03.03.23 Plant People

Georgia Hilmer: Do you remember the first vinegar that blew your mind?

Chris Crawford: Katz! Easiest answer. They are poets when it comes to vinegar. It was introduced to me while cooking at Chez Panisse and it really was the first time as a line cook I bought vinegar for my home that was expensive. A dish needs good butter and salt and acid and it’s so basic but starting from a nutrient dense raw ingredient is one of the keys to a dish that has it all.

How long does it take to make a batch of vinegar from start to finish?

They are all different and can depend on the time of year as well as how active the wild yeast that is present on the ingredient is. Often I forget about a super small batch and then when I find it I am like, "Oh, hey you."

What's your favorite part of the vinegar-making process?

Each step is pretty special. Finding farms and ingredients is an easy high, but even shipping is rad because I am blown away by all the people and places I have shipped to. I have never done a big campaign or anything resembling PR so when people buy from me it feels like they are adventurous and curious and supportive all in the same beat. I truly have the best customers. Lately I have been doing events in person which has been so rewarding. I have had some customers come up to me and say who they are and I know because I have been shipping to them for four years. It isn’t lost on me how special it is to make something that people use in their homes and feed their family with.

Are there certain fruits and veggies that are especially tricky to source?

Yes and no, more or less I find local farmers who I know are practicing regenerative farming as opposed to looking for a specific ingredient and guessing the state of the soil. Since I don’t add stabilizers or buy commercial vinegar to flavor and I start with water, you can say that fermentation can be an honest story teller of the actual growing process of an ingredient. That was a lot of words in one sentence : ) Don’t get me wrong, doing traditional fermentation you still end up dumping vinegar that was from nutrient dense soil of course, but what I have found consistently is garbage makes garbage.

How do you stay connected to nature living in a big city?

I definitely do not get enough time in the woods or ocean as I need. I was very lucky growing up in the Pacific Northwest with a thrifty family because we did so many activities outside and frugally. My favorite place in the city is Central Park and it’s obviously not the same but has a magic and smell and enough of the good stuff to give me a quick fix.

Do you live with plants at home?

I have a lemon tree, some cactus and a fig tree. I wish I had a garden which is what every person in NYC wants I assume.

What do you wish more people understood about your process and the experience of running a small business by yourself?

I make vinegar, I do not season or infuse commercial, highly-processed vinegar. I mean, most people know that, but doing a traditional fermentation has inconsistency, which is part of the charm to me. Running a small business has its ups and downs just like any job. I like working so that is helpful … and I also like not working. I love talking to people who are interested in starting a small business because I tell them they have to believe in it before anyone else does. Do not wait for someone's approval to do something. That is the hardest thing to do for a lot of people. Trust yourself and have fun.