Welcome to Sweet (Corn) Summer: A chat with Grayson Schmitz

By now you’ve heard the news: we have a new boss, we have a new general manager, and we have a new EXECUTIVE CHEF. And we are so excited about her.

Meet Grayson. She’s cool, she’s talented as hell, and she’s very excited for summer corn.

I got to chat with her this week while she was preparing to make 800 beef cheek sliders for the opening of the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen. What a star. She was taping up shipping boxes for the trip as I recorded this.

So where did you grow up?

Wisconsin.

Where about? And how was that for you.

New Holstein! I grew up in a very German community, so I didn’t really realize how German I was until I left and came to New York.

When did you come to New York?

Right after high school, I went to the Culinary Institute of America.

Did you know for a long time that you wanted to be a chef?

I did… I’m very dyslexic, and my mom and I sat down and tried to figure out, like, okay, what do you want to be when you’re older, and I remember Sara Moulton— her cooking show was on TV and I remember looking up and thinking “well maybe I’ll be a chef!” and my mom thought that that would be a good idea because I’m artistic, and physical, and all the things that chefs are. So she took me to the CIA to check it out… She loved it, I loved it, and I wound up going there.

That’s awesome. How long is that program?

It’s a two year, intensive program… And then you do an externship, and that’s how I wound up in New York City actually. Because the CIA is in upstate New York. I am very goal-oriented, so first I wanted to go to the best culinary school—check. Then I wanted to go one of the best restaurants for my externship, so I wound up going to Jean-Georges, and then after I did that, you go back to school and you graduate, and I wound up working at Jean-Georges for four years. I worked every station, in the Nougatine and at Jean-Georges, and then moved on to do different cuisines other than French-Asian Fusion.

Did you have a favorite cuisine to cook in school?

Italian. Hands down. I love Italian food. I think it’s because I like eating it so much? (laughs) You know? I love pasta, and I love making pasta. So… that’s a big one for me.

Do you have a favorite shape of pasta– to eat, or make. Or both.

Well I love making fresh spaghetti, but I like eating orecchiette!

[Extraneous Orecchiette Chatter]

So wait, how did you find your way to Top Chef?

I didn’t find my way; they found me.

Woah.

Because I think a friend of mine who was on the show kind of threw my name into the mix. They were like “Oh, you want somebody craaaazy?! Call her!” (laughs) You know? So they did, and they called a lot, until I said yes! And then I was on for the first time.

Wow… What the heck was that like?

It was a crazy, crazy experience, and if you would have asked me right after it, if I would ever do it again, I would have said Absolutely Not… And then I wound up doing it again. It’s super stressful.

Was it better than you thought—?

The second time? Awful. Yeah… I totally was psyched out because of how much I knew about it, and what it was. So… I’m not gonna say it wasn’t a good experience, because… any time you can get your face out there and people know who you are, it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for where you work—it’s a good thing all around. But—

Emotionally?

It was emotionally horrifying.

I can totally imagine. With that kind of pressure… That’s unbelievable.

It’s true. Yeah… it’s kind of crazy. But it was the kind of experience I would never change for the world. Because I’ve met so many people through it, and I got invited to a lot of cool things because of it! (laughs) It’s pretty funny actually, when you go on TV, people all of a sudden want to be your friend. It’s very strange to me. I was like, “You never wanted to be my friend before…! I see you!”

Wow. (I laughed) So then, how has life been After, and how did you find Larder?

Well— it’s so funny. I feel like I’ve been looking for this specific job for about two years… And I didn’t know what it was. You know? Lots of opportunity had come, and I knew that I just didn’t really want to be in a restaurant working until 12 o’clock at night. It was just… not… where I was at. And I wanted to do other things. I mean I just didn’t want to cook from one menu. And, as you know, we have so much to offer here that I knew I would never get bored! (laughs) And that’s a big thing for me.

Oh, yeah. But you’re right—We have new products, like, every week. It’s really exciting. And figuring out how best to use all of the regional products and produce depending on the season… it’s super exciting.

And I love farms, and learning how everything is [made] and where it comes from. I’ve worked on farms before, and I feel like you can’t actually appreciate using produce until you have experienced those things—like squishing aphids with your fingers!

[LOL]

You’ll never throw anything in the garbage again! Because you know how long it takes to produce.

And I think that’s something really special about this place too— the fact that the produce we’re using in the kitchen or the products we’re selling are, first of all, coming from people who are spending their lives making food for their community with love and so much hard work. And then we get to honor them in our own way by making great food.

And we’re able to bring that to city folk!

YES. Hooray.

So, if you could choose one thing you were most excited about cooking this summer…and it could be Larder-related or not— what would it be?

I LOVE corn. So there’s definitely going to be some sweet corn things… I mean, I love it, just, as is, but there’re so many cool salads that you can make, and things for the marble… and watermelon…! I’m excited.

