Although not a fan vegetables, once pickled, I simply cannot resist. So, my interests were piqued when I was reviewing the list of Harvest Fair winners last fall, looking for Petaluma producers, when I spied Golden State Pickle Works. It was a catchy name for sure, but one that was new to me.
As it so happens, Golden State Pickle Works has been around since 2014, although it was originally based in Sonoma. Founder and owner Samantha Paone moved to Petaluma last year to share a commercial kitchen with the likes of Bert's Desserts, Awesome Bars and the Bodega Food Truck.
In delving back through the records, I found that Golden State has earned acclaim since first entering the 2016 Harvest Fair. They cleaned up at last year's fair, with seven awards, including silver medals (kosher dill radishes and allium mayonnaise), a gold (red beet slaw), three double golds (Napa cabbage kimchi, golden beet slaw and hot sauce) and the coveted “sweepstakes” award for their overall pantry.
I first met Paone when she was sampling and selling her products at a holiday food fair held last December at the Hotel Petaluma. I recognized the name, but did not recognize the products. I was expecting pickles but the cornucopia of other offerings was both impressive and delicious. I make a mean dill pickle myself, so I often pass on tasting others' pickles, but with all those awards under her belt, I had to try everything. Paone's natural and enthusiastic ability to explain her products had me hooked immediately.
Later at her Lakeville kitchen, I not only sampled her entire line, but got to see just how easy it is to add color and flavor with a splash of beet or kimchi.
Paone prepares her deviled eggs with a multitude of flavors, including Napa cabbage kimchi; kosher dill radish; a slaw of pickled red onion with hibiscus, golden beet and turmeric; and red beet and horseradish slaw. All were beautiful and delicious, but the unexpected kosher dill radishes blew me away. Unlike a spicy radishes common to salads, these are mild and deliciously pickled.
“Cucumbers are a summer crop, so radishes make for a great winter pickle,” Paone said.
Paone got into pickling when she moved from the big city to Sonoma County to work in the restaurant industry with her future husband, Anthony. It was a big transition to a slower pace of life and pickling kept her mind busy.
“When I started shopping in grocery stores, I realized a lot of their products were produced to be kept out on the shelves, so had lots of preservatives or it had been cooked,” said Paone. “Growing up in Hawaii, we have a mish-mash of cultures and cuisines, which means lots of pickling – kimchis, krauts and slaws. The store bought stuff is mediocre at best, when compared to the fresh made. And we have the most pristine veggies locally. My sister works at restaurants in New York City and is always telling me that nothing beats California veggies.”
Paone grew up in Kilua, Oahu before moving to Colorado at 16, where she enrolled in a performing arts high school and studied clarinet. Upon graduation, she wanted to try her hand at cooking, which in her mind meant either New York City or California.
“Being from Hawaii, I was more comfortable with small towns, so I wasn't really drawn towards New York,” she said.
Paone helped open and run T-Rex Barbeque in Berkeley back in the mid-2000s (which happened to be a favorite restaurants when I lived in the East Bay). She also worked as soux chef at Prospect, which is the sister restaurant to San Francisco's venerable Boulevard, as well as at Sea Salt, Gather, 20 Spot and the two-Michelin-star Commis.
When Bill Foss, co-founder of Netscape, and co-owner of Fish, TwoXSea and McFarland Springs Farm, wanted to bring in some city chefs to his newly purchase Kenwood Restaurant, Paone and Anthony jumped at the opportunity. They would stay at Kenwood for a couple of years before Paone became a consultant for Sunflower Caffé and the Fatted Calf. She quietly began Golden State Pickle Works as Anthony moved on to his current position as executive chef at Archetype in St. Helena.
“Throughout our restaurant experiences, we have always been conscious of kitchen waste,” said Paone. “We saw an opportunity to use the stems, leaves and other trimmings that were not being used directly for the customers' dishes, which made for great pickling ingredients. We are practicing what we preached, which is to use everything.”
The name Golden State Pickle Works pays homage to Anthony's favorite hometown store, Staten Island Pickle Works, which is actually a wholesale grocer and party supply store, not a pickle company. The Golden State label is the formula for lactic acid, a key component of fermentation.