe’s Doughs in Brooklyn.

What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

Seltzer.

 

Now, for a few quick-fire questions: don't think too long about any of these, just answer with the first thing that comes to mind. Dog or cat?

Dog.

Tomato sauce or pesto?

Tomato.

Chocolate or caramel?

Caramel.

Pizza or pasta?

Pizza.

Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Cocktail.


EOS Chocolates Posted on 8 Aug 04:37 , 0 comments

Catherine von Ruden knows chocolate. As the brains and skill behind eos chocolates, she creates chocolate treats that range from rich and indulgent to healthful and snack-minded. If you haven't tried them yet, make that the next thing you do.

In the meantime, we got a chance to ask her about how eos was born, and what she's got planned next.

 

Where did you grow up?

Switzerland.

Who taught you to cook? And, if the answer is different: how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?

My mama first of all, but my dad as well. They both were excellent chefs. I was the baker in the family; I loved to prepare desserts.

When did you come to the US, and what brought you?

I came to the US in 1991 for a visit after meeting my now-husband, and moved here permanently in 1993.

What food do you miss most from Switzerland?

Fresh bread.

What were you doing before eos? When did you first realize you wanted to start a business?

I managed the photo studio for Raymond Meier, the world-renowned Swiss photographer for still life and fashion in New York. In 2007, I first realized that I wanted to get back to my roots and create sweet treats, but with less sugar. In 2010, my husband and I and our two kids relocated to California, and that’s when I started my own business and started following my dream and intuition.


eos' line of snackable chocolate bark


Other than chocolate, what are your favorite sweet foods?

French and Swiss classic pastries such as fruit tarts (plum tart in particular), almond croissants, and macarons.

Any other products you’re thinking of developing down the line?

Cookies.

What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

I visit the Sunday Farmer’s Market in Pacific Palisades religiously to get fresh produce for the week (and fantastic almond croissants that I can’t resist from a French baker there).

Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?

Only music while I cook — Bossa Nova is my favorite. Podcast/news are for the commute.

What are your favorite cookbooks?

French, but I love browsing for all different kinds of foods.

What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?

Eric Emmanuel Schmitt, Peter Beutler, Isabel Allende, Jan Philipp Sendker.

What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

Gulasch and Spatzle.

What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

Coq au vin.

What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

Spicy margarita.


I'm going to take you through some quick-fire questions now, just for fun — don't think too long about your answer! Dog or cat?

Dog.

Tomato sauce or pesto?

Pesto.

Regular fries or waffle fries?

Regular.

Chocolate or caramel?

Chocolate.

Pizza or pasta?

Pasta.

Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Wine.


Rory Mitchell of Nature's Kitchen Posted on 8 Aug 04:35 , 0 comments

Rory Mitchell of Nature's Kitchen is a flavor wizard. With his wife and family, he crafts delicious sauces, spice rubs, and marinades that take dishes to a whole new level.

We got to ask him a few questions about how he became the excellent cook and foodmaker he is today. Read on!

 

Where did you grow up?  

I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?  

As a child, I wanted to be a fireman, because I wanted to be able to save people.

Who taught you to cook? And, if the answer is different: how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?

I mostly learned to cook, among other things, from my mother, starting very early. My mom has always maintained that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach and bad food would corrupt it.

So, what inspired you to experiment with Jamaican and Indian food cultures?

I was introduced to Indian cuisine by my wife, who’s Indian. I became even more fascinated with the cuisine and culture after my first visit to India. My mother-in-law, who is also a great cook, taught me a few things — specifically, her focus was on the health properties of the various herbs and spices. This opened a whole new world for me that I hadn’t noticed before.

What were some of the spices you didn’t know what to do with before you started experimenting with them in your cooking?  

All of them! I used to use many of the spices — like coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and cardamom — in my former life, but I didn’t know them by name, and wasn’t even aware of some. They’re all part of the spice blend we know as “curry” or “curry powder,” used in popular Jamaican recipes like curried chicken or curried goat.

