“Meet Your Maker!” is what Hope and Main is advertising as it opens its doors to the public for a Holiday Market this Sunday, Nov 23, in Warren. Of course, they used quotation marks appropriately so as not to give you the wrong idea that they’re threatening Armageddon; they’re just encouraging everyone to shake the hands of those who produce the wonderful new foods you’ll find popping up around the state. It’s a Meet and Greet as much as it is a Meet and Eat, and I plan to be first in line to sample truffles and jams, sip hot cider and cocoa, and get to know the local artisans who’ll be helping me spread holiday cheer this year.
In case you missed the ribbon cutting ceremony last month and are wondering, “What is this ‘Hope and Main’ you speak of?” it is a culinary business incubator. Their mission is to allow entrepreneurs to bring their culinary dreams to life and encourage the already blossoming food economy here in Rhode Island. The incubation takes place in a 100-year-old school building in historic Warren, once abandoned but now converted into a space that has three newly crafted commercial kitchens (including one completely gluten-free option), classrooms for workshops, and multiple food-makers working in close proximity to one another, which allows them to share resources, knowledge, and build community.
Several of the Hope and Main incubatees debuted at the Taste Trekkers Food Tourism Conference in October, and I consider myself among the fortunate because I got to sample their products and preview some of their talent. I tasted gluten-free cookies, pickled vegetables, spicy jams, coconut butters, almond butter toffee, and chocolate truffles that made such an impression on me, I’ve been dreaming about them ever since. Some of the familiar favorites, like Narragansett Creamery, will be present this weekend, too, as well as new-to-the-scene food-makers, such as Bella Piccolina who’ll be bringing Italy to Rhode Island as she demonstrates pasta making at 1:30 and 3:00pm (which is free to attend!).
This week I set about talking with just a small sampling of the dozens of participants, and here’s a taste of what you can expect when you “Meet Your Maker.”
Mima’s Gluten Free
Traditionally, there’s a stereotype when it comes to eating gluten-free baked goods, and that is the sensation is a bit like eating dirt, but Lois Mahoney and Betsy Shealy have worked hard to disprove the stereotype. “Usually there’s a bean-y or gritty undertaste, and something just doesn’t sit quite right after you eat them. It took us seven months of mixing flours, but we finally did it. If I didn’t tell you they were gluten-free, you’d never know the difference.”
The idea to create gluten-free, nut-free cookies came from the needs of Mahoney’s family. “My daughter-in-law has a gluten intolerance, and my granddaughter is allergic to nuts, so I thought of it as a challenge…and it was a good way to spend my time other than watching TV.” Evidently these two ladies rose to the challenge and blew it out of the water, and now they have 12 to 15 varieties of cookies, they customize birthday and wedding cakes, and they take orders online at mimasglutenfree.com.
I thought I knew how the name “Mima’s Gluten Free” came to be, but Mahoney confirmed it. “My grandkids called me ‘Mima’ and the name just fit.” It only makes sense that the best cookies — even the gluten-free ones — come from the hands of Grandma.
I sought out Peter and Katie Kelly based on a photo I’d snapped of their booth when I sampled their truffles and almond butter toffee last month. I had to know what made their Cookie truffle so melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Katie revealed (part of) the secret: “The difference between our truffles and others’ is that ours are truly handmade. At no point are they touched with a machine. We keep our flavors simple. There’s a very thin shell and a generous portion of ganache.”
Unfortunately for me, the rest of the Cookie-flavored truffle is truly is a mystery, like the ingredients of Coca-Cola. “The other day my husband was asking where the recipe was, and I told him, ‘You’ve always just made it.’ It’s not written down anywhere — it’s an original.”
Over 1,500 truffles are in preparation for this weekend, plus enough poundage of almond butter toffee to give every man, woman and child a taste. “It’s a lot of preparation, but we want everyone to sample our product — we’re trying to get people addicted.” Consider this your warning of the Siren Song, dear people of Rhode Island.
Fox Point Pickling Company
You’ve heard of Del’s Lemonade, Iggy’s Dough Boys and the Rhode Island Weiner. Will the next in line be Fox Point Pickles? “Rhode Islanders love Rhode Island stuff, so I want to give Rhode Island a pickle,” said creator Ziggy Goldfarb. (And yes, I asked if that was his real name. “It’s a nickname. My parents made my initials spell Z-I-G because they wanted to call me Ziggy, but everyone else has always called me Ziggy, so it might as well be my real name.”)
The business began as a gag gift from Ziggy to his wife, a “Make your own pickle” kit, until he started using it and became obsessed. “We joined a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture], so we had all these vegetables lying around, and I started pickling everything I could.” Little did he know the hobby would turn into a career opportunity.
Fox Point Pickling Company has only been selling for three weeks and is already found in eight stores (you can find a list of venders on their website: foxpointpickles.com). It won’t be long before you’ll be thinking of Fox Point Pickles as a Rhode Island staple, and all out-of-towners will be flocking to try one.
First the Holiday Market, then the world.
Daniela Mansella, CEO of Bella Piccolina and “Chief Eating Officer,” is a woman after my own heart. I knew we’d get along as soon as she signed off her email with the words, “Peace, love, and gelato,” the same way she ends each of her blog entries (www.bellapiccolina.com).
The former Miss Rhode Island contestant is an Italian American who claims that “My blood is still red, but it’s red for sauce.” She created the character of Bella Piccolina (her grandfather’s nickname for her, which means “beautiful little girl”) to encapsulate the girl at heart: “Someone who is fearless; even though she’s little, she’s larger than life. She’s curious, smart, an adventurer.” And, of course, she cooks.
If there’s one thing Mansella is passionate about, it’s food, but not just eating it — it’s about all that food represents. “It engages people, brings them together, attaches moments to memories, uses the five senses. I love the Italian culture because they remind us to slow down and enjoy meals together, and I want to bring Italy to the state of Rhode Island.” She’ll be demonstrating how to make pasta at the Holiday Market, and there you can find out more information about the cooking workshops she’ll be starting in January, for kids age 6 to 8. Her vision is to replicate the feel of an Italian village coming together to create and enjoy food, as a family.
“I think it’s important to bring the lifestyle of today back around the table,” she concluded, and I couldn’t agree more.
Meet the rest of your makers this Sunday at 691 Main St in Warren, and enjoy the treats, listen to live music and take home delicious goods for the holidays.
Peace, love, and gelato.
To see a complete list of Makers and to register for the event, which is free (!) and allows you entrance into the raffle drawing, visit makefoodyourbusiness.org/2014/11/10/hope-main-invites-community-to-meet-your-maker-at-holiday-market-on-november-23/