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Workshop Interview: Zach Negin

Most of us get our condiments off the supermarket shelves, but making it from scratch at home is entirely possible and even more fun! To teach you the ropes of making your own condiments, we’ve brought in Zach Negin for our second workshop on Sunday, April 28.

Zach is a a co-owner of SoNo Trading Company which produces a delicious range of mustards from high quality ingredients sans the additives or stabilizers. For his workshop, he will be showing us how to make Whole Grain Mustard, Sriracha, Lacto-fermented Ketchup, and a Vegan Worcestershire Sauce. Sound tempting already? You can sign up here!

We talked to Zach to find out more about the man behind the mustard, how he got started creating condiments, his favorite flavors and ingredients…it was an inspiring interview and we cannot wait for the workshop to happen!

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1. How did you get started producing your own mustard?
There’s an old family recipe for mustard that I used to make and everyone always loved it. I wanted to start my own business, so mustard was it. (There were also pickles in the beginning – another family recipe.) I approached my friend James (who’s now also my business partner) and we just started experimenting with the recipe and different ingredients. The original recipe had eggs in it, but we took those out, changed the vinegar (to a super high quality champagne vinegar) and added in garlic, which essentially became our Champagne Garlic Mustard.

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2. Can you describe the creative process behind designing each type of mustard?
It’s like anything that you spend a lot of time doing. You end up having these random thoughts come to you at the oddest of hours with ideas for interesting flavor combinations. And then you just trust your intuition for where to start. When we were selling at the farmers markets we were making each batch by hand, filling the jars with a pastry bag. So it was pretty easy for us to try out new flavors and get a ton of immediate feedback from folks. It quickly became apparent that our Champagne Garlic and Hong Kong Habanero Mustards were the most popular. So when we launched our Kickstarter project to get our wholesale business up and running we focused on those two mustards.

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3. What are your pantry staples?
-Salt: I have about 5-6 kinds of salt.
-Fat: I also have a bunch of different kinds of fats in my freezer I like to cook with: lard (pork fat), bacon fat, duck fat, chicken fat, goat fat, butter. I really think animal fats are much better for cooking than something like olive oil is. (But I do love good olive oil for salads and finishing!)
-Vinegar: I’m a vinegar freak. As soon as I track down a wood barrel I’m going to start making my own, but for now I seek out all the different vinegars I can find. Recently I was in Papa Cristos – the iconic Greek market/restaurant over in Mid-City – and I saw this dusty bottle of vinegar with a taped on label made by nuns in a monastery. I of course bought it and have been using it non-stop.
-Preserved lemons: I make these and use them in many dishes as they add a unique flavor.
-Bay leaves I picked in the mountains – these go in almost everything.

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4. What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with in the kitchen?
Same as above. I’ve also been doing a lot of preservation and fermentation lately. Kimchi in particular. I’m excited for summer to get here to start pickling some summer vegetables.

5. Besides mustard, do you have any other condiments in the pipeline?
Funny you ask, we’re working on a fermented chile sauce, aka “Sriracha”. We’ve run a test batch and gotten excellent feedback. I just need to find a good source for a few hundred pounds of chiles. Know anyone?

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6. Complete this sentence: My dream condiment would consist of …
This is a tough one, as different condiments go well with different dishes. I think that’s the beauty of condiments. I’d say right now I’m loving the fermented chile sauces I’ve been making.

7. What makes The Mustard THE Mustard? In other words, can you explain what makes it special?
I would say our ingredients, both the ones we use and the ones we leave out. We’ve sourced super high quality organic mustard seeds – the best we could find – and really nice vinegars. We also don’t put in any sort of additives, stabilizers, or preservatives (besides vinegar, salt and sugar). No xanthan gum, no sodium metabisulfite, no “natural flavors”. Just real ingredients.

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8. What kind of flavors are you drawn to?
Savory, slightly spicy, and acid driven foods.

9. What tips do you have for home cooks looking to make their own condiments at home?
Experiment! Look up a bunch of recipes and try a few out to see what you like. It’s nice to have condiments without all the crap in them.

10. Any advice on pairing condiments with food?
Just like cooking, use your instincts. We made a cilantro-lime mustard back in the day and it was delicious on burritos. Sounds weird but it worked. I really love South Asian food because it often involves a lot of condiments that are essential to the meal.

11. What can participants expect to get out of your class?
In addition to taking home a jar of each condiment, participants will learn about the science behind mustard and fermentation. Plus it’s fun!

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