A top chef’s pantry, a blacksmith’s secret salt, a dialed-in culinary store—here, the newest ways to relish California’s spice world.
Worth His Salt
In 2006’s bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, there’s a rather poignant chapter about Michael Pollan’s hunter-gatherer mentor. A blacksmith with a storied kitchen in a San Francisco forge, Angelo Garro travels with the author to the Sonoma Coast, where they forage for chanterelles and hunt wild boar. The outspoken Pollan has shied from endorsements; however, in his words, “My debt to Angelo is so deep, and his salt so special, that I have no choice. Rule broken.”
You see, anyone who has picked grapes or pickled herring with Garro, or attended one of his feasts, has likely clamored for his salt. “About 20-some years ago, I started to make a mix that I was going to use for rubbing on meat, and fish and vegetables. And I did it and gave it to friends, and they loved it—and came back again and again and again,” says Garro. “I’ve been sharing recipes forever—except for the recipe of the salt.”
Garro is native to sun-drenched Siracusa, where wild fennel grows rampant and sun-drenched Nero d’Avola grapes grow plump in volcanic soil. The Sicilian wind carries ancient history along with the fragrance of Tarocco oranges. Both his mother and “Nonna” taught him to cook. “My grandmother said, ‘As long as you have black pepper, red pepper and salt, you can make everything taste OK.’”
The artisan blacksmith learned his trade in Switzerland and established a distinguished career in Toronto. He decamped to San Francisco in 1983, and he has remained a master of ironwork, from romantic balustrades to cast sculpture. During this time, Garro’s Renaissance Forge has become far more than a metal fabrication studio. From the rafters, salumi dangles like pendant lighting as it cures. Barrels of wine wait, and animals are whole-roasted. Pasta, sunny from the semolina, is from scratch. Everything is handmade. Of the convivial dinners, says longtime grape-picking companion and business associate Beth Malik, “Friends bring friends. It’s always growing with new people.”
A year ago, Malik—a former product development specialist at Levi Strauss—told Garro about crowdfunding website Kickstarter. (She would soon help with sourcing and production.) Garro says the time was right: “I’m semiretired. I still do some metalwork, but not like in the old days. I could start doing something.”
Noted filmmaker Werner Herzog stepped in to narrate a short film to accompany the Kickstarter project. Garro recalls, “I said, ‘Would you like to look at this video we made?’ He said, ‘Just give it to me. It needs some work.’” There were Pollan’s words, and then there’s the immeasurable power of an Alice Waters testimonial: “This salt is so indispensable, I bring a bag everywhere I go!”
The campaign ended September 7, and 3,057 backers had pledged $141,467—far surpassing the funding goal of $30,000.
With Omnivore Salt now in production, sales have begun online and in shops such as Belcampo Meat Co. and Shed in Healdsburg. The Pacific Northwest is next. Back at the forge, Garro is still savoring his daily cappuccino, still cooking. Truly salt of the earth. omnivoresalt.com.
Written and edited by Alison Clare Steingold.