"The biggest challenge to scaling up is retaining the spirit, craftsmanship and desire that you brought to it in the beginning."
Since we last visited Rick Field in January 2009, this New York-based brinemaster has continued to rock the pickling world: expanding his distribution to retailers across the country; celebrating the company's sixth anniversary in March 2010; introducing two new pickle varieties (the People's Pickle, a deli-style garlic pickle, and Hotties, which include Sriracha and habanero powder in the brine); debuting the "Stickle," the Kool Gherk pickle on a stick at the New Amsterdam Market; and showing up on the Martha Stewart Show and in the pages of Oprah's O Magazine.
We had a chance to chat with Rick about the creation of new pickles and what's in store for 2011.
You started out with a career in television. What was it like for you to make the leap to being an entrepreneur? TV was great—but my career there hit a dead spot and I'd been nurturing my pickle habit for several years at that point. So the transition was less of a leap and more of a creeping evolution. I did not begin Rick's Picks with a specific goal or point of inspiration, other than wanting to take what I had loved doing at home and bringing it to the public.
What's your process for developing a new recipe? A lot of trial and error in a steamy kitchen, usually fueled by Tecate and accompanied by Beau Jocque on my iPod. Once the scratch recipe tastes great, and still tastes great after being made the same way a couple more times, I do a formal recipe process than involves meticulous weighing of ingredients (down to the gram) and monitoring of timings.
These details become critical when you are doing something commercially, whereas at home, if each batch comes out a bit differently, that can be a pleasure in and of itself.
Have you had any recipes that were spectacular failures? I have a recipe for pickled eggs that absolutely, positively should never be made by anyone as it is so terrible.
You were a very small operation at the beginning. What were some of the biggest challenges to scaling up the business? Many of the issues that involved scaling up were not especially particular to pickling: access to capital, having enough time to do everything, and do it to a standard that I could endorse. But I think the biggest challenge to scaling up a business like this is retaining the spirit, craftsmanship and desire that you brought to it in the beginning. I am very vigilant about this.
In the last few years, there has been an explosion of local picklers—McClures, Brooklyn Brine—why do you think pickles have become so popular recently? We all spend way too much time staring at screens: phones, TVs, computers. Making pickles is very tactile, and also reminds us warmly of earlier times when things were not as crazy. Intimate craft-based activities that involve using your hands are, I feel, an increasingly welcome antidote to the oftentimes isolating digital world we inhabit.
This year you were part of a book, The Art of Preserving. Tell us a little about it. Williams Sonoma was familiar with my product line and asked me to contribute recipes on preserving vegetables for the art of preserving. The book is quite comprehensive and has excellent photographs; my favorite recipe is for a pickled fennel in a citrus brine. We made it with a class recently at Murray's Cheese.
Can you suggest a unique dish or drink using one of your pickles or brine? We had an in-house recipe contest last fall whereby each person that works here got 10 bucks to spend on stuff at the Greenmarket, and then had to make something delicious with it that incorporated pickles. The results were wide-ranging and inspiring. I made a Polish-style potato soup with the People's Pickle and Pepi Pep Pep-infused croutons.
Do you have a favorite among your pickles? My favorite Rick's Picks pickle is the next one.
What does 2011 have in store for Rick's Picks? Our first new item for 2011 is going to be a shelf-stable version of a barrel-style half sour... we are calling it Classic Sours, and we hope you like it!