Today, we have a spice box with a variety of spices that we use individually, because we can control the amount. I sometimes chew black pepper corn to aid digestion when I eat heavy meals, use turmeric for colds or when our son gets a bruise, and I’m discovering more ways to use spices every day.

What are some of your favorite spices to work with, and how do you use them?  

Some of my favorite are the ones I use on most days — cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, chilli powder — in cooking. I sometimes use a pinch of cardamom, turmeric, and cinnamon to flavor my coffee. I use turmeric and ginger to make golden milk when my son gets a sniffle.

 

The dry chicken rub from Nature's Kitchen

What do you find are some of the more polarizing spices, the acquired-taste ones?

Two things come to mind: asafoetida and garam masala (which is a blend of spices) are both very pungent, and you quickly learn to use them in small quantities to avoid overwhelming the flavor of the food.

Tell us about how you developed the products you currently sell. How much experimentation and recipe-tweaking and taste-testing did it take?

I’m always experimenting and tweaking.

You’ve said that you love entertaining — how, and how often, do you entertain guests at home? Who do you particularly love to cook for?

My wife and I love having guests over.  I think this is a carryover from both our grandparents, who’ve always cooked extra, expecting uninvited guests. Nowadays, with extracurricular activities, we don’t entertain as often as we would like, but we try to get together with our neighbors or other friends at least once a month. Who do I love to cook for? Anyone who loves to eat!

How old is Zachary, and what are some of his favorite foods?

Zachary is 8 years old. Of late, his favorite food is pasta. He loves gulab jamun (an Indian sweet) as dessert.

What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?  

Tabla (Indian); Heirloom BBQ, especially on Fridays when they have beef ribs; Nahm Thai; Sushi Nami; Tropics Jerk Center; Restaurant Eugene; and Local Three are just a few.

Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?

I mostly listen to Reggae. My wife loves Bollywood music.

What are your favorite cookbooks?

Google! We have a few, but the best ones are what we collect from aunties, uncles, and anyone who’s willing to share.

What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?  

I like listening to audiobooks. Some of the authors whose work I listen to are Jack Campbell, Derek B. Miller, Marlon James. B. V. Larson, and Rachel Caine.

What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

That would be beef ribs cooked in the pressure cooker.

What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

Whatever my wife tells me to make! I like doing fish, roasted. A stew, beef or chicken. Rice & beans. Jerk chicken, or, if I have time, a brisket.

What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

Dark rum on the rocks.

We're going to take you through some quick-fire questions — answer these before you have a chance to think about it! Dog or cat?

Dog.

Tomato sauce or pesto?

Tomato sauce.

Regular fries or waffle fries?

Waffle fries.

Chocolate or caramel?

Chocolate.

Pizza or pasta?

Pasta.

Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Cocktail.


Mollie Sitkin of Old Dog Ranch Posted on 8 Aug 04:34 , 0 comments

Old Dog Ranch isn't your ordinary ranch. It's home to a wealth of walnut trees, and to the Sitkin family, and each has sustained the other for decades.

Now, Molly Sitkin is the walnut trees' main keeper. With them, she creates unctuous butters and delicately spiced snacking nuts. We chatted with her about Old Dog Ranch and how she honed the incredible recipes she now sells.

 

Where did you grow up?

Old Dog Ranch, Linden, CA.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A vet, until I passed out when I saw one drop of my horse’s blood.  But I always loved food.

Who taught you to cook? If the answer is different, how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?

My dad is an amazing cook, my mom is a very experimental cook, and I’ve always loved to eat. I think I got a little from each of them!

So, why walnuts? Did your family specifically plant walnut trees on the land, or were they already there?

My dad planted a small orchard of walnuts about 30 years ago in order to diversify our family farm. At the time, he was primarily growing apples. Now we have three walnut orchards.  

Is it difficult to grow and tend to walnut trees? What’s their ideal climate?

They can be temperamental, but seem to grow well where we live. We had a very hot summer and expect to lose about 20% of our crop this year.It’s been a rough few years for most California farmers — years of drought, then torrential rainfall over the last winter, and then a super hot summer. We try to be optimistic and grateful, but ask me again in about a month once I get our numbers in.

