The Pickler

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Erin Loechner for Clementine Daily’s “Inspired Interviews”. Check out the interview below and read even more interviews with amazing modern women.
Image Credit:
Image c/o Kassia Binkowski

It’s one thing to concoct a new favorite recipe in your kitchen, but it’s something entirely different to build a business around those ingredients. Meet Willow King, co-founder and CEO of Ozuké - the gal who did just that. In an effort to provide good quality nutrition for her children, she and a girlfriend refined a recipe for pickled foods to create Ozuké - the latest organic food brand making its way on to tables across the country. Equal parts mother to two sweet boys, business owner, and farmer’s market purveyor, Willow’s life exists somewhere between the down home living and cut throat entrepreneurialism that define Boulder, CO. From her sweet definition of success to her admirable work ethic, she may just be one of the most authentic fermentos we’ve ever met!

Read her inspired conversation with creative director Kassia Binkowski:

Where do we start? With connections to the local food movement, organic agriculture and physical health, you’ve been able to build so many dimensions of personal and social wellbeing into Ozuké’s business model. What did your path from a wholesome meal to a socially responsible business look like – and what sustains you to keep it growing?

Well, I would not say that it was a straight and narrow path. Loving food and food culture was certainly the seed for starting this business but I have had to learn many things along the way. There are so many pieces to running a business. Financials and accounting, tax law and incorporation status, marketing, logistics, certifications – you get my drift. The learning curve has been steep, but it has been great to add things to my toolbox and there are so many rewards. I love seeing the pigs from a local farmer gobble up our compost, I love the pickle jokes and jovial vibe of our staff in the kitchen, I love knowing that the food we make supports organic farmers and in some small way helps back that movement in this country. I love hearing from people that the food we make helps them feel healthy and good. I love the slow food, slow money, slow ferment ethos that we have grown our business with: linking the pleasure of good food with commitment to the community and the environment.

Let’s talk about that “we”. Your business partner is a professional chef and expert fermento (chef of pickled foods), but she also happens to be a close friend. How have you balanced being business partners and friends?

It’s true – I have an awesome partner, which has made a big difference for me. Mara and I have the same last name – which is just a coincidence, but we joke that we really are married now. She and I have spent many hours bouncing ideas back and forth, scratching our heads and encouraging each other when the paperwork, accounting or logistics felt overwhelming. We share the ups and downs of having a business and it can get very stressful at times. I think our history really helps us out – we have seen each other through many phases of life, which gives us perspective.

No question that you two make a great team! Ozuké is a huge success, being sold from farmers markets to Whole Foods across the western United States. We’d certainly say that you’ve made it, but was there a moment for you when you felt like you “made it?”

To be honest, I think I am still waiting for that moment. There are always so many moving pieces to a business that I never feel like it’s all sorted, but we have had triumphant moments. For us, success is really having a thriving culture around our business – people we love working with, farmers whom we support and who support us, and a platform to talk about health and nutrition on a larger scale.

Speaking of that platform, you built your business in Boulder, CO which is one of the nation’s hot spots for natural food start ups. How has geography influenced your professional pursuits?

We really do live in a very supportive community – both for food and for entrepreneurship, which is a huge factor in the successful growth of our business. From day one we have had so many people offer to support us with knowledge, networking, investment and business acumen – many of whom have grown natural food brands in the past. We realize how fortunate we are and try to support new businesses in whatever way we can as we know what a helping hand can do early on. In the end it really is about who we are surrounded by and how we relate. It takes a very diverse group of people to make something a success and we have reached out many times to members of the community to answer questions about technical issues, distribution, sales, food safety. It really does take a village.

It’s amazing to see how far you’ve come since those early days, and now it’s safe to say that the benefits of pickled food are as diverse as your skill sets as a successful entrepreneur. With so much new research coming out about the benefits and consequences of different diets and food groups, how can young women navigate the endless aisles of information to make the best decisions for their health?

I really think simple is best. It’s true that there are so many fads, diets, trends and shifting tides that it can be hard to keep up – but in the end I believe it is about clean, nourishing foods, drinking lots of pure water, getting outdoors and pumping your heart, laughter, rest and breath. The rest is just frills.

Despite your no-frills ethos, you’ve lived a life packed with adventure. Before co-founding Ozuké you traveled the world working for international organizations. How do you balance your sense of adventure with your desire to put down roots for your family?

