Monday, 6:57 PM August 24, 2020
From: Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Dear Fellow Food Lover,
Given the uniqueness of our business, we're often asked why and how we started Modernist Pantry.
It began about nine years ago, when Janie and I were living in Manhattan. As a food enthusiast, I had developed an interest in the new techniques and ingredients that were being pioneered at some of the world’s top restaurants by chefs like Ferran Adrià, Grant Achatz, José Andrés, Heston Blumenthal, and Wylie Dufresne. As a software developer, I was naturally drawn to the scientific principals behind the work of these groundbreaking chefs, so I decided to try my hand at it.
I soon found out that I couldn’t just go to my neighborhood Whole Foods and pick up what I needed. At the time there were only a few online vendors who carried these very special ingredients, which they were only selling in warehouse-club-sized quantities.
This presented two problems.
First, most of the recipes I wanted to try called for only tiny amounts of these ingredients—we’re talking a few grams at a time. So, I would basically be buying a lifetime supply. Second, and more importantly, our NYC kitchen was only slightly bigger than a broom closet. Naturally, Janie wasn’t too keen on me spending $93 on a kilo of transglutaminase, which would fill up our limited cabinet and freezer space for the foreseeable future. (Not to mention the other fifteen strangely named ingredients that I wanted to buy.)
While I was initially disappointed, I also had a hunch that I wasn’t the only home cook interested in this type of kitchen experimentation. I felt there must be others looking to play around with these ingredients and techniques without breaking the bank or sacrificing their entire kitchen to do so.
I quickly put up a website to test the idea, and thus Modernist Pantry was born. The initial plan was to offer these specialty ingredients in quantities small enough to fit the needs of home enthusiasts like me. The response surpassed my wildest expectations. Almost immediately—and with no advertising or promotion—other food geeks found the site and wanted to buy stuff.
Around the same time, Janie and I got the news that we were expecting a daughter. We decided to move out of the big city for a different quality of life back in New England, where I grew up.
We ended up at my parents’ house on the southern coast of Maine, next to the Nubble Light in York. And we officially launched Modernist Panty in their 200-square-foot basement. The days were long. I’d get up early in the morning, before work, to pack orders on the pool table that took up a good chunk of the basement. By the time Chloe was born, we had a steady stream of customers. To my surprise, many of them were professional chefs who were also looking to experiment with new ways of cooking.
As the business continued to grow, I found myself up at all hours working and helping to feed and soothe a colicky baby. Eventually I decided to retire from software development to concentrate on my two new passions, Chloe and Modernist Pantry. After almost a year, we’d outgrown the tiny basement, so we bought a home in Eliot, the next town over. The property had an unfinished 1500-square-foot outbuilding that we immediately renovated and turned into the new home of Modernist Pantry. It was the proverbial garage start-up. By this time, Janie was working part-time in the business too, and we had hired a couple of additional employees to help us out.
We planned to be there for a while, as we enjoyed the short commute up our driveway and the freedom to arrange our schedules around Chloe. But as growth continued, the business outgrew this space, too. Then it began slowly taking over our house. First the basement, then the third-floor spare room, and by the time our dining room was full of product, we decided it was enough.
We leased a 6500-square-foot space in nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and moved everything there. Janie also quit her outside consulting gig and joined the business full-time to run operations.
Since then we have continued to grow at a breakneck pace. Our catalog has grown from a dozen products to over 600 unique tools and ingredients. We serve a large base of restaurants, caterers, and culinary schools. In fact, most of the top chefs in the country and many around the world count on us to supply ingredients that they can’t find anywhere else. We have partnered with innovators like The Cooking Lab (publishers of Modernist Cuisine), ChefSteps, and Booker and Dax to advance modern cooking techniques. We’ve also used our knowledge and experience on the cutting edge of culinary technology to launch successful brands dedicated to plant-based ethical eaters and gluten-free consumers.
For our next exciting chapter, we’ve built a state-of-the-art manufacturing and distribution facility back in our home town of Eliot, ME. From this new base of operations, we plan to continue to develop new products that will allow home cooks and professionals alike to perform culinary magic and create memorable eating experiences.
As the business continues to grow, so does Chloe. At the ripe age of eight, she is already taking a keen interest in helping out in the kitchen—although it is too early to tell if she's driven by a love of cooking or the opportunity to lick the cake batter whisk. In any case, our family deeply appreciates the opportunity to serve adventurous cooks like you. And we hope to continue to do so for many years to come.