Top 10 Los Angeles Artisan Food Producers
|Lemonbird Jams & Pickles|
Good food, good design. A timeworn comparison. Yet one that so rarely merges in truly unique ways. Typically, beautiful condiment jar labels give way to independently inspired jams, jellies and pickles inside. Not so with Amy Deaver's farmers market-driven creations. They're in a flavor league of their own; her tomato-vanilla bean jam is simply remarkable spread on goat cheese, everyday cocktail onions pale in comparison to her pickled cucamelons, tiny Mexican sour gherkins that look like miniature watermelons.
We love them even more for the artistic flair given not only to the label, but the contents inside each jar. Deaver has crafted each to look like a miniature (edible) painting. Inside one, a few pistachios look like an ascending brushstroke in a jammy apricot background. Those pickled "cocktail tomatoes," cherry tomatoes in various sizes and hues floating in vinegar, could double as a still life painting with the bed of herbs and spices beneath them. Artisan art at its finest. Lemonbird jams and pickles are available on Etsy, at local shops like Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica and several craft and food fairs throughout the year (check the Lemonbird website for locations).
6. Meiju Tofu
Meiju Tofu Zaru Tofu
There are those artisans whose crazy flavor experiments, like adding basil to blueberry jam, turn into a signature product. For those striving to recreate traditional (and deceptively "simple") flavors, hitting on perfection can be a much more frustrating and time consuming process, more so when you're dealing with very few ingredients, as with tofu. Patience is the successful tofu artisan's trump card -- and when the lights go out in your production facility, candles so you can soldier on making zaru tofu (so dubbed for the bamboo basket in which it is traditionally served). The number of products Shogo Kariya and his son, Koki of Meiju Tofu make is limited, all with an even more limited shelf life. And we can certainly make tofu at home (Andrea Nguyen's excellent book, the aptly titled Artisan Tofu, is a great place to start), yet most days, we do not.
That's because the tofu the Kariyas make have a subtle quality that our best home batches do not, a delicate flavor and a texture we haven't quite yet, and probably never will, fully master. These are the reasons that we -- and many local chefs -- buy the Kariya's silky fresh blocks or creamy soft tofu; when we see them tucked in Ray Mukai's tiny refrigerator case at Granada Market, one of our favorite stops after a Little Osaka restaurant romp, we always tuck one in our basket. Meiju Tofu sells tofu to the public Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (mornings only; Call ahead; they often sell out). You can also find Meiju Tofu at several Japanese specialty markets.
5. Nory Locum Turkish Delight
jgarbee Armand Sahakian Pouring Turkish Delight Syrup Into Candy Molds
Armenian candy maker Armand Sahakian spends his days in a powdered-sugar dusted San Fernando Valley candy workshop, watching over the sugar syrup bubbling in giant copper caldrons that will soon become Turkish delight. It's a beautiful place, a factory with the charm of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia fantasies. Sahakian, who was born in Lebanon and raised in Pasadena, grew up eating the little chewy squares flavored with rosewater, citrusy bergamot oil or other fruit flavors. There are nut versions too (our favorite: pistachio), all poured into wooden trays to cool, then dusted with powdered sugar and sliced into squares. Sahakian trained to be a cobbler like his father, but later decided he was more at home in the kitchen. The candy factory's former owner, Dickran Jibilian, taught him how to make gelée-like locum (Turkish delight) batch-by-batch (Jibilian in turn learned from Nory Hovagimian, an Armenian immigrant from Romania, who first opened Nory Locum).
Sahakian has replaced the walk-up storefront of Jibilian and Hovagimian's era with online ordering, a necessity in today's traffic-laden times. And simply as a matter of Sahakian's own time management; he makes all the candy himself, with only a handful of employees to help cut, package and ship them. You won't find Nory Locum candy at craft fairs or farmer's markets. Not because Sahakian doesn't want to be there; he loves to talk about candy making and hand over samples. He just has pounds of powdered sugar to get through. Nory Locum Turkish delight is available online, at several small Middle Eastern grocery stores.