Puente products gain cult following

Jose Castro remembers the day he realized that his Puente brand tomatillo-lime salsa had drawn a critical mass of acolytes. A customer at the Pescadero Grown! Farmer’s Market in La Honda wanted the salsa, but he was sold out—except for a jar he’d saved to give to his mother. The customer went home with the salsa.

“How could I say no?” laughs Castro.

Chefs Amy and Jose

Launched this summer, Puente’s new line of fresh jams and salsas have gained a steady following among shoppers who visit Puente’s two local farmer’s markets, looking for a taste of home.

The products – which include strawberry hibiscus and tomatillo lime jams, barbecue sauce, spicy charro beans and Castro’s signature fresh tomatillo salsa – were the brainchild of Puente Executive Director Kerry Lobel and gourmet chef Amy Glaze. Glaze taught an after-school cooking class to middle school students earlier this spring, and began a new class in mid-September. Students will continue to learn basic cooking and baking techniques, but with a twist – they will have a chance to sell items they make at the farmer’s markets. Perhaps their salads, breads and cookies will inspire their own cult following.

Roasting tomatillos

“When a student cooks for themselves, that’s one thing. But when a student cooks for somebody else, that takes it to a whole new level. You’re getting feedback from your community,” says Glaze.

Certainly Jose Castro has been Glaze’s most avid student, and she his most enthusiastic fan. Castro, a 20-year-old aspiring chef, helped Glaze inaugurate the first generation of Puente products after she tasted his tomatillo salsa.

“His salsa is off the hook. It’s exciting to watch a chef put out his products and have them be so well received,” she says.

Tomatillo Salsa, part of Puente’s new line of products

Puente’s product line sells up to 130 jars a month, though the returns are minimal.

Castro is manager of Puente’s farmer’s markets. He loves food more than anything else. All of a sudden, he finds himself collaborating with a gourmet chef. Two days a week, he and Glaze meet at a community kitchen. He’ll dice and roast the tomatillos; she’ll prepare a vat of charro beans, or make the barbecue sauce. He’s learned a lot already.

“For me to have a chef like her say it’s really, really good – it kind of raised my hopes for being a cook,” Castro says.

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