Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund
"She had a way of talking about the makers, the process, and the products that made it all taste like magic."
I find myself daydreaming about New York a lot lately. I am sure, with Gjelina New York so close on the horizon, I am in good company. Having worked for 10 years in New York before relocating to Los Angeles, I have so many wonderful memories of the food, the wine, and the incredible humans who make hospitality in New York so special. I wanted to share a little about one person in particular who shaped my perspective on food, and on our industry as a whole.
I met Anne Saxelby for the first time in my very first kitchen job in New York. I was working as a pastry cook in a restaurant right by Lincoln Center. We used to have the most intense pre-theater rushes, and ran a pre-fixe menu for our first seating to ensure we could get all our guests to their events on time. For the savory kitchen I am sure this streamlined things tremendously, but for pastry it was a monumental task. Generally 30% of tables get dessert, often guests are sharing, but for pre-fixe menus every guest gets their own dish. We offered a choice of desserts, ice creams or cheese, so picture 120 beautiful plates going out to tables all at once, much of it cheese. Anne Saxelby was a cheesemonger in New York, and she curated our cheese selections for the restaurant. It was a highlight whenever she appeared with a bag full of samples of cheese for us to taste. I had no say over the cheeses we selected, but was allowed on condition of silence to participate in her tastings.
Any day that I am presented with an array of cheese is a good day, but with Anne it was something much more special. She had a way of talking about the makers, the process, and the products that made it all taste like magic. It's no wonder that she was such a successful champion of artisanal American cheeses, in a market dominated by European imports.
It became a holiday tradition for my brother and I to go to her shop in Essex Market and ask her what cheese we should be eating. Everything in her booth was a spectacular journey to taste, with a story to match. I will never forget the first time I tasted Red Rock, from Roelli Cheese Haus in Wisconsin. She passed us this electric orange sliver with a blue vein running through it. I had never tasted anything like it before. Then again, most of the morsels she passed over that counter were unlike anything I had ever tasted.
Later on in my professional life I was working at a restaurant that made a lot of pizza among other things. At this point I thought I had stretched enough mozzarella curd to know a thing or two about making cheese. Anne came by with a sample of fermented mozzarella curd, and did a demo with us about making mozzarella, stracciatella and burrata with this special curd. She had a warmth and a way of sharing her expertise that dissolved the chip on my shoulder and sparked even more curiosity and awe about how cheese is made, and also the people who do this tactile, iterative, and painstaking process. Writing this now, I am a little overcome with the fact that humans make milk, salt and micro-organisms into all the different chunks on a cheese board. Some of the cheeses we have at Gjusta Grocer take years of attention and care to reach our plates. In the handful of times our paths crossed, I got my sense of wonder from Anne Saxelby.
Anne passed away in 2021. I was reminded of her recently because I was sent a link to the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund. The fund provides month-long paid apprenticeships for young adults to live, work, and learn on sustainable farms. The 18 farms and creameries on the list are some of the most exciting farms and cheese producers in the country. We stock the incredible products from Jasper Hill, Blakesville Creamery, Spring Brook Farm and Big Picture Farm to name a few. I am thrilled the next generations of professionals working in food have the opportunity to participate in this program, and to be paid for their time.
It breaks my heart a little to know that Anne won’t pop into the kitchen at Gjelina in New York with a bag full of wonder for Chefs Juan and Pedro and their team. But you better believe, the next time I am in New York, my first stop will be the Saxelby Cheese counter in Chelsea Market asking the team what cheese I should be eating.