By Kimberly Maul
“Chutney isn’t just something you get with Indian takeout,” says Drake Page, the chutney-master behind Greenpoint-based D.P. Chutney Collective. When the great chutney Diaspora brought the sweet and spicy condiments west from India hundreds of years ago, cooks in the Caribbean and the American South embraced the exotic produce-preserving technique and incorporated it into their own local cuisines.
So what, um, is chutney? In general, the term “chutney” (derived from a Hindi word) is a relish-type mishmash of flavors meant to complement a dish. Usually taking the form of a salsa-like accompaniment, chutneys as a class tend to resemble jam, but often contain elements of sweet, sour, and spice. Perhaps due to the loose translation of the dish, the final product is often as idiosyncratic as its chef.
Drake grew up in Atlanta, and his Southern roots fed his chutney obsession. “Growing up in the South, I was surrounded by chutneys and other condiments combining those sweet, sour and spicy flavors. Just about every meal had chutneys, relishes, pickles and preserves on the table.”
Drake brought this Southern tradition to Brooklyn, adding his own creative and regional twist. He’s developed rich and complex flavor combinations in varieties like sweet tomato chutney with black mustard seeds; Bermuda onion and Blueberry; Pear and cardamom; plum, green tomato, and mango chili ketchups; Cranberry and green cherry, Middle-Eastern zucchini and Punjabi corn relishes; and over 20 more seasonally-inspired specialties.
After being laid-off from a PR job during the Great Recession of 2009, Drake took the opportunity to pursue his chutney obsession full-time. “I’d been making chutneys and ketchups for people as gifts for years, and I love doing it,” he says.
Like many other Brooklyn food artisans, Drake got his start in December 2009 selling his wares at the Greenpoint Food Market. The chutney garnered an enthusiastic response from market devotees, so he decided to take the plunge: The company was incorporated in February 2010 and his products are now sold in several specialty food shops throughout Brooklyn (see below for full list).
“The plan is to grow slowly – my main interest is actually getting in the kitchen, making the product and maintaining the highest possible quality in each variety and batch.”
Drake has always been passionate about cooking and chutneys. He’s an avid researcher, and loves pouring over old cookbooks in search of historical chutney recipes. He works with local farmers to get the freshest possible ingredients, and finds inspiration for his seasonal varieties by sticking to the local produce available at any given time.
“I find a lot of inspiration for new flavors by focusing on the produce available in any given season. We have some anchor flavors which we produce all year, but I like to mix things up with seasonal varieties based on what’s available at any particular time of year. We’re committed to always working as closely as possible with local, small, family-run farms employing sustainable agricultural methods.
Many of my ingredients come from Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, NY, and J. Glebocki Farms in Goshen. This summer I got tomatillos for my Spicy Tomatillo Conserves from Cranberry Hill Farm in New Jersey. I like browsing for inspiration and sourcing produce from the local greenmarkets and other farms in the area, too…there was an amazing peach harvest this year so I got to make lots of our Curried peach Chutney – one of our most popular flavors.”
Drake doesn’t just look to keep the produce local. The jars for his chutneys come from Rappaport Sons Bottle Company in Brooklyn, and a friend designs the labels. Drake also works in commercial kitchens in Long Island City and Sunset Park, and makes deliveries himself.
I met Drake at Five Leaves in Greenpoint for a surreptitious tasting. We grabbed a table outside, and in true Brooklyn-indie-food-fashion, Drake opened his messenger bag to reveal a collection of chutney jars and a baguette.
We started with the memorable Juniper Berry Chutney, a slow-cooked medley of ripe tomatoes, sweet onions, tart green apples and juniper that was inspired by an old Scottish recipe. The floral flash of the juniper berry mixed beautifully with the sweeter tomatoes and tart apples – a great combination that works particularly well with meats like venison, pheasant, duck and lamb.
We also sampled the Spice Route Citrus Chutney, which is one flavor that’s definitively based on non-local ingredients like organic limes, lemons, and Valencia oranges; a spice blend including mace, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon; and garlic, brown sugar, onions, molasses, and malt vinegar. The citrus lent a hint of orange marmalade-like sharpness, the garlic and spice gave it a lovely kick, and the molasses and brown sugar enveloped it all with a mellow sweetness.
Drake also makes ketchups. We tried the Plum variety, which is made without tomatoes—just plums. “The Plum Ketchup is based on early American recipes. We blend New York state plums, onions, and garlic with rice wine vinegar, fair trade sugar, and a spice blend that includes mace, nutmeg, coriander and cloves,” says Drake. “It goes great with simple things like burgers and fries.”
If, like me, you need some help thinking of ways to integrate chutneys into your kitchen creations, fret not: Drake posts recipes and suggestions for chutney pairings on his website. Some of his favorites include sliders made with pulled pork, braised with his tomatillo conserves and a ‘Hawaiian’ flatbread grilled pizza made with his Kerala Pineapple Chutney. But Drake says his favorite way to enjoy chutneys is with cheese, as the complex flavors of cheeses and chutneys can complement each other beautifully.
“I think of my chutneys as an exclamation point to your meal,” Drake says.
After just a quick tasting, I was certainly inspired to come up with recipes and ways to use his world of exclamation points in my day-to-day cooking!
You can find D.P. Chutney Collective chutneys, ketchups and relishes at Radish and The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg, at the General Greene in Ft. Greene, Blue Apron in Park Slope, Brooklyn Farmacy in Carroll Gardens, Da Vine Provisions in Boerum Hill, Red Hook Mercado in Red Hook and Lucy’s Whey in Manhattan.
If you’d like to meet Drake and taste some of his goods, stop by Da Vine Provisions on Saturday – he’ll be holding a tasting.
Favorite Chutney: Spice Route Citrus Chutney
Favorite Spot in Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens