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red cap patisserie chocolate

Local food takes the guilt out of guilty pleasures

Case Study: Red Cap Patisserie

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

When you buy local food, your money stays in your community instead of going to some faraway corporate headquarters. Buy local food and your dollars create jobs at local farms, food distribution systems like Seasonal Roots, and food artisans like Red Cap Patisserie, which employs eight talented people in Richmond, Virginia.

red cap patisserie local jobs

So you can indulge that craving for, say, handmade chocolate, guilt-free, with Red Cap’s Dark Chocolate Toasted Almond Sour Cherry Bark. Not only is it good for the community, it’s also better for you than mass-produced chocolate. It’s freshly made, with no preservatives or artificial flavors.

And you can feel virtuous about it, too — compared to the global industrial food complex, food from a local artisan like Red Cap Patisserie uses less fuel and produces less CO2. So local food belches fewer greenhouse gases and fights global warming. That’s cool.

(Read this full list of 10 ways local food helps you live better.)

For two decades, pastry chef Martine Wladar handcrafted delicious treats for cafés and restaurants in New York City and New Jersey. We talked with her husband and partner John about how they found their way to Richmond, Virginia, where they now work together on their unique take on traditional French- and European-inspired fare.

red cap patisserie martine & john

VEGGIE FAIRY:

You both grew up in New Jersey. How did you wind up in Richmond’s historic Fan district?

JOHN:

It was a corporate relocation on my part in 2013. Martine had been working in the food industry for years, so we created a kitchen in our home where she could bake more seriously than she could with a residential oven. We signed up for the Saint Stephen’s Farmers Market and did that regularly.

red cap patisserie farmers market

After a couple years, a space opened up in the Fan and we were fortunate enough to acquire it. That let us open the retail operation and expand the commercial operation. Meanwhile I left my corporate job and began working for Martine. I’ve only been fired a couple times and she always takes me back.

red cap patisserie ribbon cutting

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Ha! But… not all couples can actually work together without killing each other. What’s your secret?

JOHN:

It’s something we work very hard at. We’ve been married since 1988, but when we embarked on this it changed our dynamic in many ways. You learn to be patient and just be quiet and listen and really try to hear the other person, which is a good practice whether you work together or not!

red cap patisserie handmade caramel

VEGGIE FAIRY:

So in our market, to start with you’ll be offering Chocolate Chip Brownies, Salty Sweet Pecans, super adorable Marshmallow Chicks, Sea Salt Caramels, and lots of dark chocolate treats. In addition to that, in your shop you offer all kinds of freshly baked sweet and savory pastries. How do you decide what to offer?

JOHN:

What we offer is guided by Martine’s intuition and inspiration. She’s had a lifelong love for baking and cooking. She’s taken various courses at cooking schools and perfected her skills on the job, and opening the shop was a unique opportunity to pull her expertise together in both baking and cooking.

red cap patisserie martine

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How did Martine learn the chocolate side of the business?

JOHN:

She has worked with Jacques Torres, who is a famous French chocolate master. When we opened this place she said, “You know, eventually I really want to offer chocolate!” Within a year and a half we had built up enough in-house staff to break out and offer chocolate treats and caramel. She really loves caramel, so we do our own caramel in-house and blend our own chocolate in-house. We like a particular chocolate taste. Some chocolates are too bitter, some have too much “cherry” flavor, some are just too sweet. We blend it to hit that sweet spot in between.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

How do you choose your ingredients?

JOHN:

It’s about quality in terms of the craft of making an excellent product that you can feel good about eating. Whenever possible, we source our ingredients locally. We’ll barter at the farmers market for eggs. We’re using real ingredients — real cream, real butter, real flour. No ingredients you can’t recognize or pronounce. That makes for a delicious product and a healthier one, even when it’s a treat.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

What’s your carbon footprint like?

JOHN:

We’re local, so we’re close to our customers. We also aim for sustainability in packaging. We try not to use any styrofoam and reduce the amount of plastic packaging we use as well as the packaging our supplies come in. We recycle everything that leaves the kitchen — unlike larger establishments, where everything just goes in the dumpster.

