Rumors have been swirling over the past year about Bacon Marmalade, an elusive and highly sought-after invention supposedly created by a chef in Greenpoint. Wide-eyed devotees of the mysterious marmalade talk about its almost magical, mystical properties when added to a sandwich, stirred into pan with greens or seafood, or used as a marinade on grilled meats. We’ve heard more than one serious cook refer to it as ‘the ultimate ingredient,’ ‘magic in a jar,’ and even ‘better than bacon’ while extolling its ‘sublime’ combination of bacony, smoky, salty and sweet flavors and its ‘amazing’ versatility in the kitchen.
We had heard the whispers, but hadn’t actually experienced Bacon Marmalade until we had some on one of Eastern District’s signature sandwiches a few weeks ago. At first bite, we got it. By the time we finished the sandwich, our mission was clear – we needed to track down the man behind the marmalade to find out how exactly he came to concoct a condiment that’s got its own cult following.
We met up with chef Ross Hutchison at his place in Greenpoint, and it turns out that the story is as good as the marmalade. Let’s just say that we never imaged that Bacon Marmalade had its beginnings on a giant yacht in the Mediterranean.
OK Ross, what’s the story behind Bacon Marmalade? Start way back – how and when did you first get interested in food?
I grew up in Texas – Houston. I started getting into food early in high school. It was actually cooking shows on TV that got me interested. This was before The Food Network was as big as it is today. The Learning Channel or Discovery Channel had a series called Graham Kerr Cooks or something like that. Graham Kerr was a famous TV chef back in the 60’s and 70’s, and he had this new show when I was in high school and for some reason I got really into it – that was really my first introduction to food.
And I got really into cooking. Instead of playing football with my friends, I’d watch cooking shows and write down the recipes. My mom would take me shopping for the ingredients, and we’d come home and I’d start cooking. I just really liked it.
So you were basically a cooking freak in high school?
Pretty much! After high school I went to college at Texas A&M to study chemical engineering. Unfortunately it took me four years to realize I’d rather cook than be an engineer!
I kept cooking at college. I’d always have lots of people over to grill and barbeque. I just went further than most – I’d actually make a full meal. People really noticed it and liked it, and I got even more into cooking as a result. I kept telling myself this is what I should be doing. This is what I love to do.
So I decided to go for it. Texas A&M is in a pretty small college town, and there was only one fine dining restaurant around. It was called Christopher’s World Grill. I decided to see whether I could get a job there – my goal was to work in a good kitchen to get some skills, and then to go to culinary school. They hired me on the spot. I came in the next week and started at the veg station. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun. I was cooking food, doing what I liked to do. I moved up the line, teaching myself as much as I could and learning from the other chefs. I worked there for four years and realized I knew everything I needed to know – I realized I didn’t need to go to culinary school!
After four years, I decided I’d been there long enough. I wanted to get out of Texas and explore the world a little bit. And right about then, I landed a job as a chef on a yacht in the Mediterranean.