Let’s call it the persistence of imagination. We’ve all seen it, if not actually experienced it. It’s that unquenchable desire that drives a person to turn a passion for food, such as a love of chocolate, into something that explodes beyond the boundaries of their own kitchen walls. Maybe it’s a special jam recipe or homemade wine. Whatever the creation, before long others end up craving it, too. What begins as a simple food experiment meant to sate a personal hunger turns into something bigger — maybe even something lucrative. Connecting with people who relentlessly pursue the dictates of their taste buds is truly inspiring. There’s a vibe. Soon, their endless pursuit of flavour will have you believing that anything is possible. But who are these people? And why do they bother going to such lengths when all they need do is walk into a grocery store and find loads of products that are already there? Dan Luciani, a technology expert by day, Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison, who run wellpreserved.ca, Angelo Bean, the Sausage King, and Jefferson Alvarez, executive chef at Vancouver’s Fraîche, had a ready answer for me: when passion takes hold, there is no turning back.
The Product: Preserved and Pickled Seasonal Produce
The Response: “We’ve sold out of all jars when available. Someone came in one night and bought 18 jars to use as gifts!”
Jefferson, the well-travelled culinary expert and professional chef, has been following his food passions for what seems like forever. He comes by his obsession honestly. Thanks in part to his Venezuelan family, made up mostly of cooks, Jefferson arrived in Canada at age 16 intuitively knowing what could take other aspiring chefs years to learn. But Jefferson wasn’t content with simply cooking for the people in his restaurants. He wanted them to incorporate the best ingredients in their everyday cooking. Jefferson’s solution was simple, and one that’s become a growing trend among chefs working in upscale restaurants. “I preserve and pickle my own ingredients because using and preserving local and seasonal produce is very important to me,” he says. One of his most popular sellers is the Peaches Preserved in White Wine and Tahitian Vanilla Beans.
Oh sure, you might think that going to that kind of trouble is fine for him. He’s a professional chef, after all. But I’ll bet you’re already following your food passions every time you experiment with an ingredient or try something new. If you happen to find yourself in Jefferson’s neighbourhood, pick up some of his other offerings to add to your pantry: pickled veggies, preserved fruit and cured pork belly.
The Product: Salsiccia Ubriaca (Drunken Sausage)
The Response: “Older Italians say it tastes like the stuff their grandparents made on the farm.”
Who says you have to be a professional chef to melt a foodie’s heart? Angelo is the uncrowned ambassador for the slow food movement in Toronto. Despite the fact that he has a day job, he managed to create a unique product that he sells through Ontalia, a company he founded to reflect his connection to his Italian heritage. Angelo’s philosophy, “Italian Roots in Local Soil,” runs through his signature item, Drunken Sausage. It’s made using single-farm-sourced Ontario Berkshire pork infused with local wines that have been reduced to the consistency of syrup. Talk about dedication. As is often the case with quality, Angelo’s sausages are neither quick nor cheap to make. “I sometimes have to wait weeks before Fred DeMartines, my favourite butcher, can bring in the select pork,” he admits. There’s no denying that true love needs time to develop properly.
In response to my curiosity as to whether Angelo would quit his day job now that Ontalia’s products are becoming more popular, he declares, “Part of my retirement plan is to spend more time distributing my sausages.”
Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison
The Product: Two small batches of strawberry and honey “wine,” and between 400-600 bottles of preserves a year, generally more than 100 different types.
The Response: “Many people are surprised on the many uses and possibilities — preserves include jams and pickles, but there’s so much more including making cheese, bacon, wine, beer, dehydrating, sauces.”
Joel, a social media expert, and Dana, a designer, created their website in their spare time as a way to contain and document their passion for preserving and homecooking. On it, Joel posts accounts describing their adventures in the kitchen and the food-centred events they attend. The two of them can’t actually sell the products they preserve (laws regulating how food can be sold get in the way of that). So, if they can’t spread the love commercially, they can still swap what they make with like-minded people. According to the North America-wide Food Swap Network, “[the] swap is a recurring event where members of a community share homemade, homegrown, or foraged foods with each other.” Joel and Dana swear by it. “Swapping is great for two reasons: the sense of enhancement of community and sharing knowledge,” they say, “and it’s highly motivating and a lot of fun to watch 30 strangers swap hundreds of jars of food.” For Joel and Dana, the opportunity to diversify their meals by stocking their pantry with an “additional 60 to 100 flavours a year [they] wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to have” is essential to feeding their passion for flavour.
See? Following your heart to foodie paradise doesn’t need to involve elaborate restaurants or retail contracts. It can be a pursuit meant purely for your own enjoyment. If swapping sounds like your thing, check out foodswapnetwork.com to find out how to start your own event or attend one taking place near you.
The Product: MOB Hot Sauce
The Response: “People who have tried it say it is the most flavourful sauce they have ever tasted.”
You guessed it: the name of the sauce does indeed reference the great Italian mobsters of history. Dan explains that his maternal grandfather “was a very proud farming man. We had a large garden in the backyard. He loved and grew hot peppers, and gave me a small amount each day.” Dan grew up to discover that it wasn’t just heat he craved. He was after flavour. He really wasn’t interested in hot sauces that did little else but set your mouth on fire. Yet, finding a product that satisfied his craving proved impossible. So off he went on a little culinary journey of his own. After some experimentation, Dan found he’d arrived at the right blend of 17 ingredients to create a uniquely hot and flavourful sauce the colour of a Caribbean sunset. “Habanero peppers generate the heat,” he says, “and mango and papayas add the necessary smooth, satisfying sweetness.” Daniel suggests that at some point in the future, he might look into selling his sauce commercially. But for now, friends and family are the lucky recipients.
Be inspired — because creating something phenomenal isn’t really about talent. Each one of these people found his or her food epiphany in different ways (and to varying degrees of fame and fortune). Yet, what links them all is an enduring hunger for authenticity. So, what’s your passion?
Joel MacCharles’ Herbes Salées
“My mother is from the most beautiful Cape Breton island. It’s an amazing place that’s full of culture, nature, music, dance and tradition. Preserving herbs with salt is a very common method and is a part of many traditional dishes in the East Coast,” writes Joel. Perfect for those times when fresh herbs aren’t immediately available, this is a quick and easy preserve that will liven up any dish any time of the year. Make your own signature product by adding up your personal favourites to the mix.
4-5 cups mixed herbs, washed, dried and chopped (avoid using a food processor which can cause excessive bruising)
3/4 cup coarse salt
Mix the herbs in a giant bowl, adding salt as you go. When all ingredients have been added, give the entire mix a really good toss.
Place the mixture into a 1 litre jar. When the jar is full, spoon a final layer of salt over the top.
Close the jar and leave it in the fridge for 14 days. Shake it gently each day.
After the 14 days are up, drain any excess liquid.
Stored in the fridge, herbes salées will easily keep for weeks.
Originally published in Tidings Magazine and on Quench.me.
Photo Credit: jeffreyw