The Pickler

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Erin Loechner for Clementine Daily’s “Inspired Interviews”. Check out the interview below and read even more interviews with amazing modern women.
Image Credit:
Image c/o Kassia Binkowski

It’s one thing to concoct a new favorite recipe in your kitchen, but it’s something entirely different to build a business around those ingredients. Meet Willow King, co-founder and CEO of Ozuké – the gal who did just that. In an effort to provide good quality nutrition for her children, she and a girlfriend refined a recipe for pickled foods to create Ozuké – the latest organic food brand making its way on to tables across the country. Equal parts mother to two sweet boys, business owner, and farmer’s market purveyor, Willow’s life exists somewhere between the down home living and cut throat entrepreneurialism that define Boulder, CO. From her sweet definition of success to her admirable work ethic, she may just be one of the most authentic fermentos we’ve ever met!

Read her inspired conversation with creative director Kassia Binkowski:

Where do we start? With connections to the local food movement, organic agriculture and physical health, you’ve been able to build so many dimensions of personal and social wellbeing into Ozuké’s business model. What did your path from a wholesome meal to a socially responsible business look like – and what sustains you to keep it growing?

Well, I would not say that it was a straight and narrow path. Loving food and food culture was certainly the seed for starting this business but I have had to learn many things along the way. There are so many pieces to running a business. Financials and accounting, tax law and incorporation status, marketing, logistics, certifications – you get my drift. The learning curve has been steep, but it has been great to add things to my toolbox and there are so many rewards. I love seeing the pigs from a local farmer gobble up our compost, I love the pickle jokes and jovial vibe of our staff in the kitchen, I love knowing that the food we make supports organic farmers and in some small way helps back that movement in this country. I love hearing from people that the food we make helps them feel healthy and good. I love the slow food, slow money, slow ferment ethos that we have grown our business with: linking the pleasure of good food with commitment to the community and the environment.

Let’s talk about that “we”. Your business partner is a professional chef and expert fermento (chef of pickled foods), but she also happens to be a close friend. How have you balanced being business partners and friends?

It’s true – I have an awesome partner, which has made a big difference for me. Mara and I have the same last name – which is just a coincidence, but we joke that we really are married now. She and I have spent many hours bouncing ideas back and forth, scratching our heads and encouraging each other when the paperwork, accounting or logistics felt overwhelming. We share the ups and downs of having a business and it can get very stressful at times. I think our history really helps us out – we have seen each other through many phases of life, which gives us perspective.

No question that you two make a great team! Ozuké is a huge success, being sold from farmers markets to Whole Foods across the western United States. We’d certainly say that you’ve made it, but was there a moment for you when you felt like you “made it?”

To be honest, I think I am still waiting for that moment. There are always so many moving pieces to a business that I never feel like it’s all sorted, but we have had triumphant moments. For us, success is really having a thriving culture around our business – people we love working with, farmers whom we support and who support us, and a platform to talk about health and nutrition on a larger scale.

Speaking of that platform, you built your business in Boulder, CO which is one of the nation’s hot spots for natural food start ups. How has geography influenced your professional pursuits?

We really do live in a very supportive community – both for food and for entrepreneurship, which is a huge factor in the successful growth of our business. From day one we have had so many people offer to support us with knowledge, networking, investment and business acumen – many of whom have grown natural food brands in the past. We realize how fortunate we are and try to support new businesses in whatever way we can as we know what a helping hand can do early on. In the end it really is about who we are surrounded by and how we relate. It takes a very diverse group of people to make something a success and we have reached out many times to members of the community to answer questions about technical issues, distribution, sales, food safety. It really does take a village.

It’s amazing to see how far you’ve come since those early days, and now it’s safe to say that the benefits of pickled food are as diverse as your skill sets as a successful entrepreneur. With so much new research coming out about the benefits and consequences of different diets and food groups, how can young women navigate the endless aisles of information to make the best decisions for their health?

