Dining: Five-Star Meals by Mail
Chef Alain Ducasse, he of the six Michelin stars, defines great cuisine as “60 percent ingredients and 40 percent technique.” Assuming his equation is correct, this means that even the most talented home chefs can never be as good as Ducasse and his ilk—unless they can get their hands on the same ingredients that the pros use in their recipes. Fortunately, the sources that supply the world’s best chefs with their culinary building blocks are not trade secrets. In fact, many will stock the pantries of anyone savvy enough to request their goods.
If you have dined on Mongolian baby lamb at Susanna Foo in Philadelphia, you are familiar with the quality of the meat from Jamison Farms in Latrobe, Pa. The pork belly at Ducasse in New York comes from pigs raised on the free-range farms of Niman Ranch. D’Artagnan supplies ducks and foie gras to New York’s best restaurants as well as Spago Beverly Hills. When Jean-Georges Vongerichten needs seafood for a softshell crab tempura, he calls Joe Gurrera at Citarella in New York City. Rod Browne Mitchell’s Browne Trading Co. provides Daniel Boulud’s private stock of Iranian caviar and also supplies chef Eric Ripert with red snapper for Le Bernardin’s famous fish soup.
It is hardly a coincidence that leading restaurants rely on these purveyors. The restaurants achieve and retain their status by maintaining rigorous standards, down to the tiniest aspects of the dining experience. When the chefs from these establishments go grocery shopping, they naturally seek purveyors who are just as obsessed with quality and attention to detail as they are.
Lamb farmer John Jamison, for example, carefully scrutinizes the diets of his charges. “Our lambs graze on pastures that are typically bluegrass and white clover mixed with a variety of native grasses, wildflowers, and herbs,” he says. “In the spring, the lambs will taste somewhat garlicky as wild garlic and onion come up with the new grasses.” In addition, Jamison lambs are slaughtered at the earlier age of 3 to 6 months rather than the industry norm of 7 to 12 months, because younger meat is more tender.
Paul Willis, manager of Niman Ranch, is attuned to the unique needs of his livestock. “We let pigs be pigs,” says Willis. “We provide a quiet environment and let them build nests. Commercially raised pigs have stressful lives, which affects the way they taste.”
But these suppliers do more than fill grocery orders. By consistently delivering the high-quality ingredients needed to create outstanding, memorable meals, they endear themselves to their chef clients and even encourage them to reach greater culinary heights. “It is a relationship built on history and trust,” says Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. “It is a matter of respecting each other’s abilities. I consider it dual inspiration. The purveyors inspire me with the quality of the product that they send, and I in turn inspire them with the results of my cooking.”
While these purveyors abide by old-fashioned, unhurried means of food production, they embrace modern means of distribution. All maintain web sites, and almost everything they offer can be shipped overnight to arrive in time for tomorrow’s dinner party. One unassailable fact remains, however. Although you now have access to the ingredients the great chefs use, the responsibility of delivering on the other 40 percent of Ducasse’s equation is yours alone.
Browne Trading Co., 207.766.2402, www.browne-trading.com;
Citarella, 212.874.0383, www.citarella.com;
D’Artagnan, 800.327.8246, www.dartagnan.com;
Jamison Farm, 800.237.5262; www.jamisonfarm.com;
Niman Ranch, 510.808.0340, www.nimanranch.com