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red cap patisserie martine pastry chef

Red Cap Patisserie shares Seasonal Roots’ mission to make the world a better place through local food! If you want to see the full range of Martine’s creations, check out the mouthwatering photo gallery on the Red Cap Patisserie Instagram page. If you’re inspired to stop by Martine and John’s shop the next time you’re in Richmond, you’ll find directions on their website.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pasture-raised dairy, eggs, and meat, plus wholesome artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

farm at red hill ginger turmeric

Ginger and turmeric

They’re good for your health and this local family farm


By the Seasonal Roots Veggie Fairy Team:

Ginger and turmeric are both ancient spices known for fighting inflammation and boosting your immune system. Ginger is also an old-time remedy for nausea. Best of all, they do it all with amazing flavor — from ginger’s spicy sweetness with lemon undertones, to turmeric’s gentle notes of lemony mint.

ginger turmeric health benefits

The ginger puree and turmeric puree in our home-delivered farmers market is great in smoothies! And it’s grown by Wendy and Richard on the Farm at Red Hill outside Charlottesville, Va. The husband-and-wife team make a variety of artisan foods to jazz up any meal, and it’s all fresh, with no preservatives, no added sugar, and gluten free.

According to Wendy, they got their start making local artisan food thanks to a bumper crop of tomatoes.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Have you always been farmers?

WENDY:

Nope, electrical contractors! But 12 years ago when our two kids were little we were looking for something that would be more conducive to family life. We had five acres, and luckily Richard is very handy and an electrician. We bought all our equipment at auction or on eBay, built four greenhouses, and started growing all sorts of vegetables.

farm at red hill

I’m not a farmer and neither is Richard, but we’ve learned so much — we literally knew nothing. We’ve learned that the number of mistakes you can make is just incredible! We also learned that if you show up good things happen. We started selling what we were growing in the Charlottesvile farmers market. And we had great success! Until the middle of summer when everyone and their grandmother is growing tomatoes. We wound up feeding a lot of ours to our chickens. They were happy but we weren’t making any money.

farm at red hill all-natural salsa

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Oh no! How’d you stay in business?

WENDY:

Well, Richard started making salsa and gazpacho. We were growing sorrel, too, which is a lemon flavored herb, and a friend bought it to make hummus instead of using lemon juice. That inspired us to start making hummus. One thing led to another. We started making jam because our whole farm is a no-spray zone. We didn’t want to send the kids out to pick things for dinner and then have to warn them to put on gloves just to go in the greenhouse or the orchard. But no-spray means we have delicious but ugly peaches that no one would buy. So we made jam. That was really popular. Pretty soon, the artisan foods we were making got to be more popular than the fruits and vegetables we were growing.

farm at red hill all-natural tzatziki

The English Cucumbers were the reason for our tzatziki and gazpacho. The ginger and turmeric are our newest crops and they inspired us to do the fresh grated vacuum packed items along with the jam. The trick was learning how to make everything in a way that it would have a long enough life without using preservatives, since we’re all-natural.

VEGGIE FAIRY:

What do you use instead of preservatives?

WENDY:

Shutting out the air by vacuum packing is one way. Also, lemon is a natural preservative. Of course that makes things sour, so to counteract that in the salsa we add carrots, which are naturally sweet. We don’t add sugar to anything. You look at salsas in the grocery store and even a lot of the all-natural ones still put sugar in there. Even if they call it stevia or agave, it’s still a form of sugar.

farm at red hill all-natural local food

VEGGIE FAIRY:

Do you still make it all yourselves?

WENDY:

We’ve grown so much we’re able to employ other people, too, to help us make and distribute everything. We’re providing jobs for eight people right here in our community.

the farm at red hill

VEGGIE FAIRY:

So did farming turn out to be good for your family life?

WENDY:

Oh, the kids were mortified when we started out. They didn’t want to be farmers! But now, twelve years later, they like to say their parents have a farm. Now it’s a status thing. But it’s more than that. When our daughter was applying to colleges, for her essay she wrote, “What does a teenage girl and a rooster have in common? The answer is absolutely nothing.” She wrote about how she was tortured and mortified to be the child of a farmer. But in the end, she wrote, “I can’t believe that ten years later, I can now see that when life gives you tomatoes, you can make salsa!”

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Check out Wendy and Richard’s ginger puree, turmeric puree, jam, hummus, tzatziki, and more in the Extras section of our home-delivered farmers market. You can also visit the Farm at Red Hill on Facebook.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pasture-raised dairy, eggs, and meat, plus wholesome artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.