It has been a bit of a push-me-pull-you as far as laying down roots goes – I’m the mother of two boys and can’t resist the character reference to Dr. Dolittle! But it’s true. After my first son was born we moved to Asia for a teaching stint. It was such a rich time for me – wandering the streets of Ho Chi Minh City with my little son, taking in the smells, sounds and tastes of the markets. It was wonderful but I could also feel a new desire to be closer to the source of my food, my water, my community and my family. We continued moving about until after my second child was born and then we moved back to Boulder, at which point it felt like time to dig in and do something that could work with family life and still have branches. It is a juggling act and we would certainly like to spend time abroad again but for now we are super happy to be elbow-deep in cabbage here at home.

Tell us more about that jugging act. On any given day you’re a mother, wife, business owner, taste tester, marketer, and sales manager just to name a few. What habits have you built into your daily routine to keep you feeling healthy?

Some days are better than others. I work odd hours sometimes – very early or very late so I can have down time and meal times with my family. I need yoga, I need good novels to disappear into and after that it’s just pedal to the metal.

Speaking of pedal to the metal, I can’t imagine how much you’ve learned building a business in an industry that is evolving so quickly. What have you learned about yourself on that journey?

What a good question. I have learned that nothing I do happens without the support of a whole web of good people. I have learned that doing something the right way does not always make it the most sensible, profitable or practical, but it is worth it. I have learned that I love old farmers and the vernacular of the earth and above all I have learned that letting go can be just as difficult as holding tight to one idea – and often has a far better outcome.

Alright, we have to ask – if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Warm bread with really good butter!

p.s. Want to hear from another entrepreneur changing her world with food? Meet the baker.

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Johnny Loves Ozuké

Last night we received one of the most enthusiastic and heart felt endorsements from our Facebook page. Interestingly we receive at least an email a week asking us if ourjumping beets ~fizzy, earthy, so alive they climb out of the jar beets are safe to eat. Something about your food rushing out to greet you has been unnerving for some folk who from experience expect a vacuum sealed lid to pop and show that everything is dead and safe and hermetically sealed. Well our beets are definitely NOT dead. They are the most live and most nutritionally dense of all our products, between the mineral and iron rich beets, the zinc and magnesium rich Maine coast harvested dulse seaweed and the blood bolstering garlic something truly magical happens. Johnny felt the magic. Here is what he said. :)

PS. make sure you read to the bottom there is an amazing 3 ingredient raw beet soup recipe that Johnny magicked together.~~~

jarring beets

I am slowly starting to ease into eating more fermented foods. I have a lifelong history of acute eating disorders that have caused some pretty intense damage to my body, especially my distressed digestive tract. I am a firm and faithful believer in the power of healing naturally with whole foods and know how beneficial fermented foods are to the digestive system. I recently discovered Ozuke’s sensational line of raw organic krauts at a local natural market. There were quite a few raw kraut brands to choose from but Ozuke’s really caught my attention so I went with my gut feeling and decided to give it a try. One of the first things I noticed was the amazing aroma that scented my car as I drove home. The krauts are freshly packed in air tight glass jars but the smells still seem to seep through. This made me eagerly enthusiastic to get home and dive in! The bottle will caution you to open carefully as natural explosion can happen. Do not let this scare you. You know the feeling when you pop open a bottle of bubbly on a special occasion and suds soar? Most people find this exciting as they cheerfully celebrate while they pop the top resulting in a fizzy frenzy. My reaction to opening my first jar of Ozuke beet, kale and dulse kraut was exactly this and so much more! To my surprise about 1 inch of shredded beets emerged from the top of the jar almost like it was sprouting up to shout “let’s get this party started!” Too anxious to wait, I quickly wiped up the beautiful beet splatter paint (hey, we all need some color in our lives!) and determinedly dove into deliciousness. I’m blushing to admit but I did not want to put the jar down. I was clinging to it like Winnie the Pooh to his honey pots! Everything became euphoric! The combination of sweet, salty, savory and slightly sour/tart raw-kraut-rocked my world like I was in some kind of sauerkraut sacred space with a note on the door that said, “Please do not disturb. I am in sauerkraut Heaven right now!” I say this with sincere seriousness. Nowadays I prefer to make all my own food, including homemade organic krauts, but Ozuke’s products are my new exception and obsession. I am currently hooked on their beet, dulse & kale kraut which I love using to make a dreamy & creamy fermented raw soup with 3 simple ingredients: Ozuke’s beet kraut, ripe avocado and Thai young coconut water – pureed into pure beet bliss! I am on a mission to try different krauts and start a staple stockpile of their fabulous fermented foods in my fridge! I feel it deep in my heart to share this testimonial because the outstanding owners at Ozuke are not just changing the food industry by promoting real, raw and healing foods but also changing the lives and health of others. I encourage others to embrace, enjoy and experience the nutritional cathartic healing benefits live fermented foods offer. Your health is worth it and you deserve it. Ozuke’s products are the perfect way to get your fermented food fix! You will feel the love, passion and positive energy they hand pack into every blessed jar. I cannot thank you enough Ozuke, God bless! JohnnyLovesOzukeJohnny Righini aka Mr. Sauerkraut Sassypants with his favorite Ozuke beet kraut!

