A Chutney Love Story
How did you get started with chutney originally?
I’m sort of obsessed with condiments in general but have always been partial to Indian cuisine. Living and cooking in a restaurant in London exposed me to such a wide variety of chutneys that when I returned to NY I began making them constantly! And experimenting with more traditional North American ingredients such as apples, pears, plums. As I perfected my recipes they became holiday gifts for friends and family.
How did DP Chutney Collective come to be?
Basically from being a by-product of the economic meltdown; I was laid off from my job in the hedge fund industry in 2009. Armed with a severance check and optimistic moxie I launched The Collective in the beginning of 2010. The still relatively nascent local Brooklyn micro-food producing scene welcomed my products with kind, open arms and it’s been pretty much (slowly) uphill from there. It’s the Little Chutney Collective That Could. A dream is still alive that chutney will one day be as common as kitchen and salsa in American fridges and pantries.
I know they’re your progeny, but if you had to pick a favorite flavor among your chutneys, which would it be?
The Collective’s Juniper Berry Chutney remains fascinating to me – it was originally based on a 19th-century Scottish Highlands recipe, and for those adventurous cooks preparing wild game such as venison or pheasant at home, it’s the best accompaniment I know. Then again its taste is very redolent of gin and that’s something of which I can never get enough. Sweet Tomato Chutney with Black Mustard Seeds is perhaps the most versatile of them all so that’s being used pretty much everywhere in my personal kitchen. . . topping hamburgers, quesadillas, tucked inside goat cheese omelets. I only have time to make easy meals at home now!
How much chutney do you eat per day?
Well every single batch is handmade and I taste them all before jarring. So, A LOT!
How do the different types get chosen and come to be?
I’m inspired by a couple of things: vintage cookbooks from the heyday of chutneys in America, essentially the colonial era, and the produce available to me from the 3 or 4 small, Hudson Valley and NJ family-run farms I work with most closely. Most experiments don’t work out to the point of actually making it to store shelves. So many seemingly amazing ideas just don’t taste that good. Sadly.
On the other hand I produce a small number of “limited-edition” varieties, often slightly eccentric. Gumbo Chutney for example!
What have the challenges and rewards of creating the company been? Were they the ones you initially expected?
The rewards are definitely the positive reactions to the products, and the interaction in general with both customers and my fellow food producers here in Brooklyn. The biggest challenge – although this is happily lessening – is getting people to think about chutney as something to eat with any type of meal, not just curry to go.
Describe the perfect chutney (or is the whole point to have a variety?).
Personally I could never restrict myself to one “perfect” chutney, the flavor profiles are so different in each. I would need at least one very spicy chutney and one on the sweetest side to compliment savory dishes.
If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
Right now I’m imagining probably, as originally posited by Diana Vreeland, a life of dissipation in some decadent opium den in Hong Kong. Chutney saved me from that.