What are the challenges of making walnuts into butter? Is there a reason more people don’t, or that they’re not manufactured commercially the way other nut butters are?

It’s mostly a shelf life issue. Because we are so small, we can make fresh walnut butter every week.

You make your own honey on the farm — so, what about the beekeeping? How long has your family been doing it, and what are the challenges there?

I keep the bees on our ranch. Both my brother and my dad are scared of bees. I’ve been doing it for about 3 years now. Learning more every day!

What’s your favorite way to use your walnuts and walnut butter?

Raw Honey and Sea Salt Walnut Butter on Frog Hollow apricots in the spring, and persimmons in the fall.

What’s your favorite of your seasoned walnut flavors?

I mostly snack on the Organic Raw Walnuts, but I love the Organic Maple, and all three of the savory flavors — Organic Rosemary, Organic Smoked Paprika and Garlic (we smoke homegrown peppers over walnut prunings) and our Seasonal: Preserved Meyer Lemon, Toasted Cumin and Aleppo Pepper.

 

Old Dog Ranch's Mexican Hot Chocolate walnuts

Have you ever tried to make any flavors that didn’t turn out well?

YES, all the time. Wasabi Soy was the all-time grossest. I’ve also had quite a few Mint Chocolate Walnut fails.

Any other products you have in mind to develop in coming years?

Considering Organic Walnut Oil.  

Do you have any other food-related dreams you’d like to realize?

I really want to open a healthy, or healthier, candy store someday, with all candies made with local ingredients and no gross colors or flavors! Or a build-your-own-s’more bar. Actually, this list is endless, but those are my top two.

What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

Every farmers’ market. Even for someone like me, who lives at farmers’ markets, I still find new things. I love to taste creations other people have come up with, and I like to support their businesses.

Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook?

I will often listen to Pandora — reggae and lots of folky rock.  

What are your favorite cookbooks?

My binder of recipes. I’m allergic to just about everything yummy (soy, wheat, cows’ milk, shellfish, chicken, tuna and more), so I’m always adapting things.

What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?

Hey, I run a small business. I make time to read The Week to catch up on what’s going on in the world, but that’s all I have time for these days.

What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

Chile Rellenos!!!

What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

BBQ! We have a small house but a big backyard, so we like to have our parties outside. My boyfriend Andy is the BBQ master. NO GAS GRILLS HERE. We get ¼ cow and a big pork bundle from our friend Farmer Joy whenever she harvests. I usually get pretty creative with whatever veggies are coming out of our garden or are in season from the farmers’ market.

What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

Spruce tip tea. I’m not a big drinker, but it is also great mixed with lemonade and vodka.

Who’s a celebrity that if you met, you think would really like you?

I would love to meet Ayesha Curry, or Jami Curl of QUIN candy.

We're going to ask you some quick-fire questions now — answer them before you have a chance to think about it! Dog or cat?

DOGS PLEASE. As many as possible. Preferably mutts or pitties!

Tomato sauce or pesto?

Both, together on a thin crust GF pizza with some goat cheese.  

Regular fries or waffle fries?

Steak Fries.

Chocolate or caramel?

YES PLEASE!

Pizza or pasta?

Pizza

Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Two desserts.


Meet John Padlo of Pure Provisions Posted on 8 Aug 04:32 , 0 comments

In a world saturated with delicious packaged snack products, it's hard to find something a little more simple, down-to-earth, homemade. But that's exactly what John Padlo and his co-founders at Pure Provisions do: they set out to make wholesome, handmade jerky and other snacks for you to enjoy.

We chatted with him a little about how this all started.

 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Naples, FL.

 

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

When I was a kid, it seemed like I wanted to be something different every few weeks. I’d say most consistently I wanted to be a pilot. I was always fascinated with airplanes.

 

Who taught you to cook? And, if the answer is different: how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?

My mom is a wonderful cook, and she learned a lot from my grandparents, who instilled in her the cultural significance of food. I was fortunate to grow up eating home-cooked meals every day — often Greek food — and I think that is where my initial interest in food came from. Having food and meal gatherings have been an important part of life from a young age.

