Meeting Steve Marino and Arjan Khiani (known as Andy), makers of the synonymous line of organic jams, chutneys and candied peel is a treat in itself. The culinary duo’s enthusiasm for their organic, gluten-free and kosher products is clearly evident.
With smiles beaming almost as warm a welcome as the sun shining on a post-snowpocalyptic landscape on this winter morning, the pair are already busy peeling, candying and baking. Since 2013 the two makers have been “alchemists” at work in Brooklyn’s Industry City. Their goal: to create the ultimate breakfast, lunch and snacking experience.
Stepping through the intimate dark space of their curated café Modern Primitive into the white vaulted production space beyond yields a sensual surprise: The bright tang of organic California citrus, exotic anise, musky Indian spices and earthy vegetable flavors for the café’s daily soup hover tantalizingly in the air. Nasal passages suck in the aroma of orange — in this instance fresh organic carrots and peeled navel oranges — being juiced in the corner. This is where a daily assortment of breakfast muffins, savory lunch items and drinks are prepared alongside jams and candied peels.
Steve & Andy’s unusual range of chutneys and jams are inspired by flavor combinations such as the Italian orange and fennel salad at their local restaurant in the East Village Three of Cups. The candied peel stems from their mutual frustration at the lack of flavorful candied fruit during a Christmas baking spree in Montreal. Ensue a year of research, testing and sourcing to find the perfect palatable peel. The result was so perfect in fact that the duo ended up scaling their efforts to an organic warehouse first in Long Island City then Sunset Park’s Industry City to keep up with demand. Now the range graces shelves from San Francisco to New Orleans in foodie mecca such as Dean & DeLuca’s and beyond.
Their research along with lessons passed down from Steve’s Italian family, also keen bakers, yielded relationships with organic suppliers and farms across the country. Though farmers in California supply “true oranges” and lemons for their peel, the pair turn to local berry suppliers in the warmer months and grain producers in the Midwest for their flour. Every ingredient is meticulously researched, tested and scrutinized before it makes its way into one of their products. Best of all, nothing is wasted here; spices and fruit used to create Steve & Andy’s range also go into the café’s daily menu. Everything is gluten-free, non GMO, organic and kosher.
A strong attention to detail and passion for creativity is as evident in the packaging, inspired by Andy’s Maui tattoos and their keen marketing savvy, as their food. Perhaps not so surprising given Steve and Andy’s backgrounds: Steve is a makeup artist and photographer with a line of celebrity skincare products on his resume. Andy is a fashion designer known for deconstructing and repurposing fabrics to unique effect. Between them they boast a clientele including Madonna, Elle Macpherson and Mick Jagger. Channeling Italian and Indian heritage, time in Montreal, Paris and further afield their recipes include exotic yet balanced ingredients. This is creativity cut in a chameleon city and honed to perfection.
The pair’s creative flair expresses itself in the food as much as their fashion. This is a food studio as much as a kitchen. Andy, chief muffin maker, mixes ingredients based on seasonal availability and a measure of his own whim. While one muffin may be moist with raspberries and walnuts, another baked in the same batch will be bursting with blueberry. Zingy citrus and an impossibly light dough provide the common core. No detail is spared here. Even the flour is unique, being the first “complete” organic gluten-free flour on the market. Unlike many commercial gluten-free flours made of GMO corn and soy, which are high in carbs but little else, the pair partner with Midwestern organic farming cooperatives to produce a 70 percent whole grain blend with a more rounded nutrient profile. Despite not being commercially available, Steve & Andy already have their hands full supplying local bakers with the flour who have heard (and tasted) their range in the café.
Back home away from the biting cold, opening a bag of their orange and lemon candied peel is like eating little bursts of sunshine. Should another Blizzacane threaten New York, these bags of California will thaw me from the inside out.