Learn more about the delicious mushrooms and fruits from the DMV!
Welcome to The Sunday Roast! Thank you for your patience as I took a break from this newsletter. Last month, when this was supposed to send, I was celebrating my birthday, and the subject I originally had lined up got too busy. Then, the subject below swooped in and saved the day. I saved this send until now to make sure I gave him a proper TSR, in addition to a proper social media break that I desperately needed. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to dive back in! I hope you enjoy the different format below.
This month: Technically, this would be this past month, but I really wanted to try pawpaws. I saw the regional fruit all over my Instagram as people were buying the fruit to enjoy during its super limited season. So I searched and found one company a friend had bought her pawpaws from. They were kind enough to deliver the pawpaws to me within a few days before I had to head out of town, and even agreed to an interview! And let me tell you, these things were amazing. I’m so thrilled to feature a local business owner and truly local fruit in this October edition.
Iulian grew up in Northern Virginia and began his career taking culinary classes as part of his high school curriculum. While working at local restaurant Trummer’s on Main on his days off, he realized that cooking was his passion. He soon enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, where he got the opportunity to work for four months at the acclaimed Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark. Iulian says he acquired an in-depth knowledge of indigenous ingredients and unique methods of food preparation at Noma, influencing his later passion of exploring local produce and foods.
During the last four months of his time at school, Iulian spent time at the Puglia Culinary Centre in southern Italy learning and preparing foods from every Italian region. He also undertook various educational trips throughout the Mediterranean to strengthen his culinary and foraging skills and worked at Ristorante Peppe Zullo, a biodynamic farm and restaurant in the mountains of Puglia. When he returned to D.C., he saw an opening in the market for local ingredients, and the rest is history.
A Q&A with the founder of Arcadia Venture.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into foraging? Like, how do you determine the dangerous from harmless?
For anyone looking to get into foraging, find someone experienced in your region and start learning from them. Books are a good way to start acquiring knowledge but more importantly it’s the hands-on experience that will teach you about the land. Start slowly and see what particular things interest you, whether it’s mushrooms, medicinal plants, or wild fruits. Start observing and learning the seasons for each product you want to work with; it changes slightly each year and even more so now with the large weather swings from climate change. As for knowing edible from poisonous, don’t eat everything you see! Learn the major deadly plants and mushrooms. There are not many things that could kill you, but there ARE many things that will make you incredibly sick. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
I see you originally set off for a career in cooking with your degree from the Culinary Institute and your position at District Winery. What made you decide to take the leap to a food business owner and open Arcadia Ventures?
I have been fascinated with wild food ever since my internship at Noma in Denmark. In Scandinavia it is a very commonplace thing; most families go out into the woods or beaches and pick wild food. In fact it is a constitutional right over there, the “right to roam”. I decided to quit my job at District Winery to focus on building a business around this because I saw a real lack of locally foraged food in restaurants. Besides the random mushrooms here and there from various mushroom pickers there was no actual business that focused on wild food in the DMV. There is such a bounty of products in the mid-Atlantic region, some native and some established over time as a result of trade and commerce over hundreds of years.
I know you supply ingredients for a lot of well-known restaurants in the area, what made you decide to also sell your product for delivery to home cooks? Do you aim to expand either of those parts of your business?
Well, necessity to be honest. In April of 2020 everything was shutting down. Restaurants were rapidly closing due to the pandemic and very limited to doing only basic food to survive. At that point the market for specialty ingredients practically vanished. It was also a time when everyone else was working from home and eager to start cooking. I used to do produce boxes with a mix of different vegetables, fruits, and mushrooms. The products were from a couple of farms I work with that specifically supplied only to restaurants and chefs: incredibly high quality and varieties of products not seen in grocery stores. Although they were really popular after a few months I stopped doing them because it took up so much time to package and deliver the boxes to each home. Now I still do some home deliveries of a la carte items, especially wild mushrooms. What I am hoping to start by the end of the year is to provide some products to local independent grocers and butchers.
Why were you enticed to come back to the DMV area for a career in food? Why establish Arcadia Ventures here?
I returned to the DMV after school because I wanted to find a high-paying chef job and just save up a lot of money by living at home with parents. After I decided to start Arcadia Venture it made sense to do it here because I understand the products that grow here and I already had some connections in the restaurant world. If I moved to another part of the country I would have had to start from scratch and had a much higher learning curve for starting a new business, especially a foraging business!
What’s your most popular product versus your favorite?
My most popular product is actually Paw Paws! Last year was a terrible paw paw year because a late frost killed off a lot of the blossoms. I had much more demand than I had supply. This year though it is much better and I can offer them to more people for them to try this unique fruit. My favorite item has to be Hen of the Woods mushrooms. They are also known as “maitake”. Although you can grow them, the wild variety is a lot stronger in flavor. It grows in large clusters that can weigh 20-30 lb even!
When it comes to pawpaws, how popular are they among your customers? Why did you decide to forage and sell them?
Paw paws are very popular. A lot of my restaurant customers eagerly await the season, which only lasts a few weeks, to stock up on it. What I really like is when a customer tries paw paws for the first time. A lot of times they never imagined that a “tropical” fruit grows in the wild here. I decided to forage and sell them because they show a particular time and place of where we are. The end of summer ripens the paw paws until they fall from the tree and the tropical aroma fills the air. They are something quite special.
Can you talk to me a little bit about pawpaws, like your knowledge of the fruit and what recommendations you usually give to customers for eating, storage, use, etc.?
Paw paws are the largest native fruit in North America. They grow east of the Mississippi and north up into Ontario. They are a very finnicky fruit and start to turn black when fully ripe (like bananas). If you want to save them for later you have to freeze the pulp. For cleaning them, take the skin off by hand in a small bowl, mash the pulp with your hands, and take out the seeds. Do not let the pulp sit in a container in the fridge. It will go bad very very quickly unless you freeze it. Afterwards you can use the pulp by thawing out as needed.
Paw paws are a difficult tree to grow for fruit. Although the trees themselves are easy to grow, they take 7 years to start producing flowers and around 3 more years after that to do fruit. If you plant just one tree you will never get fruits. There needs to be a lot of diversity for cross pollination. In the wild they usually grow in “colonies” where most trees are shoots of the parent tree, therefore genetically the same. Another tree from a different colony (like a seedling) has to be introduced for them to start making fruits. So imagine around 15 years from start to finish to get a productive group of trees!
What is your favorite way to eat or use pawpaw?
My favorite way to use paw paws is for ice cream. It really preserves as much of the flavor as possible and showcases the “custardy” texture of the paw paws.
Looking to make ice cream? Try this recipe.
Iulian sent me this recipe and recommended it! You essentially make a custard with mashed pawpaw and then freeze into an ice cream.
A note from me: I don’t have an ice cream maker so I ended up using the old fashion method of shaking the bagged custard in another bag filled with salt and ice. Then I froze it for the rest of the time. Still tastes delicious and creamy!