So most of my cooking knowledge came from my mom, but I do love to experiment with new things and teach myself.

 

What were you doing before Pure Provisions? Had you wanted to start a business, or was the idea totally new/born of your travels across the US?

Before Pure Provisions I was working in technology in San Francisco. I always did want to start a business of my own since I was young, but Pure Provisions was born completely out of the travels and adventures of its founders. The idea for Pure Provisions came long after my desire to start a business.

 

Had you ever made jerky before you started experimenting with products for the company? What was that learning process like?

No! I had never made nor experimented with jerky before we had the idea for Pure Provisions. Learning that process was not easy — jerky is a very finicky food, and there are a lot of variables in the cooking process that need to be just right. The key was to learn these variables and get them to come together to produce an exceptional jerky. It started in the home kitchen, and then continued on to another journey of replicating the creations in a commercial setting.

 

How do you source your ingredients?

We source our ingredients carefully from people who take pride in what they do and put forth best-in-class products. We have been sourcing our turkey from the same farm since day one, and often work with people who are willing to customize what they do to better fit our jerky.

 

Pure provisions from Pure Provisions

 

Any other flavors of jerky or other products you’re thinking of developing down the line?

I can’t give away too many details here, but we are working on a couple of new flavors that will complement our current lineup well.

 

What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

How can I pick just one!? A favorite local restaurant is La Ciccia, café is The Mill, and market is the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market.

 

Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?

Not too often, really. I prefer to cook with friends gathered over wine and conversation. I usually let someone else be in charge of music.

 

What are your favorite cookbooks?

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, America’s Test Kitchen.

 

What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

Roast chicken and potatoes.

 

What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

Fish en papillote — it’s easy and you don’t need to spend too much time in the kitchen away from guests, but it’s delicious and crowd-pleasing. Then followed by a good dessert.

 

What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

Old fashioned.

 

We're going to ask you some quick-fire questions now—answer before you get a chance to think too hard about them. Dog or cat?

Dog.

Tomato sauce or pesto?

Pesto.

Regular fries or waffle fries?

Regular.

Chocolate or caramel?

Chocolate.

Pizza or pasta?

Pizza.

Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Wine.


Adam Kesselman of Sosu Sauces Posted on 8 Aug 04:30 , 0 comments

Adam Kesselman has undertaken possibly one of the biggest challenges in food: making a small-batch sriracha that can compete with the long-established, bigger brands. Spoiler: he's nailed it.

The products Kesselman creates at Sosu Sauces are spicy, vibrant, and incredibly pure of flavor—which makes sense: he sources the best ingredients and makes each batch by hand, with care. We chatted with him about his process and how he started Sosu.


Where did you grow up?

Santa Rosa, CA.


What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I never focused on one career, but like most kids, went through phases. However, there were constant themes: creativity, leadership, food/tastemaking, independence. I always wanted to work for myself, enjoy time in nature, and have a positive impact on the world.


Who taught you to cook? And, if the answer is different: how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?

I fell in love with food when I was 14, though when I think back, my obsession with great flavors and the stories and experiences behind those foods started when I was much younger. Travel stimulated my curiosity around the story of flavor.

I taught myself to cook. I would spend hours poring over cooking magazines like Saveur and Cooks Illustrated, reading cookbooks, and watching the few cooking shows on PBS in the mid-90s. I would practice on my family, which my mother was happy to oblige, since it meant she didn’t always have to be the one cooking for a family of five. I got my first restaurant job at 16 and put myself through college working in restaurants.

I’ve always been inspired by curiosity and my love of improvising based on the best of what I can find in the markets.

Sriracha tends to develop pretty hardcore devotees, but developing a whole line of sriracha products is a step beyond that. Tell us how you first discovered and fell in love with sriracha.

I’ve been enjoying sriracha for many years, but always thought the rooster sauce lacked focus, clarity, and bold flavor — it tastes watered-down, overly sweet, and full of stabilizers. Sosu is our opportunity to marry 4 straightforward and clean ingredients, ferment them in whisky-soaked oak and create a wonderful, edgy, complex sriracha unlike anything on the market.