I really think simple is best. It’s true that there are so many fads, diets, trends and shifting tides that it can be hard to keep up – but in the end I believe it is about clean, nourishing foods, drinking lots of pure water, getting outdoors and pumping your heart, laughter, rest and breath. The rest is just frills.

Despite your no-frills ethos, you’ve lived a life packed with adventure. Before co-founding Ozuké you traveled the world working for international organizations. How do you balance your sense of adventure with your desire to put down roots for your family?

It has been a bit of a push-me-pull-you as far as laying down roots goes – I’m the mother of two boys and can’t resist the character reference to Dr. Dolittle! But it’s true. After my first son was born we moved to Asia for a teaching stint. It was such a rich time for me – wandering the streets of Ho Chi Minh City with my little son, taking in the smells, sounds and tastes of the markets. It was wonderful but I could also feel a new desire to be closer to the source of my food, my water, my community and my family. We continued moving about until after my second child was born and then we moved back to Boulder, at which point it felt like time to dig in and do something that could work with family life and still have branches. It is a juggling act and we would certainly like to spend time abroad again but for now we are super happy to be elbow-deep in cabbage here at home.

Tell us more about that jugging act. On any given day you’re a mother, wife, business owner, taste tester, marketer, and sales manager just to name a few. What habits have you built into your daily routine to keep you feeling healthy?

Some days are better than others. I work odd hours sometimes – very early or very late so I can have down time and meal times with my family. I need yoga, I need good novels to disappear into and after that it’s just pedal to the metal.

Speaking of pedal to the metal, I can’t imagine how much you’ve learned building a business in an industry that is evolving so quickly. What have you learned about yourself on that journey?

What a good question. I have learned that nothing I do happens without the support of a whole web of good people. I have learned that doing something the right way does not always make it the most sensible, profitable or practical, but it is worth it. I have learned that I love old farmers and the vernacular of the earth and above all I have learned that letting go can be just as difficult as holding tight to one idea – and often has a far better outcome.

Alright, we have to ask – if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Warm bread with really good butter!

p.s. Want to hear from another entrepreneur changing her world with food? Meet the baker.

Love Dessert? Check out 101 Sweet Pastry

Pastries by Dorian O’Connell

Love Dessert?  Then this might be for you!

101 Sweet Pastry, changing the world bite by bite offers a weekly dessert club. Dorian, the founder/creator, is an amazingly talented pastry chef, who surprises us with her sweet & savory treats. If you think you would like to subscribe to Dorian’s weekly offerings, visit her blog and sign up to receive her newsletter. She uses organic duck eggs, seasonal fruit, and the finest ingredients in all of her creations.  Conveniently, there are NO Club commitments.  Are you home one week, and gone the next? No problem, Dorian sends out an email every Monday. Just place an order by 9 am Tuesday, and pick-up Friday. Every week is delicious and inventive. This week, we enjoyed a delicate plum tart with puff pastry, and a cherry clafootee (kla-foo-tee). As always, perfectly scrumptious!

Daily Camera- Farmers Market Celebrates 25 years

This was a great piece about the BCFM and it’s history- we are so happy to be a part of it! For a link to the article or to see the video they did at our kitchen:

Boulder County Farmers’ Market celebrates 25 years as a growers-only marketplace

This year’s season kicks of Saturday in Boulder and Longmont
Posted:   03/31/2012 02:38:14 PM MDT
Updated:   04/01/2012 01:24:56 PM MDT


In the fall of 1986, a half-dozen Boulder County farmers came together around a vision: to create a market for farmers — run by farmers — where vendors could sell what they’d grown directly to the local community.

With the support of Boulder County, the city of Boulder, some students at the University of Colorado and a lot of volunteers, the Boulder County Farmers’ Market launched in 1987 with the goal of supporting local agriculture. This year, the market — which returns for the season April 7 — celebrates its 25th anniversary.

