Entrepreneur Stefan Grosberg puts a Trinidadian spin on an Italian classic with his Shadon beni (chardon béni) pesto. I love that he uses local flavours in new and extraordinary ways. Even better the farm to table approach of growing herbs which go into his amazing line of pestos is why I am here at 6:00 am on a Sunday morning tramping through his beautiful garden with my camera.
Stefan graciously submits to the awfulness of having his picture taken with steady aplomb. I must admit that I am intrigued by his quiet confidence and composure. Here is a 24 year old young man with a perfectly good degree in Chemical engineering who has instead turned himself towards starting up a food production business.
BLDP: What is your educational background?
Stefan: I studied science subjects in school and come from a family with a background in engineering. Chemical Engineering was my degree of choice. At that time, Trinidad was in great need of engineers. There were many projects planned and the economy was booming. I thoroughly enjoyed my studies and experiences while away and have no regrets whatsoever. I graduated in 2008 from the University of Bath, UK, then did a stint with an oil refinery. However a failed attempt at getting funding for a PhD and an economy which was no longer employing made me return home and take up a job with my family's business.
BLDP: How did you arrive at the idea of growing herbs and making pesto for a living?
Stefan:I heard about the slow food movement late one night on Travel Channel. It was captivating and it inspired me to grow vegetables and herbs. I started with a handful of containers which then grew to three beds. Later on, I was introduced to a group of organic farmers, one of them with connections to Italy. Utilizing my Slow Food connections I was soon on a plane to Italy to start my travels and learn about more about traditional and regional cuisines. In middle of all this, basil bushes that I had grown needed to be pruned. In my home we don’t waste anything so I decided to make pesto! I took it to Upmarket and the response from people was good. One thing led to the next, fast forward some time and I now I am doing it full time!
BLDP: Did you imagine that after studying at University that this would be your current path?
Stefan:I remember myself about 8 years old, coming home from school (we had just gotten cable TV) and on the Discovery Channel there was a show called Great Chefs. I watched this religiously. I loved it. I loved the food creations. I played a lot in the kitchen mainly with baking cookies, brownies etc but as I got older, well it just wasn't cool to do that sort of thing!
BLDP: Having invested heavily in your education what do your parents think of your current shift into agriculture and food production?
Stefan:My parents, bless them, have always supported my siblings and me. They will stand by us 100% and have always told us that in anything we do, do it to the best of our ability. They will be proud of us. I am truly grateful for them, their guidance and support.
BLDP:Who came up with the name for your company and the logo?
Stefan:The name was the result of a lot of thought and contemplation! A very good friend of mine did the original artwork and logo. The name reflects my philosophy about food that is home grown and made by hand thus 'del mano' which means from the hand in Italian.
Stefan: There is a traditional Italian pesto which I make with Genovese basil that is fresh from my garden. I also make a Shadon Beni Pesto which is a pesto done in the style of South American Chimichurri. My tarragon pesto was inspired by the fresh scent I got every time I brush past the tarragon bush in the garden. I am constantly developing new flavours and have two new surprise pestos at the moment that you can find out more about on my facebook page which is the best place to learn about all my products old and new.
Stefan: Currently I only have Shadon Beni Pesto available for retail sale. It is available for home delivery in Port of Spain and environs from dMarket Movers and in San Fernando at The Gourmet Genie. This will change very soon though, with Basil Pesto and Roast Melongene Pesto joining the retail line up. There are always new pesto ideas coming through my brain and I feature them at UpMarket to judge how people enjoy them and to see how they need to be tweaked, or in some cases dropped! In addition to the monthly UpMarket I'm working with other outlets in the Port of Spain area to carry my products.
BLDP: Would you describe yourself as a good cook?
Stefan: I only cook for a hobby, and God help my sous-chef! I pride myself in flavors, but technically I'm rubbish.
BLDP: What is your favourite thing to cook or eat?
Stefan: I enjoy Mediterranean style cuisine generally speaking, but good creole food with salty flavors like pig tail, or creamy coconut milk and spicy ginger are all flavors that captivate me.
BLDP: Which is your top selling product?(like I don't already know:-)
Stefan:Shadon Beni Pesto.
BLDP: Which part of the business do you enjoy most, the growing of the herbs, the making of the pesto or the marketing?
Stefan:The growing is a good time for contemplation and even relaxation. When it is time for harvest though, its early morning work. I'm not a morning person. Certainly creating new pestos and tweaking flavors is exciting. When making pesto to fill orders, once you get in the zone the work is fun. Marketing isn't my strength, or at least I don't think so...but a good friend told me to love up my problems...by loving it up, I'll get better at it. Really though I love what I do, the flavours I work with and the principles I stand for. I just want to share that with everyone.
True to his word about sharing Stefan has so kindly agreed to give away 3 bottles of Del Mano Pesto so that instead of just reading about it one lucky reader can actually taste these condiments.
I must tell you all that my personal favourite is the Shadon Beni Pesto. This herb is the backbone of the popular Trinidadian green seasoning marinade which flavours almost every dish in this country. It is used in soups, salads, chows (chutneys), and on every type of meat.
In some small way I consider myself an expert on shadon beni so yeah the first time that I tasted Del Mano Shadon Beni pesto I expected to like it. What I did not expect was that I would finish off the entire bottle! What started off as just a taste on a crix biscuit soon turned into a full on lunch of just a bag of crackers and one bottle of Del Mano Shadon beni pesto. When I ran out of crix I substituted with a slice of bread (hops) which turned out to be perfect for sopping up the last greasy bits of pesto and saved me from the disgrace of actually licking the plate.
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