Thank you Johnny for taking the time out to share your story and fizz like your favorite beets with such healthy enthusiasm.  xo

Boulder County Home & Garden

BOULDER COUNTY HOME & GARDENH&G Logo_web

Fermented Foods Find a Following

Fermented foods are making a tasty new splash as
“good-for-you-foods”–although our grandparents
knew it all along.

By Mary Lynn Bruny

RECIPES FOR FERMENTING

 

fermenting-redrice

Red Rice
Make this recipe once, and I promise you, your family will ask for more. My daughter, Kailee, would never let a beet near her lips in any other way!

Ingredients
Butter or olive oil, to taste
1 jar Ozuké the best pickled things Beets, Dulse & Kale
3-4 cups rice, cooked
1 teaspoon garlic (or to taste), minced
Toasted sesame oil
Optional: sprouts, kale, fried eggs

Directions
Put butter or olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add one full jar Beets, Dulse & Kale. Sizzle for a bit, then add cooked rice. Stir over medium heat until everything mixes together. Add minced garlic and drizzle with toasted sesame oil. We serve this rice with a fried egg on top with sprouts and baby kale on the side. You can always snazz this up with another kind of protein and call it dinner.
—Mara King, Esoteric Food Company

Ozuke and Boulder Shout Out in The Guardian UK

 

Boulder: a Rockies’ road to extreme sports, yoga and smoothies

Gateway to the Rocky Mountains, the ‘republic’ of Boulder, Colorado, is also a bastion of liberal, exercise-crazy freaks

A mountain biker at sunset in Boulder, Colorado

Boulder and the scenic regions around it are ideal for extreme sports. Photograph: Soubrette/Getty

The Republic of Boulder, as Boulder, Colorado, is fondly known, is a town of almost 100,000 people nestled up against the red sides of the Flatirons in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The “Republic” has a reputation for being at once snooty and strange, a combination that works to bring in tourists and keep out the haters, who love to criticise this odd university town for being a bastion of liberal, peace-loving, spiritual, exercise-crazy freaks.

And we are, and are proud of it. Even the preppy country-club conservatives (there are more than a handful) are openly accepted by the town as they, too, study Buddhism and drink green smoothies. So open-minded we can’t even hate the haters, Boulderites are known to live on raw foods, drink local gluten-free beer, and have become the poster children for cannabis legalisation: because we are so left of centre, we meet up in the back with the libertarian right and want to live as we please, mountain bike where we will, and go to our chiropractor/acupuncturist/psychic when we need to.

North Boulder is your spot to visit like a local. Start by getting a green juice on Pearl Street at Whole Foods Market and a jar of Zuké pickled beets, by Esoteric Food Company, which is the celebrity pinnacle of the flourishing farmer’s market locavore scene here.

Meditation on the Continental Divide Yoga in Boulder … find some peace amid the extreme sports. Photograph: Annie Griffiths Belt/Corbis

Then head on to a yoga class. The yoga attitude lives large in this town, as does being a professional athlete training at altitude – but that’s harder to drop in on.

If you want authentic Boulder, skip the big box yoga places that have popped up and visit the Anjaneya Yoga Shala, a little studio owned by long-time Boulder yoga teacher Jeanie Manchester and run out of her garage. These classes, which will introduce you to yoga, meditation, and real live Boulderites with time in the middle of the day, will make you hungry.

Head for Lucky’s Bakehouse and Creamery on Broadway Street and indulge. You can sit out at the front and watch the parking lot, the kids on bikes, the dogs and their walkers, as you sample one of Lucky’s renowned cinnamon rolls before you head on the obligatory Boulder hike.

