By Elizabeth Keyser
Update 2012: Chef Marc Alvarez is now the head chef at Farmer and the Fish. Farmer & the Fish is located within the 22 acre Purdy Land Trust in North Salem, New York in a beautiful 18th century house that dates back to 1775. http://farmerandthefish.com/. Concierge Foods no longer operates as a business.
Marc Alvarez wants to be your local food source and cooking coach. The former personal chef to fashion designer Donna Karan (and celebrities he cannot name) started Concierge Foods, a web-based food delivery service, to connect consumers with the best local and organically raised food – produce, poultry, seafood, dairy products, grains and legumes, honey, jam, coffee and tea.
The Bedford, NY business recently expanded delivery to Greenwich and Stamford, CT. Alvarez picks up products from farms, markets and producers in New York state, New York City and Lancaster, PA, packages customers’ orders and delivers to their door. He makes the first delivery himself and spends a minimum of twenty minutes with the customer sharing information about the provenance of the products they ordered, how to store and cook them, and answers any questions. “A lot of times people don’t know what to do with local products. They would buy more if they knew a few ways to prepare it. Squash for example is so versatile. I make soups, stews, ravioli and gnocchi with it.”
His formal CIA training and solid background as a restaurant chef inform his knowledge of products and quality. His mentor Frank Crispo of Crispo Restaurant in New York City taught Alvarez to cook with whole animals, a rare talent that’s very much in demand now. Alvarez is fluent in head cheese, guanciale, offal and belly and wants to educate the consumer about these lesser-known cuts. He encourages people to cook at home and eat healthier. Concierge’s website includes recipes for dishes ranging from Oatmeal & Sweet Potato Breakfast Bars to Braised Lamb Shoulder with Carrots, Fennel and Thyme. Alvarez is ready to answer questions like “What do I do with kohlrabi?”, “What’s the best way to cook grass-fed beef?” or “Oh, no, I’ve ruined the potatoes, they’re way too salty.” He says his goal is to educate people about the product.
In just six months, business has grown 140 percent, a sign that Alvarez is correct when he says that a lot of people want super-fresh, healthy, local, sustainably and organically raised food, but “don’t have the time to run around to farmers’ markets.” Concierge’s customers like being able to order whatever they want each week, rather than participating in a farm CSA, in which they must accept what’s in their basket each week. A number of customers have discovered Alvarez’ farm-to-door delivery service after enjoying his food at private events. “I create seasonal menus for private parties that expose people to the best of local food. When they ask where they can get ingredients like the ones I use, I refer them to the website.”
Alvarez makes his rounds to a wide range of farms and markets, and updates Concierge’s website with information on available products every Sunday. Customers order online and Concierge’s vans deliver within 48 hours, Tuesday through Saturday. The delivery fee is $5 for the Bedford, Greenwich and Stamford area, and is $20 for customers in Woodstock, NY and points north. He’s looking forward to serving Connecticut residents as far east as Westport and Fairfield where the delivery fee will be $10.
Fall produce is being sourced from Blue Star Farms in Columbia County, NY. Lacinato kale, Siberian kale, three types of onions, two types of cabbages – Savoy and Tendersweet – plus Kabocha and Sweet Mama squash.
Chickens come from John Boy’s Farm in upstate New York. Alvarez praises the firm texture and off-white color of the flesh. It reflects the chickens being raised in pastures and the high quality of their feed, which is organically grown and GMO-free.
Beef comes from several sources. Snow Hill Organic Farm in North Salem, NY is producing 100-percent grass-fed Certified Angus beef that’s “the best I’ve tasted,” says Alvarez. He notes that it’s best cooked slow and low or quickly seared. Brandt Beef in California provides what Alvarez calls his “middle tier” offering – cuts of naturally raised, Devon cows that “are tender and have a nice beef flavor.”
Milk, from grass-fed, organically raised cows, comes from Natural by Nature in Lancaster, PA. It is pasteurized at a low-temperature and packaged in refundable glass bottles.
Artisan and farmstead cheeses are sourced from a small collective of dairy farms in the Hudson Valley called the Pampered Cow. Familiar names like Old Chatham Sheepherding Company can be purchased alongside new ones like Hawthorne Valley, whose Aged Alpine is the only Demeter Certified Biodynamic farmstead cheese available on the market.
Sustainable seafood comes from Down East Seafood, which he picks up fresh weekly at Hunt’s Point. Pole-and-line caught Bigeye tuna, Icelandic cod, and Wild King Salmon – all rated “Best Choice” on Seafood Watch’s guide to sustainable seafood, plus black sea bass and lump blue crab meat – both “Good Alternatives” in the guide, are currently available. Alvarez is planning to add American caviar to Concierge’s offerings.
Because Alvarez is an accomplished chef and knows the joys of working with the best seasonal ingredients from around the world, he doesn’t limit Concierge’s offerings. “People want organic lemons, limes and avocados,” he said. He gets white truffles from Italy, and “beautiful black mission figs.” Before making additions to Concierge’s offerings, Alvarez cooks with new ingredients and holds tastings with chef friends.
On his desk at Concierge’s facility in Bedford is a book on winter gardening by Eliot Coleman. Alvarez will provide winter produce from Satur Farm on Long Island, the cooperatives in Lancaster, PA, and Blue Star Farms in Stuyvesant, N.Y. “I’m trying to get more farms growing into the winter season. Spinach, carrots and arugula all taste better in the winter.”
Alvarez says Concierge’s business has grown organically. And he’s got plans brewing. He’s looking into getting a commercial kitchen so that he can provide Concierge’s customers with prepared foods. “I’m getting lots of requests for prepared foods but I’m not going to cook everything for them. The starch and vegetable will be cooked but a protein like salmon will be marinated so it can be cooked fresh at home. Things like braises will be fully cooked because their flavor improves from being made a day ahead.” A kitchen will allow him to save money and waste little when he buys a whole hog, for instance. “I’ll make guanciale and head cheese. I’ll brine and smoke ham steaks from one leg and grind the other to make pork sausages,” he says.
His ultimate dream is to have a commercial kitchen and teaching space on a farm – a place to grow, cook and teach. “I just need the right person to partner with,” he says. When he visits farms, he notices products farmers might overlook. Recently, he noticed fennel stalks loaded with seeds. “What are you doing with those seeds?” he asked the farmer. He was met with a blank expression. “Grind them up and sell them for dry rubs,” Alvarez said.
This winter he’s planning a test, working with four farmers and providing them with seed money to grow what he knows he can sell. His dream is to get area farmers to work cooperatively and give them some financial security.
“I want to build a community,” he says.
Chef/owner Marc Alvarez
357 Adams Street
Bedford Hills, NY 10507