I know— all the nice fresh, raw, cold things.

I like things that don’t need a lot of stuff to be awesome… Simplicity is key.

Yes… That also is very Italian… though that’s a whole other conversation for another day… 🙂

My last question is: if you had one plate of food to eat forever for the rest of your life, and it doesn’t have to be one item- it could just be a plate of all the things you like- forever… what would be on your plate?

Can it be any season I want…?

Yes. It’s a magic plate.

For me, it would be Summer—wait how many things can I put on my plate?!

It can be like just a big plate of all the stuff you want to eat for the rest of your life and be like, [takes plate in arms] “See Ya.”

I would have a dry-aged strip steak… and I would have corn on the cob… and I would have an escarole salad with shaved radish, fresh cucumber, and Italian dressing… and I would have some sliced heirloom tomatoes seasoned with Maldon, olive oil, and pepper. And I would have strawberries and cream as my dessert!!! (laughs)

That’s GREAT. Can we make that right now? That sounds like a wonderful meal to have forever for the rest of your life. 

I think I’m going to make that for dinner tonight when I get home!

Do! And then please take a picture, and then bring your leftovers… to me.

We Asked the New York Times’ Melissa Clark: What’s in Your Larder?

It’s said that Americans love to talk about food but that we actually do little cooking. Which, well. Life is busy. And tiring. Takeout can save a bit of sanity.

But so can the ability to, with a few ingredients, feed ourselves and the ones we love in a pinch, in a snowstorm, or when the dinner hour sneaks up on us.

And that’s where a stocked larder, or pantry, can help. And always has. Pre-refrigeration, the larder was a cool, dark space, often underground or behind a staircase, where rich foods were stored. The word comes from the Middle English (laridum) and Old French (lardier), meaning a place for meats. Today, it’s more like a place where ingredients wait for you to claim them.

We recently called up author, cook and New York Times columnist Melissa Clark, a woman who knows her way around a larder and actually also our Larder. A Brooklyn native, she lives just a few blocks from the shop and wrote the franny’s cookbook along with Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg, the husband-and-wife co-owners of franny’s and Bklyn Larder.

“There’s this dish I make that I couldn’t make without the ingredients from the Larder, because it’s all about the ingredients,” said Clark. “If you’re not getting the good stuff, the dish isn’t going to taste good. And really the thing is, when you use high-quality ingredients, you only need a few of them.”

bucatini-pileMinus the pasta water, the recipe is a short shopping list from our shelves: Calabrian chili flakes, anchovies, Pasta Gentile, olive oil, flaky sea salt and garlic.

“I make it once a week,” said Clark. “It’s the thing I make when I have nothing else to make. It’s just so delicious and restorative.”

What makes her version special, she noted, is a technique she picked up while writing the franny’s cookbook.

“When I sauté the garlic with the anchovy, I let it become really deeply colored. That caramelization adds an incredible depth to the dish. You can make the same dish and keep the flavors bright, but I like that really deep flavor,” she said.

If anyone can make something from nothing it’s Clark. But she reiterates, that’s not what this is about.

“There are dishes where, the first time it takes you maybe 25 minutes, because you’re kind of figuring it out and measuring things. The second time it takes five minutes less. But the third time you make it, it takes exactly 2 minutes longer than it takes to boil the pasta. Because you’re in a rhythm. And developing that rhythm is the key to being able to set yourself on auto pilot and cook something delicious for dinner,” she explained.

“It’s a really important dish to have in your repertoire — that one dish you can make from your pantry, no matter how tired and cranky you are. No matter what else you’re thinking about. You just do it,” she said.

“I really think it takes three times, and then it’s yours. You can say, ‘Oh, I have kale! I have leftover broccoli I’ll throw it in.’ That dish is your dish and you can do whatever you want to it.”

Key takeaway: “Invest in quality,” said Clark.

And finally, the one ingredient that’s always in her larder?

“I’ll break out into a sweat if I don’t have anchovies,” said Clark. “It just makes me really uncomfortable.” •

A version of the recipe is available on The New York Times site. 

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Stagg Jam & Marmalade Has Its Heart In Louisiana

Early this summer, we began selling Stagg Jam & Marmalade — a brand new product made in Brooklyn but “born in Louisiana,” as its label proudly states. Candice Ross left a career in architecture to start the company, which she named after her grandfather, a farmer, father, mechanic and maker who “lives a life filled with love and simplicity,” says the Stagg web site. We called up Candice recently to ask her about her jams, the food scene and her decision to switch paths, in search of a life similarly filled with what matters most. 

*In response to the devastating floods in Louisiana, Stagg Jams has announced that now through Sept. 1, 100% of the proceeds from sales of marmalades (Lemon, Orange & Grapefruit) on the Stagg site will be donated to the United Way of Acadiana, to help with rebuilding efforts.