Boulder is about extreme sports: extreme hiking, century (100-mile)bike rides, and skiing your age in days every winter. But everyone loves the Anne U White Trail. Named after Anne Underwood White – an environmentalist, scientist and open-space advocate, who donated 20 acres for the creation of this trail – this is a three-mile trek where you do need to be careful about real Boulder mountain lions as you follow the bed of a creek through a verdant valley.

Fig and goat's cheese tart, Lucky's Bakehouse and Creamery<br /><br /><br /><br />
Fig and goat’s cheese tart, Lucky’s Bakehouse and Creamery

Real locals eat out. A lot. Who you’ll spot at the finer restaurants includes families, college students, couples on dates, workers from the funky ad agency with the “Disruptive Thinkers” bus and cannabis capitalists with new money. The people at the next table at Radda, a NoBo Italian fave run by a local who rides to work on his sexy black motorcycle with his dreads flying, are likely to be wearing patchouli and eating an enormous amount of food for obvious reasons.

To fit in you need to … wear yoga clothes, go hippy chic, or settle into real designer clothing. All of which reminds you that Boulder has been invaded by New York and California transplants with money and taste. Luckily, their clothes are resold at Common Threads, an essential stopoff for fashion followers and yogis alike, with consignment clothes curated by the hip 30- and 40-something employees who live in the mountains but like a good label.

Beware Chief Niwot‘s curse – the one that says once you fall in love with this place you are doomed to spend eternity trying to find a way to live here. That’s a modern paraphrase, but it does justice to the strong feeling this place inspires in visitors and locals.

Michelle Auerbach, author of The Third Kind of Horse

The Pickling Revolution takes Boulder

The pickling revolution takes Boulder

By Camilla Sterne

Photo by Camilla Sterne

You wouldn’t think things stuffed in jars and steeped in salt, brine, spices or even their own fermented juices could be beautiful. But all lined up, pickles present a range of unique natural colors. There’s something enchanting about tidy jars all in row holding fragrant and shapely combinations of carrots, beets, onions, ginger, cauliflower, cabbage, soybeans and peppers. The result is far from our pickle archetype, but instead presents an artful array of colors, shapes, tastes and textures.

Throughout Boulder County, citizens and businesses alike are lining their shelves and pantries with a similar assortment of carefully pickled goods. A long-standing cross-cultural tradition has found its place in the community, in the form of instructive classes and local products.

Three Leaf Farms and Cure Organic Farm in the Boulder area offer classes in these time-tested techniques, classes that fill up quickly, according William Kelley, chef at Zucca Italian Ristorante and teacher of the pickling class at Three Leaf Farms.

“First day we had sign-up for this class, I mean granted it was only eight people, but it filled up on the first or second day,” Kelley says of the upcoming July 20 class.

Both Kelley and Marilyn Kakudo, pickling instructor at Cure Organic Farm, have noticed a resurgence of interest in the craft of pickling. So why the sudden interest in a process that has been in use for thousands of years?

“I think people are trying to eat closer to home. And here in Colorado since we don’t have produce year-round, the only way you can really eat local in the winter-time would be to preserve in some way,” says Kakudo, who teaches the six-person class at Cure Organic Farm.

Kelley, too, has noticed an increased awareness of pickling, particularly in the broader foodie world.

“Right now what’s trending are means of preservation like curing, smoking and pickling,” says Kelley. “Nationwide, you read a lot of articles from Bon Appétit to Food and Wine to publications in Chicago, New York, L.A.; all across the nation they’re doing pickles and whatnot. In Colorado we do have a little bit more want or even need to do it, because it gives us an extension of the season.”

But the term “pickling” is not limited to one specific technique. Quick pickling, fermentation pickling, relish pickling — all of these methods have received greater interest and recognition.

Kakudo will teach traditional pickling at her class at Cure Organic Farm, and attendees will leave with three jars of traditional cucumber pickles. Kelley, however, plans to cover all three techniques.

“I will be going over every process of pickling, from the quick pickle to the fermentation to the relish,” he says. “But we’re going to be making quick pickles to allow the people from the workshop to have something to take home with them.”

And amateur picklers seem to be open to different techniques, though fermented pickles are of particular interest to health-conscious consumers because of a recent wealth of information on the positive benefits of probiotics.

Boulder-based company Esoteric Foods has broken into the local fermented pickle market with its variety of krauts, and in two years has expanded from its first sale at Lucky’s in North Boulder to selling its products in more than 65 natural grocers. Co-founders Mara King and Willow King will also teach a class in pickling on Sept. 10 at the Lyons Farmette.

