how did you come to fromage?
Posted 12 July 2004 - 06:30 AM
Why fromage? Why not butter, or charcuterie, or wine? Did you train to become an expert in cheese, or were you involved in food in a more general sense and specialized later in your career?
Posted 12 July 2004 - 11:08 AM
I got into the cheese business completely by happenstance, serendipity. In 1975 I fell into a job in a cheese shop at 91st Street and Madison here in NYC. I was an out-of-work actor. My unemployment benefits were exhausted. I knew nothing about cheese, nothing applicable about food, nothing about Europe. I just wanted a regular paycheck. I applied myself, worked diligently, became manager, got fired for telling the owner during a telephone call that I was at work when I was really in my apartment. Was subsequently hired by Giorgio DeLuca and Joel Dean as the very first employee at Dean & DeLuca. I was the cheese department manager. This was in the summer of '77. I quickly realized that it was important that I create and operate the very best cheese counter in NYC, so I began to, once again, apply myself. That meant I had to somehow learn everything there was to know about cheese and Europe and European food as soon as possible. So I began to read every food book I could get my hands on. So to this day I have great reverence for MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David, Waverly Root, Patience Gray, Roy Andries de Groot, Madeleine Kamman, Jean Giono, Emile Zola, Richard Olney, etc.
It didn't hurt that at that time there were virtually no decent, much less, drop-dead knock-out cheeses available anywhere in the city. So I made it my business to travel to Paris and Milano starting in '79 in order to determine which cheeses WERE important and how I could secure them for import to NYC, which I began to do with great success and with great joy. It's a much longer story that I hesitate to bore you with in this space.
Aside from being mentored by Giorgio and Joel, I am a complete auto-didact; there was no "training" to be had. Cheese was my metier, though Normandy butter certainly figured, as did creme fraiche and fromage blanc. I was the first to bring these things to NYC, as was I the first to bring in these scads of now staple French and Italian cheeses. So I'm very proprietorial about all of them; I consider them my babies.