I'm standing in front of a house with with no numbers and a bright yellow door. It's a 1964 Eichler in the middle of a long row of Eichlers clinging to a hillside in San Francisco. I was there on an invite from the owner and creator of my favorite local jam, after vaguely promising him a kitchen tour without actually having ever seen his kitchen. As I walk through the little courtyard and down a flight of stairs to the kitchen, I began to worry. Entering the bright minimal space, squinting at slabs of polished steel and slick white cupboards, I realized that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Oh dear.
It really was an amazing and impressive kitchen, complete with stainless steel countertops and Miele appliances. On one counter, a special tiny sink caught the filtered water from one of those hot-water-on-demand faucets. A much larger, custom-made sink hugged another wall.
But what was bothering me was that it felt too blank, too polished. Where was the voice of its owner? Who was this crazily inventive individual who was pulling the Blenheim apricot from the brink of extinction by turning it into some of the best jam on the planet?
Turns out the answer, as usual, was right there in front of me, wearing a pair of red, white and blue plaid shorts and clutching a very large Revereware pot.
Meet Eric Haeberli and the original jam pot that launched the company he runs with his friend and business partner Phineas Hoang: We Love Jam. As I was soon to discover, entering into his presence (and his kitchen) was like boarding a very fast jet and taking a trip around the world trip in less than two hours. Here was someone who is in love with the tastes of the world and eager to share them!
We start with sampling three different kinds of honey, including an intriguing buckwheat version from Japan, before veering suddenly to a weasel coffee tasting. (Interesting fact: Did you know that weasel coffee berries are picked by civets in Vietnam, eaten, passed through their digestive tract and uh, deposited back on the jungle floor where they are gathered, thoroughly washed--hurray!--and then, finally, husked and roasted? Me neither. Read our post about kopi luwak coffee here.)
The resulting coffee bean yields a rich, silky, and distinctively chocolatey brew. It's really quite delicious. I can't wait for the day when I can saunter in to my neighborhood cafe and say 'A weasel coffee latte, please.' Meanwhile, keep an eye on the We Love Jam website, as they plan to start selling the coffee very soon.
We admire the beauty of a stack of French copper cannele de Bordeaux molds from Cookin', nibble on sheets of dried, pressed bananas (a popular Vietnamese snack) fresh off the stovetop grill, sniff at salty bottles of artisinal soy sauce. From the Sub Zero refrigerator come jars of Eric's own fragrant Fukushu Kumquat Marmalade, perfectly balanced Bread and Butter Pickles and a super-kicky BBQ sauce.
The slick, minimal kitchen starts to hum with color and fragrance as Eric opens jar after jar of interesting delicacies. The tasting spoons pile up and clatter in a heap on the stainless steel countertop as we laugh and sigh and moan. Cupboard doors and drawers are flung open and a delightful tangle of spoons and spatulas and whisks spill out.
From the secret closet where experimental projects have been lingering (think fresh raspberries marinating in soju for six years) comes a jar of salty caramel sauce. Ping! goes the microwave and seconds later the sauce is poured over scoops of chocolate gelato from Ciao Bella. Oh, my! The sauce is a collaboration with Eric's friend David Lebovitz, using French fleur de sel and a special French butter. He's considering offering it for sale in the future if he can find a way to make it produce consistent results. Let's hope so!
Eric, a half-Swiss son of art collectors, has lived in his house since 1999. When he bought it, it was in pretty rough condition. Stripping the kitchen down to the studs, he designed and contracted the entire renovation himself. Somehow, he still found the time to discover a Blenheim apricot tree growing in a friend's mother's back yard and on a whim, to whip up a batch of jam. The rest is history.
Did I mention that Eric is incredibly energetic and enthusiastic?
A few facts:
Favorite thing in your kitchen? The instant hot water tap (we drink a lot of tea) and the industrial stainless steel exhaust fan.
What's always in your pantry? Gosh, I'm always changing things. Our Meyer lemon rub for one, and olive oil.
Favorite tool or implement? Dexter-Russell knives. They have carbon steel blades which means they'll stain a little but they hold an edge forever.
What's your top cooking tip? Be spontaneous! Take risks! Make mistakes! Everything I've ever made that's delicious comes from rescuing a mistake. Oh, and shop at ethnic markets and try any weird or unfamiliar ingredients. Experiment!
Cooking style? (See above) I love Italian and Asian. My desert island cookbook is something my mom used to cook from in the 70's: The Seasonal Kitchen by Perla Meyer. She was way ahead of her time, emphasizing seasonal ingredients, farmer's markets, unusual herbs. Plus I love the orange type and the design! And I can't live without my friend David Lebovitz's Room for Dessert (which is currently out of print), especially the Marjolaine cake which takes a half a day to make. But it's totally worth it.
What's up with all those plastic dishes? We have all kinds of dishes. My nerve damage from computer use was really bad around the time I bought the house. I couldn't lift up ceramic plates and mugs since they were too heavy, so I had to buy plastic ones since they are lighter. I am better now but the plastic stuff remains. We have a collection of Bodum plates and bowls. The blue dessert plates are actually square ashtrays I bought in a cool store in Tokyo designed by Helmut Ebnet and made by the super cool Italian company Mebel. I have a collection of their vintage stuff plus a few green ceramic bowls and plates by Hogan's of Sweden (I am part Swedish too). And of course my favorite: Heller by Vignelli Associates – I just use the mugs since the rest will get scratched. But new stuff, only in white, can be purchased at Design Within Reach.
What's your dream splurge? A wood-fired oven and a Hobart dishwasher.
Dining room table: Florence Knoll
Appliances: Sub Zero refrigerator. Miele oven and dishwasher. Wolf 36" range with infrared grill.
Favorite appliance? La Peppina espresso maker
Coming up from We Love Jam: It's almost hoshigaki (massaged persimmon) season! Soon we'll start the Swiss Holiday Cookies which we offer in November and December.
• A few words about We Love Jam: All their products are available online or at a few select SF markets. Delivery, details and a list of stores can be found here. However, everything is made by hand and in very small batches, so the best thing to do is to contact them to get on their waiting list. They often sell out completely in advance, so this is an important step.
For more about all the amazing things Eric has discovered, check out the What We Love page on his website.
Thank you, Eric!