People do tend to just go for the ubiquitous rooster sauce. Were you apprehensive about making your own/making a competing sauce, so to speak?

Not at all. There is always room for improvement. Sosu is as pure and straightforward as it gets. We know our farmers, we make everything by hand — you can really taste the difference and quality like that is always recognizable.



Sosu's barrel-aged sriracha


How did you come upon the recipe you use now? How much experimentation and tinkering did it take?

Fermentation is certainly an art form. There are some basic rules to follow, but we are always tasting and tweaking, trying to develop as much balance and flavor as possible.


What’s your favorite way to use your products?

I love it on eggs, pork buns, and burritos, and love to mix it with mayo to dip roasted potatoes in and put on sandwiches.


What’s the weirdest way you’ve ever used sriracha?

Try it on peanut butter...it’s a thing!


What kinds of products do you have an eye toward developing down the line?

We think of ourselves as a fermented sauce company. We’re working on some new fermented sauces and condiments that will bring some edginess and notable quality to the condiment space in your fridge.


You must have quite a hot sauce collection. Other than sriracha, what are your other favorite types of hot sauces or sources of heat to add to food?

We love and respect so many hot sauce producers out there...the great thing about hot sauce is that you can never have too many options; it’s such a mood based choice. Some days I need Cholula; other days call for Yellow Bird or Marie Sharp’s from Belize. We recently did a hot sauce trade with Ground Up Flavor Company in Decatur, GA, who make great sauces.


What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

Bartevelle Cafe in Berkeley, CA is one of my favorite little cafes. Posie in Larkspur makes the best ice cream I’ve ever had.


Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?

I love to listen to old jazz, but oftentimes I prefer the sounds of the kitchen.


What are your favorite cookbooks?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s books are a great source of creative inspiration.


What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?

It runs the gamut, but for contemporary writers, I’m a big fan of Ann Patchett.


What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

Pasta with canned tuna and kale.


What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

Whatever is the most beautiful at the farmers’ market.


What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

Kombucha.


We've got some quick-fire questions for you now—answer these before you have a chance to think too long about them. Dog or cat?

Dog.


Tomato sauce or pesto?

Tomato.


Regular fries or waffle fries?

Regular.


Chocolate or caramel?

Chocolate.


Pizza or pasta?

Pasta.


Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Beer.


Do the Tango with Dan Frieber of Tango Chile Sauce Posted on 8 Aug 04:29 , 0 comments

Dan Frieber is the mastermind behind Tango Chile Sauce, one of the most delectable hot sauces around. He shared a little of his backstory and his hot sauce intel with us — and we wanted to share it with you. Read on!

 

Where did you grow up?

Bedminster, NJ

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Doctor

Who taught you to cook? And, if the answer is different: how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?

I’m not much of a cook, actually.  Making hot sauce is more like mixing vegetables together until it tastes perfect.

What made you start making this sauce in your tiny lower-Manhattan apartment kitchen? Did you set out with starting a business in mind?

I fell in love with a chile sauce my grandma made, so I attempted to recreate it for myself where I was living at the time.  I ended up making something a bit different, my friends and I really loved it, so I just kept making it.

Were the carrots part of your grandmother’s original recipe? If not, what made you decide to use them?

They were part of the original recipe, but in a much smaller quantity.

What were you doing before you started Tango Chile Sauce?

Designing misc campaigns for various projects around NYC, learning/playing music, and throwing parties.

You have a really strong brand, maybe bolstered by the fact that you only sell one product (in two variations). Is this the way you intend to keep it, or do you have other products you’d like to produce down the line? (Are you playing with any new product ideas right now?)

Tango wasn’t the first product I’ve made, and it’s already not the last.  We will also probably release other products under the ‘Tango’ brand, but for now we’re still focused on getting the one sauce just right.  I’ve got a few other food products in the works, but they’ll likely get their own brands.


A few varieties of this magical sauce

Do you work alone? Who are your go-to taste-testers?