“For us fermentation in some ways is sort of a philosophy, if you will,” says Willow King. “It’s like this sort of magical interaction between the world we can see, the vegetables, the salt, the things that we’re touching, and this invisible world, which is all the microbes and the friendly bacteria that come into the process and make the food this super-vital, healthy, raw food that then, when we ingest it, kind of invigorates the whole digestive and immune system.”

Willow King credits the success of their Zuké “pickled things” to the supportive Boulder food and entrepreneurial community as well as the growing awareness of the health benefits of fermented products.

“I think there’s a real renaissance of sort of hands-on, do-it-yourself food processing,” Willow King says. “People are getting a lot more interested in where their food comes from, and once they know where it comes from, and how things are made, which is really how this business was born.”

In keeping with the conventional purpose of pickling, Esoteric Foods is trying to create much of its product at the end of the season, when there is excess crop production.

“We’re trying to buy as much local produce as we can when it’s plentiful, pickle it and then have it to sell throughout the winter until we break back out into spring,” Willow King says.

Pickles are not just practical, either. Many picklers are partial to the aesthetic qualities of pickled varieties. Willow King’s favorite Esoteric Food product is the Zuké beets, dulse and kale recipe, pointing to the deep purple color as part of her attraction to the recipe.

“My kids are huge fans of them,” she says. “You can always tell when they eat them because they have these big purple mustaches.”

King pickles for her young children, as does Kelley, who praises the process for its ease and low cost.

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Photo by Camilla Sterne

“I have three children, and a wife and a dog,” he says. “It gets expensive buying vegetables, unless it’s the summertime. The seasonality of it marks up the price. Pickling gives me the opportunity to have that type of ingredient to utilize on my own without having to necessarily pay for it.”

But many people do pay for their pickled goods, which can be found at local vendors for not-so-minimal prices. Lafayette vendor Isabelle Farm Stand carries Esoteric Foods products as well as the canned and pickled creations of Boulder-based MM Local.

The employees at Isabelle Farm Stand are no strangers to the pickled revolution. A big underground food movement is “starting to bubble to the surface and pickle,” says the farm stand’s wholesaler, Tyler Bair.

The place is teeming with farmers, all of whom seem to be extremely familiar with pickling. And most of their farmers do their own pickling, according to employee Annie Beall.

“Everybody gets the leftovers, and the best way to use them is to pickle them,” says Beall. “I bet there are a few of them around, they’d probably give you tips.”

There is one thing all picklers agree on: It’s easy to do. With one caveat: Be wary of the health risks of pickling at home. Kakudo warns about the hazards of air entering canned goods during the brine pickling process.

“There’s a whole science and food safety issue about canning; whenever you can food you have to make sure you’re canning food that has a certain amount of acidity,” says Kakudo.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many home picklers and canners are unaware of the risks of Botulism, a serious illness caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which can find its way into canned goods if pickling methods aren’t executed properly.

Pickling in vinegar also tends to diminish some of the nutritional content of food, according to Kakudo and Kelley.

“The rule of thumb is that any time you take something from a raw state and you cook it or manipulate it, especially when you add intense pH levels on each side, you are going to break it down and it will lose some nutritional value,” says Kelley. “It’s definitely better to eat fresh and raw as far as nutritional value is concerned.”

Most pickles are used to augment a meal, whether through texture, spice or even color on the plate, and according to Willow King, many cultures have used fermented pickles to aid in the digestion of meats.

“It’s also just sort of a side, so you always have a pickle as a palette cleanser or a flavor enhancer with each course,” Willow King says. “There’s lots of fun creative ways to use it.”

Willow King suggests using Esoteric’s krauts on salads, in sandwiches and even in something like a fish taco. Kelley uses pickles at the Zucca Italian restaurant as a subtle palette enhancer.

“It’s a nice accoutrement to our paninis for lunch, our antipastis, our saloumis. We utilize pickles in lots of different ways. I’ve got pepperoncinis on my calamari dish, we have pickled red onions in our pork chop dish.”

And the vinegar brine in non-fermented pickles doesn’t have to go to waste, according to Kakudo, who suggests using the solution in place of vinegar during cooking.

However, the outburst of published books on pickling, pickling classes and pickling companies is still in its relative youth. It has yet to be seen whether the pickling craze will last as long as the preserved goods themselves.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com