From the CIA to Stylish Sausages
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
It happens a lot in Washington, even to people with high-paying jobs -- lawyers, lobbyists, high-level civil servants.
Sooner or later the thought surfaces: "I'm not really satisfied. Maybe I should be doing something else for a living."
It happened to Stanley Feder as he approached his 60th birthday. There he was with a bachelor's degree from MIT, a PhD from Brandeis University, a 21-year career with the CIA and a thriving consultancy in strategic planning and political risk assessment.
But his heart was in the kitchen.
In a way it always had been: When he baked apple streudel "by the ton" while he was writing his dissertation. When he started making sausages and pâtés at home in 1972. When he considered going into the frozen quiche business with a friend in the early '80s.
Feder finally took the plunge last September. Mornings -- very early ones -- now find him leaving his home in McLean for the 40-degree mixing room of the Capital Meat Co. in Hyattsville. In a white butcher's coat and plastic apron protecting his clothes, his head covered by a hairnet and a knit cap, he is overseeing the production of hundreds of pounds of artisanal sausages a week.
And they're not just any sausages: Feder's company, Simply Sausage, makes specialties that include spicy merguez -- a French/North African classic with fresh herbs, garlic, smoked Spanish paprika, coriander, cumin and oregano; bratwurst with caraway, nutmeg, lemon zest and white pepper; French country pork sausage with tarragon and chives; and small chorizos with garlic, two kinds of paprika, sea salt and oregano.
He's researched and refined his sausage recipes. He's located the spices that will make them sing -- the paprika that smells of red pepper, the sea salt that turns garlic into an aromatic wonder. He's sought out the juiciest meats. "For me, a really good sausage is something wonderful," he says.
Sausage-making is far from pretty. The smell can be overwhelming -- a far cry from the niceties of K Street or Langley. First, the meat is chopped into large chunks -- this morning by Sid Bergman, the company's general manager. Then, it's placed in a huge grinder and mixed with water and spices before it is fed into an impressive German sausage machine that, monitored by Feder, twirls and shapes it into links.
Giving up a prestigious career to repeat that process day after day wasn't an easy decision. "Naturally," says Feder, "certain psychological adjustments had to be made." His wife, Judy, a professor and dean at the Georgetown (University) Public Policy Institute who has recently contemplated her own career change by announcing a run for Congress, was supportive. But he wondered what his late parents would have thought about giving up a profession for a trade. "I couldn't imagine my mother saying, 'This is my son, the butcher.' "
Unhappy about aspects of his work at the CIA, Feder left there in 1998 and continued consulting in his field. For a while he considered making salamis, and in 2004 he went to Italy to learn more about Italian sausage- and salami-making methods. He has apprenticed with a master sausage maker in Vancouver, B.C., and made sausages for chef Jonathan Krinn at 2941 in Falls Church.
By last September, Feder was ready to make his move. He found production space at Capital Meat, which distributes his sausages, and he hired Bergman, an expert in food-safety laws. Then, as he developed specific sausages, he took them around to possible clients.
He got positive responses from people whose opinion he values. At the Bread Line, three different sausages from Feder's company are the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday specials. Jaleo, the popular tapas restaurant with branches in the Penn Quarter, Bethesda and Crystal City, threw over its previous purveyor for Feder's butifarras and pinchitos . "They're as good as anything you can find in Spain," says executive chef JohnPaul Damato. Jaleo serves more than 300 sausages a week.
In business for not even a full year, Feder has never looked back. "I love the work," he says. "I'm trying to restore flavor and creativity to what might be considered a pedestrian food.
"Besides, it's a great adventure."
Feder's sausages are available at Finewine.com in Gaithersburg and McLean, Arrowine in Arlington and the IGA in Marshall.