“Twenty-five years ago in Boulder County, we had some visionary individuals come together and (set up a market) before it was fashionable,” said Shanan Olson, the market’s interim executive

Sue Parsons, right, of Sweetheart Farms, unloads produce at the Boulder Farmers Market on 13th Street in June 1987. Parson still sells at the market, which is celebrating its 25 anniversary this year. ( SUE PARSONS VIA CARNEGIE LIBRARY )

director and a farmer herself. “They consciously decided they wanted to feed their neighbors and families and friends.

“There’s something pretty fabulously amazing about that.”

Over the last quarter century, the original Boulder market has grown into a touchstone of the community; a second market was set up in Longmont; the hours, the days of the week, and the length of the season for both markets have been stretched year after year; and the offerings available at the markets have diversified in creative and unexpected ways.

But one thing has not changed: Every farmer who sells at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market grows his or her own produce, setting it apart from most farmers’ markets across the state and across the country. The premise of grow-what-you-sell is woven directly into the fabric of today’s market, just as it was in 1987 when it began.

IF YOU GOWhat: Boulder Farmers’ MarketWhen: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday, April 7 through Nov. 17; 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Wednesday, May 2 through Oct. 3Where: 13th Street between Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder

What: Longmont Farmers’ Market

When: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, April 7 through Nov. 3

Where: Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Longmont

More info:

“It’s always been run by farmers, and it always demanded that the farmer that was selling it had actually grown it,” said Bob Munson, of Munson Farms, who has been part of the farmers’ market from the beginning. “At that time, a lot of farmers’ markets started all over Colorado. (They) quickly became a place where junk produce was sold. You can get junk produce for nothing and sell it for something.”

Downtown roots

The market that began in 1987 along 13th Street between Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue was built on the shoulders of an earlier market that grew up on the lawn of the Boulder County Courthouse in 1975, when Pearl Street was still a through-road.

That small market was organized by Richard Foy and David Bolduc through the Downtown Boulder Association as a way to attract shoppers to the area.

“They visualized that it would be a real nice draw for people to have events down there,” said Munson, who sold at that market with his two young sons. “They made a big banner — a canvas sign — and it could hang all the way across the street or it could hang all the way across trees as you enter the

Chet Anderson, background, one of the founders of the Boulder County Farmers Market, watches one of his workers potting basil plants at his grow operation in rural Boulder County. The market, with locations in Boulder and Longmont, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )


Munson remembers about five other farmers selling regularly at that first market, which ran for a couple hours on Saturday mornings from July into September.

But the market faltered after its 10-year anniversary, partly because of the limited size of its location and partly because of new competition from a short-lived produce and crafts market set up in a parking lot near the site of the current farmers’ market.

“The courthouse lawn was limited in space, and the space was not viable anymore,” said Ulla Merz, who interviewed 10 of the longtime farmers selling at the market for the Maria Rogers Oral History Program at the Boulder Public Library. Merz, co-founder of Bookcliff Vineyards, also sells Colorado

Dennis Vinh of the Esoteric Food Company works on packing some of the company’s Zuké product line of raw pickled vegetables at the company’s facility in Boulder. The company will be selling its products at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market this year. (Paul Aiken / Daily Camera)

wines at the current markets in Longmont and Boulder.

“We were looking for a place with better access — a place more convenient to people,” said Chet Anderson, who helped found the market. Anderson still sells at the market, though he has switched from offering produce to ornamental plants and cut flowers through the business he now owns, The Fresh Herb Company.

The farmers settled on a location along 13th Street for their new grower-run market.

Sustaining local ag

Moving to the new location adjacent to Central Park in 1987 for the official start of the Boulder County Farmers’ Market was made possible thanks to the support of government leaders in the city and county. In general, a groundswell of community support for making sure that agriculture remained a part of the Boulder County landscape was emerging at about the same time that the farmers selling on the courthouse lawn began to look around for a new location.

