I suppose it starts with a dream or belief in yourself and a passion for something.
Early Saturday afternoon, I dropped by Pennings Farm Market to see what some of our food entrepreneurs were up to. These are the people that create delectable delicacies, present their edibles to the public, while looking for reassurance that their products are indeed tasty to our fine palates. And maybe there is a chance for glory somewhere between the lines.
What did I find at this market, besides my friend Ashley Russo, whom I was able to wish a Happy Birthday, in person, rather than on Facebook, which gave me the reminder?
Chef Eric Johansen, owner of the four star rated Iron Forge Inn, was demonstrating a dessert recipe he spontaneously put together while browsing the aisles of the market. He took some fresh apples, chopped them in long slices, and added them to carmel, butter and sugar, which he already had been sautéing in a pan for several minutes on low heat. He emphasized the need to add rice vinegar in order to balance the sweetness, before throwing in the apples. Once the apples softened with juices expelled into the carmel, infusing each other with intense flavor, he provided samples to our salivating mouths, putting his offering in a small plastic cup, topping it off with pea shoots and a little dollop of ricotta cheese.
Delicious….Clearly the Iron Forge Inn is not resting on its laurels – the heart and soul of entrepreneurship is continually promoting oneself and one's business even in the midst of four star success.
Chef James Grier, with his start-up company, The Gourmet Exchange, was showcasing several concoctions of cooking oils, all infused with spices. I dipped several pieces of bread and sampled each oil. Immensely tasty. Especially the full bodied and peppery Classic Spanish Oil, tailored made for creating Spanish Cuisine. James said, “I’ve already been talking to Eric about using my oils at the Iron Forge. I want to get these oils into kitchens everywhere.”
A former employee of American Express, he had left the company to pursue his passion for food. In an email I recently received from him, he stated, “My development into cooking is very personal, and it’s not just something that came to me and I said 'yes I want to do this as a profession.' I feel like I'm the true definition of an accidental chef, and I'm glad I went down the road I've been to get here. It will always keep me humble and not change if that time comes where I really get to the next level.”
It’s a dream, but it’s real for so many like James who believe in themselves and what they do and are willing to let go of their corporate bonds to make a go of it as real entrepreneurs who are willing to take the heat.
Jo Ann McNicholas of K9 Bakery has been producing Gluten-Free Dog Biscuits, which immediately drew me in with her presentation and down home packaging of the goods. I'm always ecstatic about finding gluten-free anything and wondered whether I could actually nibble on one of these bisquits myself, since I’m gluten sensitive and have been on a gluten-free mission for several years. Why not? The ingredients looked pretty wholesome to me.
Jo Ann is very unassuming, not likely to surpass Donald Trump as entrepreneur extraordinaire, but her self-effacing style with no pretensions on trying to sell dog bisquits world-wide, led me to rally to her cause. "I will trumpet these bisquits everywhere. What a fabulous idea, Jo Ann. We need to be more sensitive to what our pets are eating. This is certainly a holistic approach. Thank you. I will do my best to help you. And I will take a package for my own doggies."
When I got home, I called my friend, who owns a feed store in Westwood NJ, to see if he might be interested in some gluten-free products for animals. He did acknowledge that there were already products on the market, but encouraged me to promote this business through Warwick Valley Living.
There were several other entrepreneurs I met, with products ranging from sweet to sour, sugar to spice. Barbara Felton of Lowland Farm sells grass fed beef, responsibly raised and sustainably grazed at reasonable prices. I bought a container of shredded beef and it was surprisingly extra good and very tender. And I couldn't resist buying some homemade pickles - a hot and spicy brand from the joi of pickles. They too were very good - fresh, crispy and tasty. Although I wanted to indulge in some honey, next time....
Each entrepreneur had their own reasons for being at Pennings on this Saturday morning in late winter. Some were already established in business, some were still looking to expand into the Roman Empire, some were underdogs in a competitive marketplace for vying goods, and some content simply to get their product out in front of the public and take in the scent of the bustling marketplace.
I suppose there is a part of me that lives vicariously through each of these individuals, all expressions of myself. I understand their dreams and like them I yearn for all kinds of success, great and small. These self driven people represent something truly unique about America. That we can take our ideas and with a lot of hard work can sow them into something life sustaining.