The CEO in Maine Whose Kids Are Obsessed with Seaweed Smoothies
Name: Bri Warner
Location: Cumberland, Maine
How many people regularly eat together in your home? Four. Myself, my husband, and our two sons (2 and 4).
Avoidances: We eat plant- based foods as much as possible and my husband eats a vegan diet.
After talking to Bri Warner for just five minutes, I found myself intensely craving a jar of fermented kelp for the first time. Yes, you read that right — kelp! Bri just has that effect on people. It probably had something to do with the fact that she’s the CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms, a Maine-based kelp company that’s helping American palates cozy up to the sustainable sea veggie.
Thanks to a combination of intense passion for kelp and strong business sense, Bri is steadily introducing jars of Atlantic Sea Farms products to grocery stores near you, straight from the waters of Maine and the hands of local fishermen. Her most recent accomplishment? Atlantic Sea Farms kelp is now an ingredient in a seasonal Sweetgreen salad that chef David Chang created. (Talk about making kelp Mainestream — er, mainstream.)
“Good food should do good,” Bri said of the ethos of her company, which is inextricably linked to her personal food philosophy as well. We talked to Bri about her growing (literally) kelp business, the unexpected grocery item she can’t stop talking about, and how she managed to convince two boys under the age of 4 to love seaweed smoothies.
We’d love to know what running a kelp company entails. Walk us through a day in the life?
I was just talking to a sales manager who said ‘this day didn’t go as expected” and I was like “wait, you have an expected way a day is going to go?!” Atlantic Sea Farms is a very small start-up so CEO means a lot of different things. Some days it’s working on production or a food safety audit; other times I’m on sales calls; and other days I’m out on the water directly with our kelp supply director picking wild kelp. The other week, I got to hang out with Alice Waters in San Francisco where we were chosen to speak at the Good Food Awards. Those days feel so high, and then you get back and you’re moving tables and the cooler breaks down. It’s a healthy dose of reality.
So at any given moment we might find you on a boat, or in the office, or at a swanky party?
It depends on the day! Although, I’d have to say, this time of year, I try to make excuses to not be out on the water. It’s like 12 degrees out there.
Copy that. When you are though, what are some of your go-to kelp picking snacks?
I eat a ton of chocolate chip cookies when i’m out on the boat, believe it or not. On the way up the midcoast there’s this awesome bakery that has fantastic babka and cookies and sandwiches. When we visit partner farmers, we like to bring them sandwiches and cookies — and it’s hard not to get ourselves some too. We always have jars of our kraut and Sea-Chi (kelp kimchi) to put on the sandwiches.
If we popped in on you at the Atlantic Sea Farms office, what might you be snacking on?
The staff makes fun of me because I eat a ton of nuts. I follow a mostly vegan diet, so I strive to eat protein. That and a lot of coffee and tea to stay warm — it’s cold in our big open facility. Of course, I also eat a ton of seaweed. I taste every single batch that goes out the door, for consistency, trials, and product development.
Have you always eaten a mostly plant-based diet?
I kind of live and breathe everyday solutions to climate change. It’s the whole premise of our company: to adapt and mitigate some effects of climate change. The gulf of Maine is basically boiling. The lobster fishery we have here is in a boom but it’s continually threatened by warming waters. We promote kelp farming during the off-season so that farmers can use kelp to protect themselves and generate a significant source of income. So, when I go out and eat a bunch of meat, it seems really incongruent with what I strive for in my daily work. That doesn’t mean I never eat beef. But I never make it at home. We mostly eat plants and occasionally fish. We try to focus on eating well for the environment. The more pressing the situation is, the more we need to focus on our individual decisions.
- Biggest challenge in eating? Running a food start-up is not for the faint-of-heart and requires hours that stretch far beyond 9-to-5, so getting home after work, whipping up a healthy dinner and getting the kids to bed at a reasonable time has become one of my greatest challenges.
- How much do you cook at home every week? Almost 100%. We are incredibly lucky to live just outside of Portland, Maine, which is often cited as one of the “foodie-est” cities in the U.S. It’s so tempting to go out and eat all of the incredible food that is available to us. Having said that, I love to cook, and my kids are a disaster if they have to sit down for too long , so we eat in most nights of the week.