“(The Boulder County Farmers’ Market) got started as a way to preserve local agricultural land — to provide a market for agricultural products so people would keep their farms,” John McKenzie, one of the market’s founding farmers, told the Camera in May 1990.

COMING WEDNESDAYLook for a calendar of Colorado crops and information on what’s new at this year’s farmers’ markets in the Camera’s Essentials section

And it worked, at least for some farmers.

“If it weren’t for the market, we wouldn’t have a farm in the city,” Chuck Rozanski, who grew herbs and vegetables on two-thirds of an acre in north Boulder, also told the Camera in 1990.

Boosted by the new location, the market caught on and grew quickly.

“It started out as something small, and it’s kind of become a summertime event in Boulder every year,” Anderson said. “I’m not sure I could have foreseen it being quite like it is today.”

At its fifth anniversary, between 75 and 100 vendors sold at the market, a 50 percent increase from the market’s first year. That year, 1992, the Wednesday market also launched. (It wasn’t successful until the hours were shifted from morning to afternoon.)

Making connections

Twenty years later, the Boulder market has about 120 vendors and the Longmont market has another 70 or so, and both markets are thriving, though neither can take on many more vendors in their current configurations.

Even so, changes are afoot.

The market has launched a new initiative to help prepared food vendors connect with local farmers to source ingredients for their products. As part of the program, the market has asked the prepared food vendors to come up with three-year plans for how they can incorporate more local ingredients.

“We’re really serious about these connections being made,” said Jenn Ross, who manages the Boulder market. “Sometimes it’s hard for a prepared food vendor to find information on some of the small farms or sometimes it’s hard for a farmer to plan and prepare to sell to these contractors because they don’t have the contact information themselves.”

The ultimate goal is to strengthen the local food economy. And it’s working, at least for one of the Boulder market’s newest vendors, Zuké Pickled Things. The company wants to pickle more local produce for its products, but as a new business, it’s been difficult to know how to reach out to farmers and how to know how much produce they’ll need.

“It’s going to help us so much the way that they’re doing it,” said Willow King, Zuké cofounder. “We say, ‘This is what we need in the upcoming months,’ and then the farmers can kind of come to us.'”

Zuké also plans to buy produce at the market, pickle it during the week, and then resell it at the following week’s market.

“It’s going to be really seasonal,” King said.

At the Longmont market — where gross sales increased 20 percent last year — the changes underway this summer likely will be more obvious.

TIMELINE1975: First Boulder market is established on the lawn of the Boulder County Courthouse, while Pearl Street was still a through-road. It lasted about 10 years, until outgrowing its location and facing competition from a very short-lived produce and crafts market on the site of the current market.1987: The current Boulder County Farmers’ Market is launched as a growers-only Saturday marketplace on 13th Street between Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue.1990: The Longmont Farmers Market makes its debut.

1992: The Boulder market launches its Wednesday market, which isn’t successful until the hours are switched from daytime to evening.

1996: The Boulder County Farmers’ Market celebrates its 10th season with a jazz festival, bagpipe parade and what was billed as “Boulder’s largest carrot cake,” designed to feed 6,000 people.

Two years ago, the Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department, which runs the county fairgrounds where the market is located, extended the available electric service and expanded the market area to the east.

This year, the department is working to build a pavilion, where people can eat in the shade, and an arbor in the middle of the plaza to provide additional shade, according to Stan Snyder, a landscape architect for Boulder County Open Space.

The improvements are expected to help feed further growth this year, said Lisa Searchinger, the Longmont market manager. Searchinger expects another 20 percent increase in sales this season, thanks to the infrastructure, new vendors and growing community enthusiasm.

“I think people really appreciate our core value, which is we grow what we sell,” she said. “I hear that continually from customers that that’s why they like our market.”

Bridging gaps

Even with an eye toward change, as the market turns 25, leaders are looking back toward their roots.

“We’re celebrating the eaters that come and seek the growers of the food we love,” Olson said. “We’re also grounding. We’re celebrating where we’ve come from and how we got there — the vision of the people who started this as a growers-only market in the first place.”

