Like many of the world’s best chefs, Angelo Garro — the creator of Omnivore Salt — owes his culinary skills to countless afternoons spent in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother. They were his go-to for kitchen help, even after he left the house and moved to Switzerland at 18.
“I used to call my mom and (ask her how to make stuff),” he said.
“She would tell me over the phone, and she would repeat the recipe three or four times, just so I could stay on the phone to talk,” he said. “I’m like, ‘I got it, I got it. I gotta go now.’”
In his hometown of Sicily, Angelo said his grandmother put he and all of his cousins to work — curing beans, pickling veggies and jarring her famous tomato sauce.
“My grandmother actually really, really made an impression on me,” he said. “I remember telling her, ‘Grandma, what are we going to do without your cooking?’ And she said, ‘My son, if you have salt, red pepper, black pepper and fennel, you can cook almost anything.’
“So this stuck in my mind, and the salt I created is an inspiration of that — directly of that memory.”
A few years ago, Angelo crafted a seasoned salt with those four basic ingredients — a simple seasoning that, he said, has enough flavor to make other spices irrelevant. “You just take a little bit of this, and it’s done,” he said.
After putting his original salt on the market — with some help from a wildly successful kickstarter campaign — Angelo crafted a second salt (specifically for poultry and seafood) and a line of sauces.
“It’s like painters,” he said. “You start to paint, and then you develop a series of paintings — it’s the same. Food is kind of inspirational.”
Angelo came to San Francisco about 30 years ago with a girlfriend he met in Canada. He said the city resonated with him because it felt like the most European city the US had to offer. Plus, he had no intention of going back to Italy.
“Part of my character is to never go backwards,” he said. “I’m a very curious person — I like to explore. I guess I feel a bit like Marco Polo.”
Among his many explorations, Angelo enjoys what he calls “urban foraging” — scouting for wild vegetables in the city. He said tons of wild fennel grows throughout the city in the spring (primarily in empty parking lots), and wild mustard greens are plentiful near Land’s End.
Angelo also catches eels under the Golden Gate Bridge, where he said eels get up to 6 pounds — plenty of meat for the eel pasta and fried eel dinners he cooks for his friends.
He also hosts regular feasts of wild boar, where he serves it up roasted to about 50 of his closest friends. Angelo hunts, kills, skins, and cleans the boar all himself in Healdsburg, about two hours north of San Francisco.
He said vultures and coyotes in the area clean the carcass of whatever remains, which makes the process completely sustainable. This was intriguing to food activist and author Michael Pollan, who asked Angelo to teach him how to hunt and make a “totally wild” meal for his world-renowned book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
It’s the preparation that goes into the food that Angelo likes the best. That, and being able to share meals with the people he loves.
“I’m an Italian American, and I kind of try to create a little Italy in my own space,” he said. “(Cooking) is very meditational … It calms me down. And it gives me pleasure to make a meal for my friends.
“That’s the way you do friends — around good food.”
To make good food for your own friends, you can buy Angelo’s salts and sauces lots of places online, including the online gift shop Sincerely SF. For help finding the closest local retailer near you, ask your Scout!