This summer was a whirlwind for us. In a good way. Bootstrapping a business with hard work, blood sweat and tears, and minimal capital, as many have said before and we'll say again, is not for those faint of heart. You will be pushed to your limits and find yourself reaching beyond those.
The year in its entirety has been a rollercoaster of a ride. We've almost signed on to leases a few times, and at first they all seemed right. Then as we delved into the realities of the relationships, location and costs, the downside of each situation presented itself.
We reached a point in June when we thought to ourselves, shit, this may never happen. Luckily, we have a phenomenal friend and peer network that has mentored and supported us from the beginning. If you are new to entrepreneurship or are thinking of it for your future, you cannot do this without your friends, family, peer and mentor support. You'll meet folks everyday. Many will help you beyond belief. Some will make what seem like small suggestions that will open up opportunity when all hope was lost.
Our good friend Peter Endriss of Runner & Stone was just such a person. He reached out to us when he heard that New Amsterdam Market was thinking of expanding their food vendor offerings but wanted to focus on folks that were serious and passionate about feature local produce and purveyors. We're serious about those things, so we figured, as my Chef friend James Vellano always says, 'Why not?". That was the last week of June. Our first market day was July 1st.
One would think that we haven't had a moment to look back or reflect. We haven't written much to let you think we do. But we are always looking back, which helps us look forward with clear eyes, a level head and a open mind. Folks are always making suggestions and we're listening.
Doing the market once a week has been the high point in our week, every week. It is truly a delight to serve all you wonderful folks and it's an exciting place to do so. It has also been a great way to test new ideas, build up our staff, put on a show, and put real numbers to our planning of the past year.
We're rooting for Robert LaValva and the folks at New Amsterdam Market and hope through all of our combined efforts we can help secure a permanent space for a European style market to be permanently housed in Lower Manhattan. We hope to be a part of future fundraising opportunities as we grow and become long-term supporters of their work.
A little over forty souls and supporters were around before Labor Day and came by to enjoy our first foray into casual fine Tex-Mex. And by Tex-Mex, I mean a Texan and a Mexican making food. A lot of folks around here cringe at that phrase Tex-Mex. What does it mean? It often brings to mind HUGE piles of dry refried beans and yellow cheese filled enchiladas.
Ed Levine of Serious Eats stopped by our stand at New Amsterdam Market one morning and he gave us a lil' jab about our name and Tex-Mex. He said he wasn't sure that our name was good enough for what we did and that Tex-Mex might have too many bad connotations, or at least that is what I took from what he said. He seemed to enjoy the tacos though.
When we met Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina through looking at a potential location, we knew we wanted to somehow work with her and feature her delicious treats. When we found out that our booths were next to each other at New Amsterdam Market, we said 'let's do this!'. So we came up with the idea of a six course meal where we could intersperse our savory courses with her sweets. It'd give us a chance to stretch our creativity a bit with a different mode of service.
When we sat down to create the menu for the pop up, we wanted to blend seasonal fare, featuring some of our local favorite farmers and producers, with our own take on traditional conceptions of Tex Mex. We also wanted to balance my experience with contemporary cooking techniques and some traditional ways of mexican cooking.
We asked Fany to open the meal with an agua fresca, her pick. She made a delightfully refreshing one from Chia seeds, lime juice, water and a little sugar. We also wanted to feature some of the other fine vendors from New Amsterdam Market, so for our first course, we used fresh fluke from Gabe the Fish Babe out of Rhode Island. We sliced it thin and drizzled it with fresh lime juice and a chili oil made from chile de arbol dried chilis.
We recently heard about Gudelio Garcia's Kickstarter campaign via our friend and supporter Erica Dorn of Accion USA, so we knew we'd be checking in with him about the vegetables. For our second course, it being August, we knew that tomatoes and peppers would be abundant this time of year so we bought up all we could from Gudelio. We made a clarified gazpacho, drizzled with a bit of basil oil, a few micro basil leaves from Two Guys from Woodbridge (Union Square Greenmarket regulars) and a few slices of Pimiento chilis and baby bells in suspension for crunch and color.