- 5 things on your grocery list every week? Can I say six things? Blueberries (my kids binge on them), salad greens in the winter (in the summer we grow them), Maine Grains oats for our daily oatmeal topped with goji berries, mulberries, and Maine maple syrup from my father-in-law’s maple trees, chickpeas (we put them on everything), coffee, and corn tortillas.
- Where do you shop, primarily? Whole Foods and our favorite local market, Rosemont Market & Bakery.
- Top 3 default dinners? Jackfruit tacos; Eggplant curry with forbidden rice; marinated tempeh grain bowl with Atlantic Sea Farms Sea-Beet Kraut and/or our Sea-Chi (kelp kimchi).
- The last grocery you splurged on?: Seed + Mill Halva. It is the best. In my former life, I went to the University of Jordan and was a diplomat. I learned to love halva. I recently went to Whole Foods and saw this $10 halva and almost didn’t buy it. But then I tried it and it was so much better than any halva I’ve ever had. I cannot shut up about it.
- Favorite drink? I love black, light roast coffee (my favorite is a Maine brand called Speckled Ax Wood Roasted Coffee). When you don’t put milk or sugar in your coffee, you can taste all of the intense flavors and roasting techniques. Coffee in its purest form is just about perfect when it’s done right.
- Most genius cooking tip anyone ever taught you? That you should always, always pre-bake your pie shell – and, to ensure that it stays crisp and flaky, add a fair amount of beaten egg white and bake for another 3 minutes before putting in your filling. A mushy pie bottom can ruin any pie and this extra step is totally worth it.
- Your best budget tip?: Don’t bring your kids to the grocery store. I’m a sucker for when my kids point at things like a pomelo and say “I think we should try that.” Of course we should — and we do — and my wallet is a whole lot lighter because of it!
- Cookbook you actually cook out of?: At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin.
- Who does the dishes?: When my husband cooks, I do the dishes. When I cook, he does.
Let’s talk more about the way you eat at home!
I have two kids, one is 4 and the other is two. In the mornings, we make smoothies with our frozen kelp cubes, some almond butter, local Maine blueberries, dates, other seasonal fruits, kale, and homemade nut milk. We also almost always do oatmeal. It’s such a great protein-packed food. I’ll throw in mulberries or goji berries and some maca powder. My father-in-law makes maple syrup so we put that on top.
Side note: The fact that your kids love kelp is pretty incredible.
That’s what we are trying to do! Make seaweed super approachable. We want everybody to see something they like in our product line, so we have smoothie cubes, seaweed salad, and sea beet kraut, which is this bright red, gorgeous sauerkraut made from 60 percent raw seaweed and beets.
What do the rest of your meals look like?
Morning and afternoon, I’m snacking on nuts. If I do bring lunch, it’s some lentils, baked sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and some sort of dressing. We do a lot of meal prep where we bake a lot of veggies and mix them into bowls during the week. For dinner, it kind of depends. My husband and I both work full-time jobs. I’m a big fan of making a big pot of eggplant curry on a Sunday and then having it throughout the week. We’re also big fans of jackfruit or mushroom tacos. Those are big standbys. And then other nights we’ll have soba noodle dishes or grain bowls and put in some kraut and Sea-Chi for extra nutrients.
If I had the time, I would spend an hour and a half on dinner, with music blaring and a glass of wine. Sometimes we do that on weekends. I love the idea of making wonderful slow cooked food that’s born of labor and love. But that’s not how life works day to day. When Monday comes around, I’m lucky I can get anything on the table!
What does dessert time look like?
On a normal night, we’ll take an apple and peanut butter and eat it on the couch. But for special occasions, my kids make pie with me. I used to own a bakery which means all I want to do is bake pie with butter. I have two specialties that people clamor for. One is called the Punky Peach Pie. It’s peaches poached in white wine. I put them in a fully baked high butter-content pie crust with almond custard. Then I brush salted honey all over the peaches. The custard bubbles up and it’s so good. There’s also the Dave’s Decadence, which was named after my chocolate-obsessed father-in-law. It’s a Speculoos Cookie crust with chocolate ganache and good Spanish olive oil drizzled over the top with flaky sea salt. It’s so rich.
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