With all of the so-called “Made in Brooklyn” products on the market nowadays (although you’d likely be shocked to learn how many are manufactured elsewhere), it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the assortment of raffia-ringed flasks, hand-lettered mason jars, and eco-friendly recycled paper baggies competing for real estate on specialty goods shelves. That’s why we’re chatting with one of the borough’s intrepid small-batch suppliers—Nathan Meshberg of Ft. Greene Farms—to get the personal, inside story on his hyper-local condiments.
Tell us a bit about your culinary background prior to opening Ft. Greene Farms.
In 2006, I graduated from the Daniels College of Business (at the University of Denver) and moved to Brooklyn that fall. My first three years in New York were spent at the Grey advertising agency. After that experience, I decided to immerse myself in something I knew I had a passion for and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education accelerated program in NYC. Within one year of finishing my program I was working at Marea for Chef Michael White. I began as most do, working Garde Manger, prepping for other stations and working 70-hours a week for very little money. I started to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Within the first six months, I had inched my way forward and was splitting my time between line cook and saucier. It was here that I began to find my home. I loved what I was doing, but the hours became an obstacle that was tough to overcome.
After almost two years in the Altamarea Group, I decided it was time to pursue my love of food styling. James Peterson (7-time James Beard winning cookbook author) took me under his wing and gave me – a young kid with no experience in this culinary niche – a chance to style and test recipes with him for 3 books and several of his freelance projects. This led to me going on to be a part of about 20 cookbooks and countless magazine shoots over the next two years. Working with James provided me with vital experience, and Tasting Table subsequently brought me on to work in their corporate dining room. I spent about 18 months doing private events and some online photo work for them and found that after 5 years in the culinary field, I felt ready to venture out on my own.
How did the idea for Ft. Greene Farms come about?
I have lived in Brooklyn since 2007 and watched this place go from a hip well-known secret, to an actual adjective. When people say they live here or have a favorite beer from here, it has a connotation about who that person is and what kind of “style” they have. It’s so infectious that people who don’t even live here want a taste and will buy almost anything that even mentions the word Brooklyn.
By no means is Ft. Greene Farms an early adaptor of this philosophy, but we are among a select few that actually make our products in Kings County. The idea for Ft. Greene Farms came about when I looked at what was being made in culinary arena (specifically in Brooklyn) and found that there were some missing items. All throughout my culinary career I have always been a subscriber of “less is more” and that the best meals come from the collision of perfectly executed little details. I set out to make those little details available in a hand filled glass jar. Anyone can put a burger on the grill or make a tasty house salad, but when you decide to put some pickled mustard seeds in the lemon vinaigrette people take notice, and really enjoy this kind of elevated accoutrement.
Were you always obsessed with condiments, growing up? What were your go-tos?
Actually, the opposite. I was the kid who hated ketchup, but loved tomato sauce. Couldn’t stand the smell of mustard and found pickles gross. It wasn’t until I began to work in fine dining and learned how to extract flavor properly from fresh ingredients that I began to see the potential for elevated condiments.
Why do you think Brooklyn has become such a haven for artisanal food producers?
People all across the country, as well as abroad, love this place and want to bring a taste of Brooklyn home with them. It says something about you as a consumer if you have a choice between your generic pickles in a jar or an obscure brand from Brooklyn (usually a few dollars more) and you go out of your way to buy the Brooklyn brand. This, combined with a concentrated network of talented chefs in a very small area, creates a ton of super tasty and creative products to choose from.
What makes your product different than those currently on the market?
Two things: the first is our attention to detail, which is evident in our cooking process. We take a series of extra steps that most purveyors wouldn’t consider, due to time constraints. But these extra steps create a full, well-balanced product that compliments one’s food, rather than overpowers it. The second is our dedication to using the best possible ingredients. We hand select ingredients (organic, when possible–and sourced from local farms) that complement each other, and let the quality of the products speak for themselves.
Can you share some serving ideas for each of your products?
Ft. Greene Farms Red Pepper Relish: Smear on country white bread toast with avocado mash (fresh avocado, salt, lemon juice, black pepper to taste).
Ft. Greene Farms Pickled Mustard Seeds: Sprinkle on top of a chunked heirloom tomato salad with torn burrata cheese, Maldon sea salt, and balsamic glaze.
Ft. Greene Farms Charred Sriracha: Spread on a toasted English muffin topped with crispy pancetta and a poached egg.
The hope is that all three products are interchangeable and work in unison with each other. Essentially you should be able to flip out any of our products and use a different one in any of the dishes above. You should also be able to combine the products on any dish and still have something very tasty.
Where can you currently find your products in Brooklyn?
Marlow & Daughters, 61Local, Court Street Grocers, Greene Grape Provisions, By Brooklyn, Hops and Hocks, Campbell Cheese + Grocery, Brooklyn Slate and Good Egg Provisions. We’re also available at Food52, Farm to People, and other online retailers.