Hard to Find Treasures for the Masses
hunting for the best and most obscure gourmet ingredients
by josh perilo
it has become a startlingly familiar sight: rows and rows of extra virgin olive oils with prices topping $20. precious-looking containers of aged aceto balsamico lined up like vials in an elizabethan apothecary. geographically-specific spice blends from far off micro-regions of morocco and spain. one might think they had wandered into their local williams-sonoma. one would be wrong, as these products are stocking the shelves of almost every corner grocery store in the city.
so why on earth does anyone need another online gourmet food store?
while the availability of a wider variety of prestige edibles is a good thing for the adventurous home cook, it doesn't exactly fill the niche of the hunter epicure: that breed of gourmet who prides him or herself on sourcing the best and hardest to find products known to man that no one else knows about.
enter theingredientfinder.com. think of them as a one-stop shop for every amazing luxury food ingredient that you can't find anywhere? until now.
jim feldman, the managing director, jokingly describes himself as "chief bottle-washer." in their tiny digs in the heart of chinatown, the company's diminutive size mirrors, in some ways, the philosophy of the products they sell. many of the producers they deal with are tiny operations themselves, but that's where you have to look to find some of the best stuff on earth, jim contends.
growing up in new york city with an italian mother and grandmother who loved to cook, jim's passion for food started early, and, can be argued, was part of the catalyst for his project. recently jim was on a quest for the "perfect double-zero italian flour" with which to make his grandma flora's fresh fettuccine noodles. the only problem: he was in the catskills and every store he went to turned up nothing. using his background in luxury product marketing and his passion for great food, he came up with the idea for the ingredient finder and began sourcing his hard-to-find treasures.
"it isn't just about 'hard to find' either," jim explained. "it's also about providing a palate of ingredients that the home cook can conveniently draw upon."
and that's all well and good. but are these high-end products really worth the high-end dough?
i was able to sample a cross section of the inventory and every item i personally tried was stellar. their ethno-centric catalog includes ingredients from india, spain, italy and many other ports of call. one spectacular single-estate extra virgin olive oil i tried was the salvatore mirisola, an organic oil from sicily. true to many sicilian olive oils, it was very robust, but not overpowering. it had a green, artichoke-y flavor that ended with a well-balanced punch of black pepper. the site also features products by the la boîte à epice line of spice blends. the blends all have unique names and themes, and the dali blend, with seafood essence and hints of lemon peel, took me back to the costa del sol in spain immediately. equally delicious was the mardona balsamic condimenti glaze. a sweet (but not cloying) reduction of balsamic vinegar, this sauce would be a no brainer for an otherwise boring grilled chicken breast.
because the site was started as a passion project, it is easy for jim and his company to connect to the emotion behind food.
with so many websites peddling expensive and sometimes overpriced ingredients, it's nice to find a site whose business model comes from a real place of passion and offers its customer something they won't be able to find, in some cases, anywhere else in this country. whether they're ordering from wichita or the upper east side.
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