Photo by Joel Laino
Serendipity characterizes every aspect of Marietta and Alan DeAngelo’s latest business venture, currently called Culinary Imports, but subject to change—as has so much of what they originally set out to do. From inside their sprawling, tastefully appointed 18th-century farmhouse, complete with a Euro-inspired home pub, the husband-and-wife wonder duo describes the serpentine path that has led to their becoming the exclusive importers of Stöger finishing oils for North America.
Founded in 2009, and born from European sensibilities that include the couple’s shared penchant for traveling, dining, and entertaining, their now, burgeoning business has deep roots—roots that grow in Austrian soil. Stöger Oils, the initial and now primary product distributed by the DeAngelos, includes gourmet seed, nut, and herb oils cold-pressed on a pumpkin farm in Neuruppersdorf—a small village north of Vienna. At age 15, Marietta went overseas as an exchange student and lived with the Stöger family; it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship.
Fast-forward 20 years. The Stögers sent Marietta and Alan seven plane tickets so they, along with their five children, could visit the farm where, once again, she ate pumpkin seed oil at every meal. “Austrians,” explains Marietta, “use the oil in lieu of butter. They drizzle it over everything from soup to eggs to sandwiches and potato salad.” And after every meal, they indulge in pumpkin seed oil–drizzled ice cream sundaes. “We ate sundaes with the kids for 10 days,” she recalls. “At the end [of the trip], I said, ‘This is so good, why don’t we have it?’”
They packed 216 bottles into seven suitcases and headed home. Back in the States, the couple targeted Manhattan as the best place to begin pedaling the product. They sold all 216 bottles in one afternoon. “We came home from New York and I thought, ‘We have a business,’” says Marietta. They then set about introducing the oil to North Shore grocers. Newburyport’s Grand Trunk Old World Market and Joppa Fine Foods were among the first to carry it.
Meanwhile, in Austria, the Stöger family was under the false impression that it would cost them $10,000 to get FDA-approved for overseas distribution. Marietta did some research and discovered it doesn’t cost anything. “At the time, we really didn’t know what we were doing,” confesses Marietta. “We downloaded Business in a Box [software] and started filling out forms.” Their original idea was to start with the oil and branch out to include other culinary imports from around the world—hence the company name.
By 2011, the Stöger’s pumpkin seed oil was gaining notoriety. It was awarded first prize in its category for the Gourmet Products Award. In 2012, the DeAngelos attended the Summer Fancy Food Show held in Washington, D.C., and set up in the Austrian aisle. They viewed it as a fun trip, not much more than a chance to spend time together and help their Austrian friends sell a little oil.
During that trip, they met the owners of New Mexico’s Los Chileros, Chuck Waghorne and Ian Johnson, who specialize in mixes, salsas, and rubs, among other items. The foursome hit it off. The DeAngelos were asked to share their business plan. At that time, the Stöger family primarily pressed pumpkin seeds, though people would go to them with different types of seeds because they own an expeller press. Waghorne and Johnson suggested the DeAngelos branch out to include other seeds and oils. They also recommended redesigning the label and changing the “awful bottle” to something sleek. They provided connections, they rebranded the line, and they invested in the business.
“They basically took us under their wing, and now refer to us as their ‘kids,’” says Marietta. “They taught us everything they possibly could and made every connection for us that they could.” Three months later, they were carrying tomato, cherry, and chili seed oils.
In 2013, those oils were recognized at the Winter Fancy Food Show as being among the hottest food trends. Additionally, the tomato seed oil was named First Bite Editor’s Choice. “All the oils were nominated for Outstanding Product Line, and we were also nominated for Best Oil.” They won their first sofi Award. “The sofi is like the Oscars of the food world,” explains Marietta. They are now in pos- session of a silver award for the whole line and a sofi (for the cherry seed oil), which takes center stage in their cozy little farmhouse pub.
“That winter was insanity,” exclaims Marietta. “USA Today, Money, Nightly Business Report...everybody was there [when] we were nominated as a Top Five Food Trend for 2013.” By January, they were selling oils in 165 Whole Foods; at Bed, Bath & Beyond stores in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Los Angeles; in HomeGoods locations; and for Williams-Sonoma. “We were in all these stores within three months.... It absolutely exploded.”
Today, Stöger Oils are sold in retail bottles in bulk liter containers, and they are offered through private labels. All are gluten free, vegan, packed with nutrients, and in line with the current “clean living” trend. In fact, the oils were named by Prevention magazine as among the top 100 “cleanest packaged foods.” Healthwise, the pumpkin seed oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids; zinc; vitamins A, C, and E; and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is even said to be good for men’s prostate health and a cure for balding (Alan does have a full head of hair), and it has been used as a self-tanning agent.
