Berkeley couple make rillettes at artisanal start-up

Brian Johnson and Julie Gordon at the kitchen

Brian Johnson and Julie Gordon in the Wooden Spoons kitchen in Berkeley. Photo: Kaia Diringer

Just six months ago, husband and wife team Brian Johnson and Julie Gordon started Wooden Spoons – a small business conceived at their kitchen table that makes rillettes using only locally farmed meats, fish and organic produce. The couple live in Berkeley with their kids and cook at a commercial kitchen in the city. Berkeleyside NOSH sat down with the pair to get the skinny on the artisanal start-up.

When and how did Wooden Spoons get started?
In the Spring of 2012, with our older son happily settled into his first year of college and our younger son needing us less and less, we started serious kitchen-table discussions about wanting to bring cooking and food into our lives in a way that could be fun, profitable and that would allow us to spend more time together. We love to cook for friends and family and have been making rillettes for many years – it’s long been the in-demand appetizer around the house. A jar of rillettes is an exciting thing to be able to pull out of the fridge for a special treat, and when we looked around us it became clear that this was something that no one else was approaching it in the way that we had in mind.

Wooden Spoons 3/12 1.28.13 Photo: Kaia Diringer

Rillettes — like paté — is the perfect thing to pull out of the fridge and spread on a toasted baguette to enjoy before dinner with guests or with a glass of wine on a Sunday afternoon. Photo: Kaia Diringer

Who’s behind it?
We had a ton of initial help and support from our friends and family (our kids still help out when they can) and Dave Braden of the Engine Room created the branding and logo. The two of us operate the business on our own nights and weekends.

What were you doing before?
We both still have our day jobs. Brian is a writer in the advertising/marketing world and Julie has a landscaping business.

Why rillettes? Can you describe exactly what it is and why you thought there was a market for them here?
Rillettes (pronounced “ree-yet”) describes a meat that’s slowly braised with seasonings, herbs and spirits until it’s meltingly tender and falling off the bone. It’s then shredded, along with fat (we use duck fat for the meats) and packed in jars. Like a paté, rillettes is served cold or at room temperature, usually as an appetizer on toast or bread. We’ve come up with new recipes and tailored the definition somewhat; in addition to the traditional French classics using duck, pork or rabbit, we’re making a salmon rillettes with fresh and smoked salmon that’s been very popular. This month we’re also introducing a mushroom artichoke rillettes. We do all of our business with local farmers who raise their animals in the open pasture and feed them a diet with no antibiotics or hormones, the fish is from Monterey Fish Market, and we buy most of our organic produce from good old Berkeley Bowl.

Mushrooms that Julie say add a little crunch to the mushroom artichoke rillettes they are introducing this month.

Mushrooms that Julie says add a little crunch to the mushroom artichoke rillettes the pair are introducing this month. Photo: Kaia Diringer

 How can people find them? How and where do you sell them?
We’re selling via Good Eggs, a wonderful online marketplace that is beginning to emerge as a model for buying quality local fresh food. It’s a bit like a CSA box concept, only for all sorts of foods – there’s a guy selling beautiful Bento boxes, several bakers, a fresh organic egg provider, and loads of other folks. We’re also regulars at the beautiful Bluxome Street Winery’s monthly Meet Market the last Saturday of every month in San Francisco and at occasional pop-up markets and events in the area.

Wooden Spoons 2/12 1.28.13 Photo: Kaia Diringer

Wooden Spoons sells via online marketplace Good Eggs, among others. Photo: Kaia Diringer

What’s your Berkeley story? 
Brian is from Illinois and Julie’s a native Berkeleyan. We met while we were both living in San Francisco in our 20s, and moved to Berkeley to raise our kids. We love living in Berkeley. It’s unmatched for down-to-earth open mindedness, great diverse public schools, incredible food, beautiful gardens…Berkeley has so much to offer.

What’s next for Wooden Spoons? 

We’ve been approached now quite a few times about selling wholesale, and eventually we think we’d like to go that route but for now we’re really enjoying the hands-on nature of the way the business is structured. We’re spending more time together than we have in years, we really like the commercial kitchen we’re in, and, when we say handcrafted we really mean it!

Follow Wooden Spoons through their blog and on Facebook.

Kaia Diringer is currently Berkeleyside’s photo intern. See more of her work on Flickr.

Bookmark Berkeleyside NOSH for East Bay food news and stories, and follow Berkeleyside NOSH on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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  • ed valenzuela

    wow! this is very exciting, glad to know you guys! best of luck from stockholm – ed

  • Chris J

    This is the sort of enterprise I like to hear about–folks my age getting closer to retirement, and creating a new business…which reflects plans of my own for my own nascent, upcoming days of ‘sitting on my ass’ (not really)

    Rilletes? So…like pate, eh? BTW, their blogspot has no means that I could figure to ‘contact’ them…I’d like to, simply to ask them how they got it all started, started the business, dealt with bureaucracy, etc…

  • joltgrrl@cybergal.com
  • Jacquelyn McCormick

    So good to see Julie and Brian getting their due! They are a great couple and deserve all the best.

  • Fairmonter

    Their rilletes are so good!!! Just amazing!