My mom is probably the least hesitant to curse our bad batches up and down.  My grandma too.  Everybody else just loves it.

What do you think is the best way to use this sauce — how are its flavors best drawn out or complemented?

I think the flavor really complements certain kinds of Mediterranean, Indian, and Vietnamese food.  People most frequently tell me they love Tango on their eggs the most.

What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

John’s Deli is my neighborhood bodega and they keep it real and make great sandwiches.  The guys know everyone in the neighborhood and always make jokes.  My friends at Springbone Kitchen in the West Village also do an excellent job with their food.

Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?

Music.  We love music at Tango.  We have a whole music component to our brand called ‘Tango Presents’ (http://instagram.com/tangopresents).   Last sauce production session though I believe we ran through some Nicolas Jaar, Flying Lotus, Tool, Yussef Kamaal, Gogo Penguin, NWA, some Eminem..

What are your favorite cookbooks?

That would be ‘Clean Food Dirty City’ by my friend Lily Kunin

What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?

Favorite book of all time is probably The Tao De Ching, favorite author is probably Bukowski

What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

A good pasta with a good sauce and a good cheese

What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

I’ve never brought food that I’ve cooked to a dinner party

What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

Moscow Mule


We're going to take you through some quick-fire questions — don't think too hard; just answer with the first thing that comes to mind. Dog or cat?

Dog.

Tomato sauce or pesto?

Tomato sauce.

Regular fries or waffle fries?

Waffle.

Chocolate or caramel?

Chocolate.

Pizza or pasta?

Pizza.

Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Beer.


Element [Shrub] Posted on 8 Aug 04:27 , 0 comments

 In all your time scouring the aisles of farmers markets, you've never come across anything quite like Element [Shrub]. Charlie Berkinshaw, its founder and mad scientist, makes vinegars out of pretty much anything you can think of — honeydew and jalapeño; pineapple and turmeric; lemon and mint — and bottles them, with their distinctive periodic-table-esque labels.

We chatted with Charlie about how this all began, and about how everyone needs a little bit of vinegar in their lives.

Where did you grow up?

Annapolis, MD.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

An architect.

Who taught you to cook? If the answer is different, how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?

Growing up, one of my best friends from high school had parents who loved to cook. I learned a few basics from them, but wasn’t as interested in knowing how to cook when I was a kid — I was just interested in eating good food.

In college, I started taking community education classes at the cooking school next to our university. From there, I ended up meeting a bunch of people who also liked to cook and threw a few over-the-top (in terms of food) parties in college.

Where exactly did you come across the concept of shrubs? Do you remember the particular source?

We came across shrubs because of my wife’s and my involvement in a group outside of Boston that foraged fruit from people’s backyards. We would then take the fruit and preserve it in some way whether that was jam, jelly, apple pie, pickles, hard apple cider, or shrub.

Was your first recipe a success the first time you made it? How did it change as you got it ready to market?

Absolutely not. We did recipe development for 18 months before we brought anything to market. Our Honeydew Jalapeno was originally a Honeydew Habanero (I like alliteration) but it was way too spicy, so we had to tone it down a little.

Do your kids like shrubs? (Do most kids?)

Yes! Our 4 year old loves our shrub sodas and asks for them by name.  For other kids, just like adults, some absolutely love it and some just aren’t into it.

It seems like you’ve made shrubs out of almost every fruit — do you find there are fruits that lend themselves better to shrubs? Are there any that don’t work?

I think you can probably make a shrub out of anything, fruit or otherwise. Berries are probably the more traditional fruit used to make shrubs because that what was most readily available on the east coast during the colonial era. I haven’t really found any that don’t work, but I have tried to make some shrubs that were total failures. I really wanted a “green” (like literally the color green) shrub in our lineup, so I created this Kiwi & Dill shrub. It was disgusting.

What flavors are on the docket that you want to make down the line?

We are always experimenting. We have a bunch flavors up our sleeve that we can’t quite share with the world yet. But when we do, you’ll be the first to know.

How did you spread the word about your company? Has it taken off in any unexpected ways, or gotten any surprise press?

