About Tressa & SFT:
In so many ways our food is the most intimate relationship of our lives. It conjures up sentiments, drives our impulses and nourishes us back to health. It is also the relationship we take most for granted, the one we tend to neglect and as a result, lose touch with not only our health and ourselves but the entire history of our place in a particular region and the people that built generations of our ancestry. Food transcends time in its tradition. My love for food came from my grandmother, a German pastry chef who never learned to drive, refused to speak English and showed her love through food prepared from her garden on my mother’s family farm. It was not uncommon for something to be bubbling on the porch, for a gaggle of women to be putting up cherries and peaches, while a rooster sat on the windowsill and my sister or I secretly climbing the cabinets trying to steal her drying noodles without stepping in the lard bucket on the stove. It was a rich old world of flavors and a fearlessness about the safety of what was passing through her tiny galley kitchen. We knew that to deny her the opportunity to fill our plates was like denying her entire sense of authority on the farm. It was love and respect and absolutely delicious.
The difference between my grandmother’s generation and what came through my parents,’ was the whole transgression of intellectualizing and industrializing our food, separating out the sense of relationship and consequence that is involved in our food choices. From my mother, I learned an elaborate curiosity for alternative healing. While refusing the old world medicine of her mother, mine explored every supplement and diet fad that came through pop culture and even the ones that were a bit more extreme or off beat. School lunches were sometimes as bizarre as a pumpernickel sandwich with parsley and red onions and a packet of gushers on the side. Still, I learned and explored Chinese herbs in the pantry, read her cookbooks and watched the entire family respond to our meals together.
I wanted to do so many things, but my interest in food and healing always seemed more like hobbies than professional endeavors, so I studied art history, linguistics, poetry, surrealism and read books about herbs, minerals and alternative therapies on the side. I even studied massage to support myself a bit at the same time. I learned about Slow Foods and somehow the world got a lot more interesting as did my dinner parties and by the time that grad school was imminent, I quickly derailed for NYC and the natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts. I studied nutrition and healing food therapies but these were limited to Vegan, raw, Macrobiotic and Ayurvedic traditions. Wanting more and needing to be closer to the farmers and the more traditional culinary community, I took obsessive amounts of public classes and volunteered at the Union Square Farmers market. I was introduced to the Weston A Price foundation and met Jessica Prentice of Three Stone Hearth on her book tour. After her fermented sodas class, I became enthralled with the old world food alchemy of fermentation, fats, organ meats and sprouting grains. Suddenly the connection between food and health was a relationship that I could flesh out.
I skipped graduation and followed her out to Berkeley to work at Three Stone Hearth and was quickly managing their team of volunteers producing nourishing foods. At the same time, I was working at Venus Restaurant (under chef Amy Murray and Pastry Chef Rebecca Stevens), volunteering with CUESA, and staging with master preserver, June Taylor whom I admire to this day for her attention to color, dimension and flavor in her artisan conserves and syrups. Life was very romantic.
My ego was expanding and I needed more of a challenge, though I had never felt such a strong sense of purpose in food. It became obvious that the missing pieces in our food paradigm were transparency and trust. I was hungry for more rigorous kitchen work and also to be closer to the land and the farmers themselves. I took a job on a dude ranch in Mendocino County, managed the farmers market and began to really get local farmers excited about working with more of the local restaurants. I wrote small articles for the local paper introducing farmers and their more unique foods. From there I went on to write a small French inspired to -go food program for the Mosswood Café , worked in the kitchen at the Boonville Hotel and finally became the sous chef under Chef Patrick Meany, at the Resort at Stevenswood ,up the coast in Mendocino doing some very clever things with foraging and molecular gastronomy. And then I got sick….
Very sick actually. I was immediately hospitalized with a septic MRSA infection and spent the next week on experimental antibiotics until my body responded. My doctors and my orthopaedic surgeon decided that surgery was necessary to guarantee that the infection would not return or, as an alternative, I could carry around supplemental antibiotics and never be more than 12 hours from a hospital. It was time for a change. In between leaving California and moving back to Ohio, where my parents were waiting to support me after surgery, I began focusing on the foods that I was passionate about again. I made ferments, gorged myself on organ meats and raw milk, went to yoga what little I was able and within a few short weeks met with my surgeon in Ohio to discover that there was no reason left to follow through with the procedure! Everyone was astonished. I consider this the 2×4 to the face that the universe sent to get my attention and though I wish it hadn’t been so hard to get me to face the facts I knew that it was time. I was tired of being the invisible back end of a beautiful plate. I didn’t want to see such beautiful ingredients destroyed by ego and presentation. I wanted to elevate nature by getting out of the way and offer people the same chance to change their health that I had.
At that moment, I decided that traditional nourishing foods were exactly what I wanted to bring to the world in the form of invigorated old world traditions — Returning people to their ancestral food heritage and thus their genetic inheritance in a delicious and accessible way. I knew for sure that my heart belonged in the Pacific Northwest, so I took what money wasn’t going to spent on hospitals, and the time that wasn’t going to be spent in recovery and quickly moved to Portland to start a Community Supported Kitchen that I called Salt, Fire & Time in January 2009. The name was actually something that I’d thought of after reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma – after all what are the simplest elements for making food? – with the intention to use it for a food “pets” business in the East Bay but reconsidered – it didn’t fit. However, for what I wanted to do next, it fit the bill perfectly.
I quickly met three women who wanted to partner on the business, reconnected with an old friend from grade-school doing similar work, Abby Fammartino of Abby’s Table, and we decided to share kitchen space. My partners and I started a small donation fundraising series called Soup & Cinema in the basement of the Northstar Ballroom, courtesy of Jane Olberding who was in my milk group at the time. We would screen food movies, showcase our tastes and start a great discussion, while trying to build momentum around the idea of traditional foods and a mailing list. By April, each of my partners had decided to pursue other projects and by June I opened anyways. The business began as a prepared foods take out with a weekly changing menu, a big volunteer program, classes and weekly community dinners. By the end of the first year I was a wreck and couldn’t keep up with my own ambition. It was clear that the model I was trying to follow was not meant for one person to successfully recreate. I switched to a CSA model for prepared foods, selling members weekly boxes of bone broth, cultured veggies, fermented dairy, sprouted salads and satiating desserts. Though it was a better method for introducing the nuances of these unique ingredients, people in Portland began asking for more ability to customize their experience of these foods. My customers were evidently not the busy professionals looking to support optimal health, but instead the desperate mothers of children with developmental disabilities and people with very serious degenerative illnesses who were not able to find the quality foods they needed to manage their own recovery or that of their loved ones. For most of them even the simplest of traditional cooking techniques were a challenge and for others creating a relationship to food was a very new experience. The education piece of my business has played an enormous role in giving people the skills to work with the foods that I make successfully. By 2011 Salt, Fire & Time became a retail store and classroom offering a set menu of Nourishing, Organic Food Products and classes in collaboration with farmers, nutritional therapists and naturopaths to give my community the information that it needed to restore itself.
In April of 2015, my sister Katie joined the mix and we opened Broth Bar in Central Eastside Portland to create a real experience of bone broth as a lifestyle beverage. At present, we are expanding production so that we can improve the accessibility of these products to a larger community. This means wholesale, but it also means more employees, which we are ecstatic and grateful to have. It also offers the hope that soon we will be able to offer even more of the menu consulting, blogging and teaching that I love so much – giving folks hope and creative ambition to occupy their own kitchens. I am so grateful for the relationships that I’ve built to organizations and professionals dedicated to restoring health on an individual and community level. I believe in sustainability, seasonality, regionality, trust and transparency in our food culture.