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.
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.
“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.
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.