Olson — who sells produce from her organic farm, Abbondanza, at the market — said the time is also right for the market to play a role in bringing the community together and educating the public. Interest in local agriculture has swelled over the last several years, and, recently, the Boulder County community also has been embroiled in a debate about how to best use agricultural land owned by the county’s open space department.

A central question in that debate was whether or not genetically modified organisms should be allowed on county-owned land. And while the debate highlighted the increased interest in local agriculture, the GMO issue was extremely divisive.

“I think there’s a desire to bridge some gaps,” Olson said. “The debate that happened last year around GMOs and open space — it really pitted organics against GMOs and vice versa. We’re celebrating 25 years of a growers-only market that has never discriminated against any form of agriculture. … The farmers’ market is such a great place to celebrate all that diversity and all those unique perspectives.”

Olson, who is serving as the interim executive director, said the market eventually will be looking for new leadership. But for now, the board is taking a deep breath and focusing on how to keep the market’s founding spirit alive for another quarter century.

“We want to make sure our next 25 years are about celebrating everyone who’s choosing to support the community in their backyard by going to the farmers’ market and trading and sharing and taking turns with their neighbors instead of industries and corporations,” Olson said.


Easy Beer Cocktails

Even Cocks with Tails Appreciate a Good Beer

Even though my dad was a true blue East Coast American boy and mom a Hong Kong Temple Street original… I must admit that there was a lot of Euro-flavor to my early years.  Stories of boarding school atrocities told in a tight circle when my friends and I would “nick out” at night and congregate in the dark safety of the general’s grave.  (Graves of important people in China were massive concrete affairs with tables and chairs and fruit trees to lounge amidst and hide behind) I heard stories of UK M1 rave culture and listened one walkman ear pod per person to mixed tapes with curious throbbing beats in my early teens.  And above all I would be offered booze at dinners when we had guests long before I was of legal age to drink.  Wine and water or shandies.  A shandy is a very delicious lemon lime soda pop mixed half and half with lager.  Hong Kong beer drinkers were all about either San Miguel or Carlsberg back then, both well refined lagers…  easy to drink but still bitter enough to put one or two hairs on your chest.

Alright, the weather has been warming and I did a hike two days ago above Boulder Res and we forgot to bring enough water.  The only thing I could think of on the way home other than willing the clouds to cover the sun was beer.  There is a thirst quenching quality that beer has which is unparalleled and I also remember from my Hong Kong days another simple beer cocktail that seemed to push that instant refreshing feeling into the golden zone.  Lime and Lager is so simple.  1 oz of Rose’s Lime Cordial in your beer.  The back of my neck is tingling just thinking of the mouth filling, fizzing gulpability.

Of course there are many versions of the Beer Cocktail even though strangely enough it’s not something that we often think of.  Mexico has it’s Michelada, lime juice and hot sauce in your cervesa: yeah!  There’s the Black and Tan of course.  The Snakebite and Black from my UK college years, that’s half lager, half hard cider and a shot of blackcurrant liquor: those were oblivion makers which I suppose is just about right for those years, young, dumb and full of…  you know…  willful pizza mistakes.  My fave from my sushi chefing years was the Chocolate Stout.  Murphy’s Stout with a shot of vanilla vodka and a shot of Godiva Chocolate liqueur.  After a hard night of working my tail off it was nice to have dinner, drink and dessert all in one glass.

This post was inspired by my creation of a brand new beer cocktail tonight.  OK I’ve had two of them and I’m a total lightweight these days hence my loose lipped languid lambic prose.  My beer goggles, the whiff of bacon, beans and my husband’s hard work in the kitchen are making everything look like one of those instagram iphone pictures.  Mangoes and Wit.  Yep I said it.  I made some mango simple syrup for my son’s birthday circle yesterday (hawaiian shave ice treat).  First round… Leftover simple syrup from candying orange peel and mango puree mixed with Left Hand Polestar Pils, and second round with Upslope Belgian Pale Ale.  I’m looking across the table at my husband’s Avery White Rascal but I don’t think I’m going to go there, unless I’ve decided that 7.30pm is my new bed time.

