We’ve spent several blissful summer holidays over the past five years with friends in Ogunquit, Maine. One of the highlights of the yearly trip are the rapturous hours we spend at the Stonewall Kitchen flagship store, lunching on lobster rolls and debating how much jam we’re willing to smuggle back across the border.
This year we had the incredible opportunity of spending a little time with the Stonewall boys themselves. It’s impossible not be inspired by Jim and Jonathan, who got started by selling home-made jams and vinegars at their local farmer’s market, and who are now manufacturing 70,000 jars of jam a day.
They treated us to a behind-the-scenes tour of their factory, cooking school and photo studio, and talked to us a little bit about cooking, the evolution of the specialty food business, and being inspired by family traditions.
How would you describe your approach to food and cooking?
Jonathan: Our approach to food has always been casual; we write our books using readily available ingredients and believe some of the most elegant, tasty dishes sometimes have the fewest ingredients. We both believe cooking should be fun; we love to build confidence in our students and our readers.
What changes have you witnessed on the food scene since getting started?
It’s night and day. The food network launched just 17 years ago, and before that you had a couple of random shows on PBS. Today cooking shows are hugely popular in the US, making chefs into celebrities equal to rock stars. It’s brought so much awareness to food in so many ways. When we first started selling our gourmet foods 19 years ago, there were still very few unique specialty items on the shelf today there are thousands of great products out there. The specialty food business is now a multi-billion dollar industry made up of small manufacturers around the world. I can remember as a child going to the grocery store to buy white vinegar for a science project (I had to make a volcano explode mixing it with baking soda), the vinegar selection consisted of two choices: white or red. Today in that same store there is almost a whole aisle dedicated to vinegars of all sorts.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Our inspirations first come from our heritage. I grew up in a large Irish family outside of Boston, my mother was a great cook and prepared traditional Irish dishes passed down for generations: corned beef and cabbage, roast leg of lamb, and lots of hearty Irish stews. Jim grew up in an English-German family that first settled in Lunenburg, Novia Scotia. His mother not only kept her traditional roots, preparing dishes like sauerbaten with red cabbage and boiled potatoes, but also served many dishes from Novia Scotia like finnan haddie. From those deep family traditions which have inspired us personally we take many inspirations from our travels, cookbooks, blogs like this, and magazines. We both love to experiment, but after a long week at work we always end up cooking a simple twist on a childhood favorite.
Marinated Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
For the steak:
2 pounds skirt steak, trimmed of excess fat
¼ C olive oil
3 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. chopped mint
2 garlic cloves, minced
freshly ground black pepper
For the chimichurri sauce:
1 C fresh Italian parsley leaves
½ C fresh mint leaves
2 green onions, chopped
¾ C olive oil
¼ C capers, drained
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
about ¼ tsp. red chile flakes
Cover the steak with the marinade ingredients, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour, and up to 8 hours.
While the steak is marinating, make the sauce. Put the parsley and mint in the bowl of a food processor and pulse once or twice to coarsely chop. Add the green onions and pulse again. Add the oil, capers, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste, and blend until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a serving bowl and gently mix in the chile flakes. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to a day before serving.
Bring the meat to room temperature before grilling. Dry the meat with paper towels before grilling on high heat, 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare meat. Brush the meat with the marinade a few times while it’s cooking. Let the steak rest before carving diagonally against the grain into thin slices.
Top with the chimichurri sauce, and serve warm.