In early September of 2014, the couple closed a deal with Sam’s Club for 50 pallets of oil to be distributed in 50 stores. Beginning November 15, a three-pack, which includes the newly introduced hazelnut oil, along with the pumpkin and chili seed oils, will be available for purchase.
Such has been the trajectory of Stöger Oils. But Culinary Imports also claims Biozoon food texturizers among their wares. Years ago, when they were still peddling the oils on foot, the owner of Praline—a small Newburyport bakery no longer in business—made a request for Biozoon molecular gastronomy products. That inquiry turned out to be the genesis of another branch of the business. There was a cookbook available in the United States that incorporated the products, but the products were not available. So Marietta and Alan got to work.
When Marietta contacted the Biozoon manufacturer in Germany, he asked her to serve as their United States distributor. She asked for leads. He gave her the head buyer from MGM Mirage in Las Vegas and the lead scientist from Kraft Foods, among others. The DeAngelos wanted to be the exclusive distributor to North America. Biozoon went for it. Today, Culinary Imports carries 17 different powders, each of which, when mixed with a liquid, causes a different molecular reaction. The all-natural additives are derived from plants, and are the result of experiments conducted by renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià.
“We sort of happened onto that by accident,” says Alan, “right when [molecular gastronomy] was starting to become more mainstream.” That was the winter of 2010. They ordered 17 cases from Biozoon—one case of each additive— and began learning about the materials.
During their research, they discovered that Top Chef’s Michael Voltaggio used the products on the show. Marietta emailed him to say, “We are the exclusive importers of these products, and we really don’t know how to use them. I don’t even know if they are any good.” She offered to send him some “to play with.” Within a week Voltaggio’s agent called to invite the couple to Beverly Hills “to discuss things.”
Though that relationship ultimately soured, in time, a new line from Culinary Imports was up and running. At that point, they considered the cold-pressed oils as second to the Biozoon products, which they viewed as the more profitable brand.
Having acquired a firm understanding of Biozoon materials (they spent an entire summer in Germany with the manufacturer), they began traveling around and training chefs on how to use them. “They are different from raw materials and require a conversion chart,” notes Marietta. “Some five-star restaurants do use them, but it is difficult even for them. If they learned about molecular gastronomy in school, they were using raw materials. So, there’s a learning curve.” There is also a stigma attached to such additives. They are the “instant pudding” of the molecular gastronomy scene. For that reason, the DeAngelos are now targeting home chef consumers. At food shows, Alan demonstrates molecular mixology cocktail recipes, which people tend to really enjoy.
Today, the couple’s efforts to grow the business also include importing and distributing the Stöger’s organic Styrian whole pumpkin seeds, available raw or roasted and salted. Now shipped from the farm in 11-pound bags, the seeds will be available in retail packs by the end of this year. Another of their immediate goals is to promote the Stöger and Biozoon brands separately. A fresh new website reflects the division of Stöger Oils and Culinary Imports into two distinct entities.
Culinary Imports may have morphed into something unexpected, but true to the original vision, it is a real international effort—with farmers in Austria, a graphic designer in Colorado, mentors in New Mexico, a photographer/web developer in Portland, Maine, and buyers all over the United States. Years ago, when the idea was but a pumpkin seed, Marietta and Alan struck a deal with the Stögers. “If we were successful at selling their oils in the States,” explains Alan, “then they would have to come here for a visit. They’ve never left their little village. They said they would, but they haven’t,” he laughs “because now we are keeping them busy.”
Spicy Cold Noodles
1/2 lb. fettuccine
1/2 lb. bean sprouts
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
2 tbsp. sesame paste
1/2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. peanut butter
4 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. Stöger chile seed oil
Blanch bean sprouts in boiling water for 10 seconds and rinse with cold water. Boil noodles. Mix remaining ingredients and toss with noodles and bean sprouts. Drizzle with chile seed oil. ￼
4 c. plain Greek yogurt
1 mango, cubed
1 peach, cubed
2-3 tbsp. honey
4 tbsp. Stöger cherry seed oil
2 tbsp. dark chocolate, shaved
Mix together yogurt, honey, and Stöger cherry seed oil. In a glass, layer the yogurt with fruit alternately. Garnish with shaved chocolate curls and drizzle with Stöger cherry seed oil.
Go-To BBQ Mop Sauce
1/2 c. ketchup
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard ￼
1/4 c. honey
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. Stöger pumpkin seed oil
Combine, mix well, and mop on while grilling. (Save some for dunking!)
WHERE TO FIND IT
The Natural Grocer
334 High St., Newburyport, 978-463-8713, thenaturalgrocer.net
108 High Rd., Rt. 1A, Newbury, 978-462-6972, tendercropfarm.com
16 Atlantic Ave., Marblehead, 781-631-0149, shubies.com