Please comment if you have any other good Beer Cocktails you would like to share with me. Night night 😉

“Red” Rice- Easy Way to Get Kids to Enjoy Beets!

There is a Bhutanese red rice.  This recipe starts with plain white rice and stains it red with beets. My Daughter Kailee would never let a beet near her lips in any other way.  Red Rice is all the rage at my house these days.  Start with butter melting in a pan.  Add a full jar (you heard me!) of our Beets. Sizzle for a bit then add cooked rice. Stir over medium heat until it is all incorporated.  Add finely minced garlic and drizzle with toasted sesame oil.  We love to serve this rice with an egg on top and some sprouts or baby kales on the side.  You’ll definitely enjoy the bright red pearly grains juxstaposed with a vivid white of eggs and the greens.  It’s such an attractive plate and you can always snazz this up with another kind of protein and call it dinner.  Make this one time and I promise your family will start harassing you for more and more beets.  Enjoy 🙂

Dishwire Press Release- Zuke in Whole Foods!

January 23rd, 2012 — 8:55am

Zuké Pickled Veggies Now Available at Whole Foods Locations in Boulder



Zuké Pickled Veggies Now Available at Whole Foods Locations in Boulder

January 23, 2012-Boulder, COLORADO—Esoteric Food Company announced today their presence in Whole Foods Market at Pearl Street, Ideal Market and Base-Mar Locations. Zuké (pronounced zoo-kay) short for zukemono, the Japanese word for pickled things-offers four varieties including Cabbage-Based Korean Kim Chi, Eastern European Dill and Caraway Sauerkraut, A Citrus & Ginger blend and the cleverly combined Beets, Hijiki Seaweed and Kale. All products are raw, organic and loaded with probiotics. They retail for $8.99 and are located in the refrigerated dairy sections at Ideal Market and Base-Mar and in the raw food case at Pearl Street.

Says Co-Founder, Willow King, ” We are excited that Whole Foods picked up our product…now these life giving tasty pickles are available to a larger audience.”

John Andersen, Buyer for Whole Foods Base-Mar, said, “May their beets go on your salad cause they rock.”

About Zuké:

Founded in 2011 by the Esoteric Food Company, Zuké is a line of organic, pickled veggies that taste amazing and happen to be extra good for you. Our flavors are familiar-some might say nostalgic-and we use an all-natural fermentation process to make our food probiotic…a fancy word for natural organisms that keeps you healthy. Whether it’s the fire of our kim chi or the subtle lemon notes in our citrus & ginger cabbage, our cultured foods will engage your senses and keep you on the up and up. Yep, all this from a little jar.

For more information:

Moo Chi

Daikon, watermelon radish, parsnip and burdock

Good Morning Kim Chi eaters. We are working on something new in our kitchen that we wanted to share with you. While we have been busy cranking out our traditional flavors we are also given to experimentation and exploration. This weeks project was root kim chi and it is delicious. It is made in the same fashion as our napa cabbage version but using all sorts of sturdy, handsome root vegetables. Moo meaning radish in Korean and our kids think Moo Chi sounds like a mix between a cow, a martial art and the beloved Japanese treat, Mochi. While it is none of those things it sounds like all of them + something tasty to put on your nutritious bowl of brown rice, summer squash and snap peas. When I was reading about making moo kim chi I stumbled on the urban dictionary word: kimochi. It is a Japanese expression that means a gift given with no obligation. A gift from the heart. So here you go- our moo kim chi is a kimochi for you and your family… and when you ask for more: “May I have some moo chi,” it sounds like smoochie. So don’t be surprised if you get a kiss out of the deal as well. To your health!