Photo Courtesy of Clay Williams
As we've learned from many of our chef friends and mentors, a lot of time it's the little things that people really love. One of the things I love from Texas is the standard and ubiquitous nacho. Sure, it was created in a hotel in Mexico for gringos, but with the right ingredients and proportions, it is just lovely. Every guest received three nachos - a sharp Millport Dairy (another Union Square Greenmarket regular) cheddar with pickled jalapeños, a lamb fajita, and an heirloom tomato.
We followed the nachos with a palette-opening garden salad of delicate sorrel, bull's blood beet greens, and shaved baby summer squash. We tossed that with Fany's spicy candied pepitas and dressed it with our house vinaigrette, a blend of cilantro, greek yogurt, garlic and lime juice.
For the entrees we wanted a good balance of tradition, technique and plays on old standbys. So we came up with three options: a chile relleno that would make a filling and playful option for vegetarians, 'something with lamb', and a special rendering of the simple lemon roasted chicken that we had on our honeymoon in Mexico nearly six years ago.
With the relleno, we wanted to marry a fairly traditional presentation with some non-traditional technique and ingredients to elevate the flavors. Our friend Ricardo Prado, an up and coming young chef, stepped up to create a tasty emulsified filling from dried anchos, grilled nopales and Millport Dairy's sharp cheddar that we love so much.
We knew we wanted a whole beast element to the meal, not because it's "in" or whatnot but because it makes sense from an economic perspective. And we wanted to leave pork off the menu to open it up for folks who can't eat pork. So, we called up a farmer collaborative in Vermont and placed an order for a whole lamb. It arrived two days before the event and it looked like this.
We served it two ways on the entree - seared medium rare loin and tenderloin and braised shoulder - and it was the lamb on the nacho in the earlier course. Everything else would be used for our weekly taco stand at New Amsterdam Market as 'Six Point Righteous Ale Beer Braised Lamb'.
Nick Westervelt, of Clawhammer Farm, raises some of the tastiest Cornish Cross birds we know, and while they usually served up as our Chipotlé Chicken or whose eggs fill our breakfast tacos, we wanted to create a dish that would delight those used to the humdrum leg, thigh and breast. Most people forget that chicken is one of the most often 'whole beasts' prepared. And when our chicken roulade, filled with Wild Gourmet Food's foraged chanterelle, yellowfoot chanterelle and lobster mushrooms, hit the table, some of our guests were a bit miffed at our vague description of 'Roasted Chicken'. We promise, we'll do better to highlight the specialness of the preparation next time.
Photo Courtesy of Clay Williams
Fany Gerson found moments throughout the meal to surprise folks with "Alegria", a puffed Amaranth and chocolate candy; a lovely cactus pear sorbet; dulce de leche cake; and a parting brightly wrapped marzipan candy.
In sum, we think we nailed the service and food at the popup. We saw a lot of clean plates and all the folks I spoke with post-dinner seemed well sated. For us, it was an opportunity to prove to ourselves, doubters and our friends, that we can do it and will do it. Of course, many were friends, and one often wonders if they are maybe holding back on honest criticism or laying it on a bit thick with the nice reviews. One of our friends and supporters suggested we open a fine dining version of Lonestar; well, maybe, but not yet.
And of course the popup would not have been possible without the experience and dedication of some of the finest folks I've worked with, as we assembled a team mostly from folks I'd had a hand in hiring and training at other restaurants. In the kitchen on Garde Manger was Ruth Cimarolli of Maison Privé, on Saucier was Xavier James of Fedora, and Carlito Paulino (our New Amsterdam Market grill man) was back in his old steward position keeping us up on clean plates and cookware. Our front of the house was led by Angie Randazzo and Jean Adamoski of Bouchon Bakery and Tracie Lee of Lonestar Taco.
Thanks to striking a bartering deal with Clay Williams, our neighbor, friend and a damn good photographer, of photos for food, we have some delightful images to share from that evening.