At the market’s opposite end, Julien Shapiro was dishing up his own sultry delectables: sockeye salmon smoked with fennel seed; pate en croute; and leafy-greens sausages, a southern-French specialty made with pork, turnip and mustard greens, and kale. Vending under a “Worthwhile Meats & Provisions” banner imprinted with fleurs de lys and a stately font, Shapiro had laid his table with country cutlery and a photo album full of culinary experiments clearly rooted in classical training.
A sous-chef at the revered Palena restaurant, Shapiro keeps a methodical blog about recipe testing called Kitsch & Classics and will soon depart for a month-long spell of culinary apprenticeships in France. Acquiring a storefront in the District for a French-style prepared-foods shop is the next step in his life’s work.
Such culinary cross-section comes by design at the new DC Grey Market.
Maya Robinson, 28, founded the market in January to give fledgling food entrepreneurs a stage, and a taste for the many ingredients required to incorporate a business. From a consumer’s standpoint, there’s a catch. You could call it gray, Robinson said, “because I don’t ask people where they make their food.”
Shapiro worked up his wares between midnight and 3 a.m. in his Columbia Heights basement apartment. And that sassy senora? She — that is, Stowell and Hobbs — cranked out batches in Hobbs’s Petworth back yard and kitchen.
Like many of the vendors at the market, not to mention at similar underground markets popping up around the country, none of the three men had acquired business licenses or submitted to food-safety inspections.
Shapiro said the market’s lack of a licensing requirement was a big draw for him. “Everything I have here is totally safe,” he said. “My kitchen is invariably cleaner than most restaurant kitchens.”
That the sales technically are not regulated seems only to heighten the allure. New vendors have enlisted for each of the three DC Grey markets held to date. Attendance has ranged from 355 to 1,100.
Robinson, a tax preparer, says she learned about food production by working on an organic produce farm in New Zealand for more than a month last year. “I didn’t like it. I thought: I never want to do this again,” she said. But after hearing about a popular San Francisco underground market full of unlicensed food start-ups, Robinson said, she decided the idea was perfect for Washington, where high rents and hard-to-find commercial kitchens can hinder would-be cooks looking to sell handmade goods.