Formerly executive chef at the Gatehouse in Providence and Cheeky Monkey in Newport, Jim Maxwell, cooked in kitchens for twenty years before joining Sid’s wholesale operation four months ago. “It’s really exciting to work here and be the first in the country to see some of these products,” he says. “I’m often on the road during the week, but I love to do the demos here on Saturdays to familiarize myself with our products. People come here to get ideas for putting together gourmet-quality meals for there friends, and it’s fantastic for us to be able to interact with the customers.”
YOUNG, HIP AND learning to cook, Jennifer Neuguth and David Riordan, owners of OOP! Contemporary Gift Gallery on the east Side and in Providence Place, make the hour-plus drive from their home in Foster to New Bedford every Saturday with their one-and-a-half-year-old son, Annan, and sometimes Jennifer’s mom, Laverne.
Jennifer comes armed with a notebook, cookbook and questions, and she makes a beeline for the demo kitchen. “I never come here with a shopping list,” she explains, “but I always leave with one. I buy whatever looks good, and if I don’t know how to use it, I ask one of the chefs for ideas.”
She greets the chefs by name and reports on her cooking efforts of the previous week. “Hey, John, I made that mushroom thing and it tasted awful, but when I had it here it was yum. What did I do wrong?” The chef reviews the recipe with her.
Next she finds Jim Maxwell. “I bought the quince paste last week. What can I do with it? She wants to know. He gives her one of the mini-latkes he’s made, topped with crème fraiche and the paste. She pulls out her notebook. “Okay, what’s the recipe for this?”
“The first time I came here, which was just last year, I thought I died and gone to heaven, Jennifer says. “I’m not a great cook, and a lot of the things here I’ve never seen before. But everyone here is amazing; they’re friendly, they answer my questions and give me great ideas for new things to try. Everyone here has a real passion for food.”
NOBODY IS MORE PASSIONATE than Henry Wainer, whose grandfather started the wholesale produce business in 1914. “I travel around the world sourcing great foods. I can tell you about the farmer who produced each vegetable, each piece of cheese. I would never buy anything if I couldn’t taste it,” he explains.
How did Saturdays at Sid’s get started? “My mom always made sure we had plenty to eat, and we want our children to feel the same way. It’s in that spirit that The Gourmet Outlet really happened. One day we put a register in the warehouse, so our friends and the local community could come and shop. And now Saturdays have really become a bit of a party.”
Henry’s latest passion isn’t, as you might expect, a new food discovery. He’s bought a farm in nearby Dartmouth. His whole face lights up when he talks about it. “My wife, Marion, found it, and we’ve named it Jansal Valley Farm, after our signature product line. We really wanted to be a local producer, and well use the farm as a prototype to different crops. It will be a place where chefs from around the world can come to learn about farming and to connect where the food comes from.”
Henry ran an ad for a farmer to run the place, and twenty-two people responded. After visiting many of these local farmers, he put 1,200 acres under contract to produce for Sid Wainer and Son. “That’s a bevy of farmland!” Henry says with pride. “Were saving family farms.”
Born and raised in New Bedford, Henry claims he never thought about working anywhere else. “I wake up every morning and do what I dream.”
WHEN SHE WAS 16, Lori Cormier started working at Sid’s as cashier in what was then more like a market. Today she manages the retail store as well as the gift basket division. She’s there every Saturday, greeting customers, pointing out what’s new (organic produce, luscious frozen ravioli), making sure people can find what they need. If you don’t see it ask Lori. Whether its asparagus in October or edible flowers or porcini mushrooms or Anasazi beans, chances are good that Sid’s has it.
Be warned: all of this abundance doesn’t come cheap. While there are a few bargains and occasional items on sale, Sid’s is all about quality, at whatever price.
As it gets closer to noon, Jim Maxwell whips up a vegetable frittata with farmhouse cheddar. Tiffany Ogburn, another marketing rep and Saturday chef, sautés smoked scallops with anise honey. John Verrier heads into the store for inspiration and ingredients; a customer stops him and asks for advice. In the demo kitchen, Jennifer Neuguth exchanges recipe ideas with other Sid’s devotees. Her son wields a sippy cup in one hand and a marinated artichoke in the other.
It’s a typical Saturday at Sid Wainer and Son. Everyone eating, everyone’s having a blast. No one goes home empty-handed.