Let’s talk about that Banana Jam. We’re in love.

It’s magic. (Laughs.) I make it, so, obviously, I know how it works. But I’m still always like: Wow! I am convinced that it’s the vanilla bean. There’s organic vanilla bean, and I think it makes everything just pop.

When I first moved to the city 11 years ago, like every 23 year old, I had no money. Like, at all. And I was working at this architecture firm and would have to go on site a lot, and I ended up getting into this habit of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, legitimately, every single day. They’re cheap, you throw them in your bag, they don’t go bad. But I had this problem with the bananas, because they would go brown. I’d buy a bunch of bananas, because they were cheap, and they’d go brown.

And it was around the time I’d started making jam anyway, and so I thought: I’ll just make them into a jam.

Banana Jam- w spoon-01

Very functional Banana aside, how do you choose your flavors?

They just kind of come to me. Basically, they’re something I would want to eat. For example, I think the Seasoned Sorrel is really kind of a good one. When I moved to Crown Heights, I kept  Continue reading

A Bloody Mary that Captures the Taste of Summer

Kingsley Amis, a prolific writer and, by his own estimation, one of the foremost drunks of his time, had much excellent information to impart on the subject of drink.

“The Bloody Mary,” he wrote in his 1983 Everyday Drinking, “is a delicious and most sustaining concoction, universally popular, just the thing for a Sunday morning party or pre-brunch session — or indeed any time when the afternoon is vacant.”

When mixing up a batch for a party, Amis advised going to a bit more trouble than the barest-of-bare vodka + tomato juice + Worcester sauce. (“Perfectly good as that is,” he added.)

We concur. But understanding the desire, on a wobbly Saturday morning, for minimal effort and maximum enjoyment, we decided to stop by the farmers’ market for the sweetest, juiciest, mid-summer tomatoes we could find and mix up a batch of Bloody Mary Mix that’s the very essence of summer. And to which you can simply add ice and either vodka or tequila.

The mixture is now in our beer fridge, along with a variety of conversation starting (or full-mouth conversation-ending) mixed pickles: watermelon rinds, cornichons, garlic scapes, ramps.

And still additionally, for those who like a good thing done exactly right, we made some fresh celery salt, which you can pour into a dish and dip the damp rim of your glass into.celery salt

Beer lovers may instead turn to the Michelada, otherwise known as the Beer Mary: a Mexican lager paired with Bloody Mary Mix. Interesting pickles and a salted rim again make for a more-perfect outcome. (El Sully from 21st Amendment Brewing is one of our favorites cervezas, and we’ve stocked the fridge with it.)

Whichever your beverage of choice, we hope we’ve offered a relaxing entryway into the weekend. Or, a welcome finish to what you started the night before.

Amis advised, in his 1973 On Drink: “About 12:30, firmly take a hair (or better, in Cyril Connolly’s phrase, a tuft) of the dog that bit you. The dog, by the way, is of no particular breed: there is no obligation to go for the same drink as the one you were mainly punishing the night before.”

However, he added, “A lot of people will feel better after one or two Bloody Marys. Simply because they expect to.”

pickles

 

 

New Gift Boxes: 20 Delicious Ways to Say Everything

Food has always been used to express love, thanks, condolences and sentiments less easily put into words. Likely, because it speaks to us in ways both simple and deeply elemental.

Consider how a bite of watermelon can lightning-fast transport you to splintery picnic table, or the curb of your neighbor’s house, with roller skates on your feet. How one cool swallow of wine can return you to a nook of a restaurant in Detroit or Cinque Terre, or a tartare spread on crisp toast.

M.F.K. Fisher, a food writer’s food writer, once wrote, “Our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.”

We’ve spent the last few months re-designing our gift box lineup, so that whatever you need to say, there’s a perfect gift, at the right price, to say it.

These boxes feature handmade selections from our kitchen and bakery, where we’re guided by ingredients that are seasonal, often local, responsibly grown and above all the most delicious we can find. A simple example is our peanut butter. We buy fresh peanuts from a single farm in Virginia, roast them ourselves and then grind and jar them by hand.

And we hold our vendors to the same high standards.

Pick up a jar of honey in a grocery store and the small print is likely to say it’s from one and/or  two countries or even continents, so unsure are they of the source of something you’re supposed to eat and feed to the people you love. We take pride — and comfort, and delight — in knowing exactly where the honeys on our shelves were made, whether it’s the Gran Paradiso National Park in northern Italy or Bed Stuy, Brooklyn.

We sell products that stand on their own as some of the best in the world. And that embody the small companies and individuals who make them.

Candice Ross was a trained architect in New York who loved the creativity in her work but not the complications that surrounded it. She founded Stagg Jam & Marmalade, which she named after her grandfather, who she describes as immensely capable and refreshingly focused on purely the things that matter most to him.

Continue reading