Sunday, April 18, 2010

La Vie Organic

By Bridget LeRoy

I come from a long line of salesmen and food.

My great-grandfather, Harry LeRoy (Mervyn's father), started off as a pickle salesman on a horse and wagon when he first reached San Francisco, and ended up as the proprietor of one of the biggest dry goods emporiums in the city. Unfortunately, his business collapsed - literally - during the big quake of '06.

Mervyn himself, before going to Hollywood, sold newspapers, although this looks a little too posed to be an "actual" photo. Vaudeville, anyone?

The Warner brothers -- Harry, Jack, Milton, Abe, and Sam -- were shoemakers in Baltimore before they took the train to the West Coast to invent talkies. Living in the slums of that Maryland port, they opened a shoestore on the corner of Pratt and Light Streets. The big difference between them and the other shoemakers in the Jewish ghetto? They sprung all their savings on a big window, and they made their shoes in front of the passing crowds.

That's my great-grandpa Harry in the upper left.

I like to think of it as a scene from "Cocktail," you know, Jack and Milton tossing shoes back and forth, Abe juggling the tools with Harry on his shoulders, but in those days entertainment values were less elite. It was probably interesting enough to just watch your shoes get made.

On my mother's side of the family, all of her Italian aunts and uncles who had settled within the same few blocks of Highland Park, New Jersey, had these amazing gardens. My mother remembers, as a child, being able to pick just about any kind of fruit or vegetable from the backyards - peaches, apples, figs, plums, grapes, tomatoes of every shape and color, peppers, onions, beets, greens, peas, beans, melons, and more.

Once a year, the families would bring their harvests together and everyone from youngest to oldest would help to "put up" the crops for the winter. Everyone would walk out with enough homemade wine, tomato sauce, pickled vegetables, fruit preserves, and other delicacies to fill their cellars and last through the winter until the next seeds were planted.

Then, of course, there was this guy.

He was in the food business too.

So it seems only natural that La Vie Organic would come into my life.

Pamela Willoughby, a chef and art dealer extraordinaire, contacted me when she was on her way back East from Santa Fe, and I was wending my way here too.

"This is what we should do," she said excitedly. "We should deliver fresh organic produce from some of the North Fork farms to people's houses in the Hamptons."

I thought she was a fruitcake.

My Yankee mind ('member, I've been up in New Hampshire for nine years) said, "Who the hell is going to pay to have food delivered to their homes when they can get in the goddamn car and go to the goddamn store and get it themselves?"

Then I moved back here and I remembered what the lines were like. It's like waiting for fucking Splash Mountain, and the season hasn't even started yet. And the availability of really good organic stuff for not-too-much money is hard, if not impossible, to find.

Pamela is also renowned for several of her dishes, including her Key Lime pie.

Go ahead, ask me, "Bridget, if you could have just one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?" Go ahead. Just ask.

Anyway, Pam and I have formed a company that will be starting in a few weeks, called La Vie Organic, where we will deliver fresh organic produce straight from the ground to your home in the Hamptons for a reasonable price. And not just any organic produce, this is high-quality stuff. Baby purple kohlrabi, wasabi greens, baby golden beets, purple and green cauliflower... the list goes on and on with the most precious and exquisite veggies.

Pam is also preparing additional foods, like French Lentil salad, tabouleh, soups, cedar-planked salmon, and other items that will make it easy for people on limited budgets to both have food delivered and to entertain. And Key Lime pie. Of course!

And yes, we know that if it were actually a completely French name, it would be "La Vie Biologique." But that sounds like skin care, don't you think? Anyway, La Vie Organic it is.

Pamela and I are catering a few events as well. I wonder if people will just think me some madcap heiress, "slumming it" by serving, when I used to be, well, served. But to me, this is a business I can be proud of, that I can make money doing, and where I can help spread healthy eating habits to others.

I am still proud owner of the New London Inn, and will continue to remain involved with the administrative decisions with the General Manager, Sandi Raeuchle. But for now, I'll be bagging groceries with a smile.

Harry LeRoy would be proud.

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