Mostly through social media and grassroots outreach. I really enjoy photography, so I gravitated towards instagram as a way to educate our consumers on what shrubs are and how to use them, whether in cocktails, spirit-free drinks, or even cooking.

We got lucky early on with press — an article in the Washington Post within three weeks of launching — and I’ve been really surprised at the press we have received over the years. We don’t have a PR person, so it’s completely organic.


Element [Shrub]'s periodic labels.


How did you come up with the (extremely clever) labels?

When we started making shrubs, everything else on the market was very one note — ginger, lemon, cherry, lime. We felt like we were creating something more interesting by adding different herbs and spices with flavor combinations where each ingredient on its own is familiar, but when you pair them together, you get something really unique and intriguing. With all that said, I thought it would be fun to do a modern take on the periodic table because again, at the time, the trend seemed to be medicinal, brown bottle, apothecary-esque style, and we wanted something bright, modern, and fresh-feeling (because we use 100% non-GMO and sometimes organic fresh fruit in all of our shrubs). So we came up with things like Lemon + Mint (Lm), Blueberry + Rosemary (Br), Honeydew + Jalapeno (Hj).

Your website and Instagram are incredibly clean and bright and gorgeous — which obviously pair with the labelling on the shrub bottles, but did the branding grow out of the labels, or vice versa? Who’s been a part of creating branding for the product?

Thank you! That is definitely our intention. I would say the branding probably grew out of the labels. I was lucky early on to find a good friend who is much more talented than I am to help execute and build out the original idea of the brand. Since then, I have been involved as the creative director.

What’s the most inventive way you’ve heard of someone using shrubs? Also, how would you like to see shrubs used?

I have seen a couple of our fans use shrubs in really cool ways. This one person sent me pictures of a Pork Tenderloin that he made using our Chai Pear + Honey as the marinade. We have used our shrubs in baking, because vinegar + baking soda helps leaven. Our goal is to really push the envelope on how people think about vinegar. While it is great on salads, it’s also really great in a bunch of other ways as well.

Would you expand into creating any other non-shrub, or shrub-adjacent, products?

Potentially. Vinegar will most likely always play in a part in whatever we do, but we’ll see what happens!

What’s your neighborhood like? What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?

Suburban. There is a great park, library and strip mall with everything you could possibly need. If there is one thing I miss about some of the other places I have lived (San Francisco, Cambridge) it’s walkability of the neighborhood. Arlington is great for our kids, and that’s more important to us now.

Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook (or make the shrubs)? If so, what/which?

Yes, definitely! I’m a big fan of Gimlet Media. The Startup Podcast was one I listened to early on and I really connected with it. Also: How I Built This, Reply All, The Daily, Masters of Scale, etc.

What are your favorite cookbooks?

Everything written by Ottolenghi (Jerusalem, Plenty, Plenty More). In fact, my wife and I just got to hear him speak in DC on his book tour for his new dessert book. Spice by Ana Sortun. Molto Mario by Mario Batali.

What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?

I gravitate towards books about food and drink even if they aren’t cookbooks. The Billionaire’s Vinegar is one of my favorites. The Flavor Bible.

What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?

Asparagus risotto with bacon and lemon zest.

What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?

We always try to do something different every time, usually from one of the cookbooks I mentioned above.

What’s your favorite drink of the moment?

I have been really into Mezcal drinks lately. It seems to work really well with a bunch of our shrubs, so I’ve been having some fun experimenting with it.


Now we've got some quick-fire questions for you — answer these before you have a chance to think about it! Dog or cat?

I gravitate (and am more like) a dog, but I don’t want either as a pet.

Tomato sauce or pesto?

I would say pesto. My wife would say tomato.

Regular fries or waffle fries?

Regular, sweet potato with rosemary and smoked paprika.

Chocolate or caramel?

Chocolate.

Pizza or pasta?

This is tough. Pizza and pasta are probably my two favorite things to make from scratch. Pizza on a school night, pasta on the weekend?

Wine, beer, or cocktail?

Yes.

© 2020 Foodlyn. All Rights Reserved. Terms & Conditions · Privacy