This post is the first in a series of essays written for the New Amsterdam Market. Each essay stems from a conversation between the author and a vendor who participated in the New Amsterdam Market of June 29th. The essays seek to address each vendor’s (food-related) enterprise, to highlight the reality behind their commitment to sustainability, and to convey the voice and personality that they bring to their work.
A conversation with a working chef is usually a somewhat brief, rapid-fire exchange. You the non-chef must make your point, and make it quick, preferably to the rhythm and speed of vegetable chopping, egg whisking, or bread slicing. If the chef likes you, he or she might look up.
Not so a conversation with Caroline Fidanza, chef of Brooklyn restaurants Diner and Marlow & Sons. Caroline met me with a confident, modest manner, a warm, thoughtful eloquence. New Amsterdam Market has had a few years to gain her dedicated support and understanding, and sitting at the white chipped tables in the handsomely dark, dim lighting of Marlow & Sons, I was charmed by her welcoming warmth, her glow of youth and experience.
Diner opened in 1998, on Broadway and Berry Street, a sunny Brooklyn corner jutting from the shade of the Williamsburg Bridge. Caroline has been the executive chef from day one. “The values of using fresh, local foods had been instilled in me while working at Savoy,” she said, and Diner’s owners Andrew Tarlow and Mark Firth needed no persuasion to prioritize these values in their new restaurant. Beyond being a result of her own influence, Caroline mentioned, Diner’s farm-to-restaurant sourcing really began when Andrew’s father-in-law started organic farming in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “He introduced us to the community of Amish farmers there, and suddenly we really had access to better product.” Ten years ago, Caroline explained, farmers weren’t delivering to the city quite like they are now. “We went to the Greenmarket and bought what we could,” she said, “but when it came down to it, there just wasn’t enough room in the car! We really needed the farmers coming to us.”
Marlow & Sons, Andrew and Mark’s second restaurant, opened next door to Diner in 2004. Both locations serve lunch and dinner, on tables in and outdoors. Caroline and I sat inside, where the warm lighting reflects off bottle-lined shelves and mirrors, and chalkboards list the offerings of the day. The July 11th menu included a soup of Kale-Ricotta Tortellini in a Vegetable Broth with Parm & Basil; a list of sandwiches: French Egg Salad, Italiano, Pressed Fontina, and Pork Tenderloin; and various plates, including toast with house-made nut butter, quiche, charcuterie, chicken liver pate, and a market salad. There were cheeses available from New York, Virginia, and Oregon. For desert: house made strawberry ice cream with a brown butter cornmeal cookie.
To reach Marlow & Sons’ back room of tables, one must walk through a shop in the front, where they sell cheeses from upstate New York, Vermont, and Pennsylvania, local honeys and yogurt, milk, fruit, vegetables, granola, and pastries and sandwiches made in house. They also carry Fra’Mani sausages from Berkeley, imported mozzarella, various specialty sea salts, Rancho Gordo beans and lentils, pastas, olive oils, grains, coffee, popcorn, canned tomatoes, and olives. Asked how these products are selected for the shop, Caroline explained that the offerings cater to the needs of a kitchen, but reflect the increasing availability of local products. “We want to have products that complement our regional food, like olive oil, and sea salts, but we are also switching out everything that’s not local as it becomes available from nearby.”
The shop also sells the Diner Journal, a publication that was, until recently, written and designed entirely by the staff of the two restaurants. Originally created in lieu of a cookbook, the quarterly magazine contains articles about various food products, recipes, and related artwork. Writing for the journal “helps all of us think on a much broader level,” Caroline mentioned. “I learn something every time we put it together. Like the practice of grafting an apple tree. I just never thought about it, but you have to graft very tree! That’s so much work!”
The crew at Marlow & Sons and Diner has supported New Amsterdam Market since the very first market event in 2005. “I remember the first time I really understood the New Amsterdam Market vision for the Seaport,” Caroline said. “I was immediately sold, from that first minute. It’s ridiculous that New York doesn’t have a permanent market like in San Francisco and London.” Caroline recognized that she doesn’t normally work at markets, but that she feels “the New Amsterdam Market serves our interest in extending our community. Ultimately,” she said, “the individuals here at Marlow, and those working to create the Market…we all really believe in each other.” She remembered the heirloom apples, chocolate producers, and Hamptons honey of the first New Amsterdam Market, at the Municipal Building. Marlow donated house-made ice cream. “But that day was more about individual producers promoting their own businesses,” she said. “This past Sunday [June 29th], it felt more like the vendors came together, to promote the Market itself.”
Caroline emphasized the community element of the “sustainability” she feels will be encouraged by the New Amsterdam Market. A strong force behind her commitment to regional foods is a feeling of loyalty to New York State. “I’m looking to New York to rally together,” she said, “to have it’s own economy of food production. This city forgets it’s connected to the state! New York State is struggling, and has been for a long time. I will always choose stuff from New York, even if New Jersey is closer.” Raised in upstate New York, Caroline admits to thinking her hometown Poughkeepsie “was the worst!” when she was growing up. Now of course, she wishes New Yorkers would take more pride in the food produced in their State. She is sure the farmers and producers in the state would rally, if there might be a consortium with a place, a Market of sorts, where the economy could thrive and the community might gain strength.