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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | It’s a long time from December to May – too long for lovers of the New Amsterdam Market to wait for the fresh, local food and small-batch food products that sustain them during the months the market bustles on South Street between Beekman and Peck Slip.
The last New Amsterdam Market of the 2011 season took place on Dec. 18. The first market of 2012 will occur at the end of April or the beginning of May. To punctuate the long wait, some New Amsterdam Market vendors set up their wares in a mid-19th century warehouse on Water Street this past weekend to observe Valentine’s Day, with enough sweets to beguile any lover.
The weekend celebration started on Friday, Feb. 10, with a party for supporters of the market. They drank mead (an ancient alcoholic drink made with fermented honey) from Enlightenment Wines in upstate New York and Wölffer Estate wine from Sagaponack, Long Island. They ate bread and cheese and open-faced sandwiches from a catering company called I8NY and chicken garlic sausage and smoked chicken and bacon sausage — both from Scott Bridi, proprietor of Brooklyn Cured.
“I didn’t have a business before I showed up at New Amsterdam Market with a cooler of charcuterie and a business card in the fall of 2010,” said Bridi. “Robert LaValva [founder of the New Amsterdam Market] was the first person to give me a chance. Now I have one employee and hope to have a second one soon. I think our growth has a lot to do with being part of this market.”
Several other vendors echoed Bridi’s accolades. Cyrilla Suwarsa has a business called Nuts & Nuts, with her sister Caecilia. They import cashew nuts from Indonesia and roast them using recipes handed down from their mother and their grandmother. Around 2005, they started selling at some markets in Brooklyn. Just before Thanksgiving of 2010, they began selling at the New Amsterdam Market.
“There are more people at this market,” Cyrilla said. “The people who come here are foodies.” She also said that she liked the New Amsterdam Market because of its mission, which LaValva describes as bringing back a space for public use that had been a market district for centuries. “Nuts & Nuts has a mission, too,” Suwarsa said. “Our mission is to help the cashew farmers in Indonesia.”
At the Feb. 10 party, LaValva talked about the history of the New Amsterdam Market and its growth. His first market was a one-day affair on Oct. 2, 2005, held in the handsome, Guastavino-tiled southern arcade of the Municipal Building on Centre Street. Like some of his current vendors, who test products at the New Amsterdam Market before putting them into larger scale production, for LaValva, the Municipal Building market was “a test of an idea.”
“It was important to see how it would be to bring people together in a public space,” he said. Although it wasn’t well publicized, around a thousand people came to the market, convincing him that his idea of a market in a public space was viable.
At that moment, he didn’t know where that space would be, but serendipity provided him with an answer. In November 2005, the Fulton Fish Market moved from the South Street Seaport to the Bronx. “I had known about the Fulton Fish Market, but had never visited it,” LaValva recalled.
It was exactly what he was looking for.
The first iteration of the New Amsterdam Market on South Street took place on Dec. 16, 2007. “It was very well promoted,” LaValva said, “in great part because Mario Batali was a vendor that day. It drew about 3,000 people despite a blizzard, hail, sleet, freezing rain and snow!
That was followed by a single market in 2008, which drew about 5,000 people. In 2009, LaValva expanded to four markets — one a month in September, October, November and December.
Then, in 2010, the New Amsterdam Market opened once a month in June, July and August, and weekly beginning on Sept. 12.
“We are now averaging about 45 or so vendors weekly,” LaValva said. “We have had larger special markets with up to 75 vendors, and our goal is to have that many vendors weekly by the end of 2013.”
LaValva’s goal is not simply to provide local farmers and other food producers with an outlet for their products but to give food manufacturers who use local, natural ingredients as their raw materials a place to sell their work. He envisions not just a market but a food system that stretches from the growers, fishermen and animal keepers through the small-scale manufacturers to retail consumers, restaurants, small shops and caterers.
For the Valentine’s market on Saturday, Feb. 11 and Sunday, Feb. 12, some of those people were on hand. Mary Woltz of Bees’ Needs in Sag Harbor was there with her honey, which she harvests from 80 hives after her bees have satisfied their own needs for sustenance. Her husband, Rob Calvert, makes lip balm and hand salves from the beeswax.
“I participated in the 2007 market,” she recalled. “I had sold in Sag Harbor before that, but the New Amsterdam Market gave me the confidence to sell in New York City.”
Woltz’s honey varies in taste seasonally depending on where her bees are foraging. “I love bees,” she said. “I found out how much trouble they were in and thought, ‘what better way to spend my time than to help them?’”
If Woltz was the vendor with the longest New Amsterdam Market track record, Vallery Lomas was the newest. The Valentine’s market was her first with LaValva. She arrived with pastel-colored macaroons, which she spells in the French way, “macaron.” She started her baking and catering business, Jaune, in September 2011.
Lomas, who was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La., has a law degree from the University of Southern California and a day job working for the Brooklyn Family Court.
After finishing law school, she went to Paris for eight months, where she learned to bake macaroons. Now, she bakes at night, using ovens at Hot Bread Kitchen in Harlem. “I’m hoping to fully transition [from law to baking],” she said.
There were chocolate and ice cream and pie vendors at the New Amsterdam Valentine’s market, and a chef making egg creams and other soda concoctions with homemade syrups. Tinsel Trading was there with handmade boxes containing candy. From Anarchy in a Jar came an array of unusual, gourmet jams such as pear with chipotle and cinnamon and grapefruit marmalade with smoked salt. Maggie Nesciur of Flying Fox brought grapefruits and oranges that she had picked herself in Florida.
Each of these was offered by an individual or a small company that cares greatly about food. Selling more than just sweets, the special weekend celebration was an emporium of passions.